Using the Piano Pedals – The Art Behind the Mechanism

using the piano pedals tutorial - copyright PianoCareer.com 2011Rubinstein once said that the pedal is the soul of the piano. Can you imagine how the piano would sound without the amazing ‘connecting’ and enriching properties of the pedals?

On the first glance, the pedals are simply levers which move in certain ways the piano mechanism.

Using them, however, is an art. For mastering it, we need to combine the same good old ingredients: knowledge, awareness, imagination, technical skill, experience and also a spark of inspiration and creativity. And don’t forget about the most powerful trick – a positive state of mind! ;)

Experienced pianists use the pedals instinctively, without thinking anymore about rules and other theoretical details. However, in order to get to this advanced level, we have to learn the theory first and develop at the same time all the needed mental and technical skills.

A good ‘pedaling instinct’ is based on knowledge, a very good hearing and mindful practice. A poor one results from blind experiments and mechanical playing.

So let’s take it one step at a time and explore together this useful, interesting and yet often neglected piano topic.

In the first part of my video, I show you how the piano pedals work and which are their functions.

In the second part of the video tutorial, I describe the main pedaling techniques – or how you should use the sustain pedal in order to create certain effects which will help you to play musically and expressively.

The piano is the only instrument (except for percussion instruments) that does not allow the performer to control the sound after producing it. After we press a key, the sound will inevitably fade. Even more – releasing a key ends the sound abruptly, and this makes it impossible to connect two notes situated far from each other by using our fingers alone. Sometimes it’s also difficult to change the timbre of the sound only by modifying the force, speed and depth of our key attack.

This is when the pedals come to our rescue!

First, a little bit of necessary theory (I’ll try to make it short and not boring!):

The Piano Pedals – Mechanism and Functions

Modern Grand Pianos have two standard pedals: the right pedal (also called the sustain or the damper pedal) and the left pedal (the soft pedal or the una corda pedal).

The sustain pedal is the most important one. Without it, the modern piano would be a simple percussion-like instrument with a limited sonority and a poor expressive diapason.

The soft pedal is important as well, but not as ‘vital’ as the sustain :). It is present on all pianos nowadays, even if in upright pianos its mechanism is different: instead of shifting the hammers to the right, it brings them closer to the strings, this way reducing their sonority.

Now let’s summarize the functions of the 2 standard pedals, as I describe them in the video:

The sustain pedal has two functions:

1. Allowing the sound to continue even after we release the keys;

2. Changing the timbre of the sound, making it deeper, warmer, more intense, more ‘alive’.

The soft pedal has two functions as well:

1. Making the sound softer;

2. Changing the timbre of the sound and making it more distant.

The grand piano which I used for my video demonstration is a classical European model and it doesn’t have a middle pedal. I couldn’t show you how it works, but I can certainly write about it just as I promised! :)

The middle pedal (usually called the sostenuto pedal) is a rare ‘species’. It doesn’t like the European climate, being mostly encountered in the USA. And it prefers inhabiting Grand Pianos, being afraid of upright models. Or maybe it is simply too proud and considers itself too ‘royal’ for little instruments? :)

One way or the other, it has ‘super powers’: it allows us to sustain certain notes without affecting all the others we play after pressing this pedal!

This is how the middle pedal works: if we engage the pedal while pressing a key or a chord, it holds up only those dampers which have been raised by their keys. All the other notes we may play afterwards will sound perfectly detached because the remaining dampers will not be affected by the pedal!

For this reason, I think that the term ‘sostenuto’ is probably not the most suitable one for this pedal. After all, ‘sostenuto’ means sustain (which is the function of the right pedal!). Another name, which I think is more appropriate, is ‘tone-sustaining’ pedal – because it DOES sustain ONLY certain tones – and not all of them! You can also call it the ‘Super-Pedal’, but this is entirely up to you! ;)

As amazing as this pedal is, it’s the least used of the three pedals of the Grand Piano. Why? Because it is not needed for playing the biggest part of the pianistic repertoire! Only several composers actually make use of this pedal, indicating it in the score – for example Debussy or Ravel. However, we can play their pieces without the middle pedal as well – only by cleverly using the sustain and the soft pedals.

One more thing: appearances can be deceiving! Many pianos (grand or upright models) have three pedals, but sometimes the middle pedal has a totally different function (and not the ‘super-tone-sustain’ effect I just described). For example, upright pianos usually have a silent (practice) pedal instead of the sostenuto pedal. My home upright instrument has a middle locking pedal which makes the piano sound like a harpsichord by lowering a row of dangling steel ‘things’ (I don’t know their official English name) between the hammers and the strings!

Throughout history, there were many experiments with the piano pedal mechanism – and they usually touched the functions of the middle pedal. The standard pedals, because of their obvious usefulness, remain unaffected by all these changes. However, who knows what the future holds? ;)

Now that we’ve successfully emerged from the ‘mechanism and functions’ theoretical jungle, let’s move to some more theory… which is (finally!) more captivating and actionable!

Sustain Pedal Techniques

Before learning the main pedaling techniques, you should be able to control the pedal mechanism properly! ;)

Pressing and releasing the pedal smoothly.

It’s impossible to play musically without learning how to use the pedal mechanism correctly. As I show you in the video, we should always press the pedals smoothly, gradually, without sudden movements and without making noise. We have to imagine that our foot is ‘glued’ to the surface of the pedal, forming an organic ‘whole’ with the instrument. Also, make sure that your foot is ‘covering’ only the larger half of the pedal (this also depends on the shape of your shoes, but generally try to keep your foot as close as possible to the rounded part of the pedal).

The way you use the pedals should be closely related to the character of the music. It’s not appropriate to change the pedal in a slow, heavy manner if you play a fast, light, sparkling piece/fragment – and vice-versa! However, the smooth, silent pedal action is always mandatory!

Now that you can use the pedal without making awkward noises and movements, let’s move to the next level! :)

As I show you in the video, there are 3 main pedaling techniques:

1. The delayed pedal – engaging the sustain pedal after playing a note, interval or chord, but before releasing the keys, this way catching the sound and connecting it with the next one. It allows us to connect different notes and harmonies, at the same time keeping them clear of dissonant sounds. This technique is also called indirect pedal, syncopated pedal, retarded pedal, legato pedal or overlapping pedal.

In the Russian piano school, this is the first pedaling technique we learn. By carefully listening to the rich and clear sonority that it allows us to create, we also master the needed ‘reverse’ technical coordination: the hands go down while the foot goes up.

2. The simultaneous pedal – pressing the pedal at the same time with the keys. This technique helps us to accent a certain note or chord and make it sound deeper, more important, more intense. It is useful in playing pieces with a sharp, exact, ‘dancing’ character – especially in waltzes. By emphasizing the first beat of each bar (or another beat, depending on genre), this short pedal helps us to feel the rhythm of the piece better. This technique is also called direct pedal or rhythmic pedal.

3. The preliminary pedal. This pedaling technique is extremely easy, but sometimes it can create a truly amazing effect. It means pressing the pedal before playing the first sound of a piece. We can use this trick for activating all the resonating properties of the piano in advance – so when we begin to play, the sound will be really deep and vibrant – after all, it will have the ‘back-up’ of all the other strings!

But this is not all!

The Sustain Pedal – ‘Gradation’ Levels

There are three main ways of pressing the sustain pedal (no matter if we talk about the delayed or the simultaneous pedaling techniques):

1. The full pedal – pressing the pedal all the way down, and then raising it (or changing it) all the way up. This pedal gradation is the easiest one, being used by all beginner and intermediate students.

2. The half pedal. This technique is not necessary for beginners, being usually explained only to advanced students.

Actually, there are two types of ‘half pedals’. In the first case, we press the pedal only halfway down, and raise it all the way up: this way, we raise the dampers, but they are still close to the strings, so the vibrations of the strings are limited and so is the sound continuity.

In the second case, we press the pedal all the way down, but we don’t raise it – we only change it halfway up. This technique is extremely powerful: by skillfully using it, the lower notes will be sustained, while the notes in the higher registers will remain transparent and detached.

This pedaling ‘gradation’ is useful when playing multi-layered music, for example piano transcriptions of Bach’s Organ works, where we originally had 3 staves instead of two. As you all probably know, on the organ we have the possibility of holding bass notes with the foot keyboard, while everything we play with our fingers remains perfectly detached. By using the half pedal technique, we can somehow imitate this effect. We can also imitate it by using the middle pedal, but, as I said, it doesn’t ‘inhabit’ all pianos :). The half pedal is also useful in playing orchestral transcriptions – again, when we need to sustain a bass note without affecting the transparency and accuracy of the superior voices.

3. The quarter pedal and other subtle pedaling ‘tricks’. Professional pianists are not pedaling ‘by the book’. They ‘play’ with the sustain pedal, pressing it in thousands of different ways which cannot be described by simple written words. This skill develops gradually, being the result of experience and a constant ‘sharpening’ of our hearing and our musical awareness.

The basic theoretic fundamentals of the piano pedals are officially covered! ;) Now let’s move to the artistic part:

Piano Pedal Tips – On Hearing, Visualization… and Practice!

heinrich neuhaus - quote about piano pedal1. Activating your hearing.

As Heinrich Neuhaus wrote in his amazing book The Art of Piano Playing, “The art of pedaling is governed by the ear”.

We should remember this quote more often – and not only when using the pedal!

Therefore, the first rule in using the sustain pedal is activating our hearing. This is the secret that makes the difference between a musically appropriate pedaling and… a less inspired one!

Our hearing allows us to control the accuracy of the pedal. In the Russian piano school, we often use the terms ‘clean’ and ‘dirty’ pedal :).

A clean pedal means changing the pedal according to the intentions of the composer – usually by playing each harmony on a new pedal. There may be exceptions – for example combining two/several different (yet complimentary) harmonies (or changing the pedal on the same harmony!). However, these exceptions are always indicated in the score.

A dirty pedal means ‘gluing’ together dissonant sounds – or not using the pedal according to the meaning of the music.

If you have a good hearing and you practice with awareness, you should not worry about playing with a dirty, false pedal – your ears will simply not allow it! :)

When practicing pedaling techniques, we are in fact training our hearing. As I often mention in my articles, piano playing begins in our mind, in our hearing, in our imagination, in our capacity of visualizing the desired sonority. The same can be said about using the sustain pedal! When you picture in your mind a clean, musically appropriate pedaling, your foot will obediently follow! When, on the other hand, you allow your foot to be ‘in charge’ and you simply wait to see ‘what will happen’, you’ll never be able to play musically and expressively – you’ll simply struggle with the pedal mechanism! :)

F. Busoni - quote about piano pedalSo, mastering pedal techniques means developing our musical fantasy, learning to listen, to discern subtle colors of the sound. We have to listen to the music and its message, not to the movement of the pedal mechanism! We should also make sure that we create a beautiful pedaled sound: soft, bright, deep, luminous, expressive.

This approach (imagination-hearing-pedaling) is very powerful. In time, it will allow you to reach that level of mastery which I mention in the beginning of this article – where the use of the pedal becomes instinctive, automatic. You’ll simply see the goal in your mind (playing beautifully a certain piece) and your foot will ‘unconsciously’ press the pedal for making your vision come true!

2. Practicing without pedal.

Yes, after writing such a long article about pedaling techniques, now I’ll emphasize the importance of a pedal-less practice! Alexander Goldenweiser, one of the founders of the Russian piano school, used to say that “the art of pedaling is first of all the ability to play without pedal”.

Does it sound paradoxical? :) Only on the first glance!

There are two reasons for practicing without pedal:

a) Piano playing is – among many other things – the art of coordination. It’s difficult for a beginner (or even an intermediate student) to coordinate the myriad of elements involved in piano playing: accurate text, fingering, rhythm, dynamics, articulation, a quality sound, a good phrasing AND the pedal. That’s why all beginners should first practice a piece WITHOUT pedal, and then ADD the pedal when the text is mastered to a certain degree and it feels more comfortable.

b) The biggest challenge in piano playing is to create the illusion that the sound can be maintained longer than the mechanism allows, that we can make a real legato where each sound passes smoothly into the next one without the gaps caused by the inevitable fading of the sound.

By using the sustain pedal, it’s much easier to create this illusion! This pedal ‘simplifies’ our life considerably, and thus our hearing and the ‘connecting’ properties of our fingers begin to get rusty. Practicing without pedal is like running with weights attached to our legs: it’s very hard! When we remove the weights (when we play with pedal), running (piano playing) feels like flying!

So, we practice without pedal for two reasons: the first reason simplifies our practice, while the second one complicates it :). Achieving balance is a really interesting process, isn’t it?

And, of course, don’t forget to practice WITH pedal as well. Ideally, you should combine these two types of practice – with and without pedal.

In my video tutorial, I promised to describe how to use the pedals depending on the style of the epoch/composer. I also wanted to share with you the basics of pedal notation. However, this article is getting too long (pedaling is a fascinating and complex subject!) and I decided to cover these topics in my next article – so stay tuned! ;)

Short conclusion:

A good pedaling technique is not our purpose – it is simply a means to an end. Our purpose is bringing to life beautiful piano masterpieces, playing them expressively and convincingly – and enjoying the entire process! The pedaling techniques I describe above are just tools that help us to get closer to this purpose.

So, no matter how ‘down to Earth’ a certain piano playing element is (for example, the pedal)…  it still begins in our mind! ;)

To be continued…

P.S. Do you need help with using the pedal in a certain piece you’re currently practicing? Post all your pedaling questions in the comment form below!

Don’t miss my next tutorials – follow me on Facebook, Twitter and !

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

54 Responses to “Using the Piano Pedals – The Art Behind the Mechanism”

Read below or add a comment...

  1. Alexandra says:

    Another inspiring video, Ilinca! Thank you for taking the time and making the effort for explaining the ‘mysterious’ piano pedal(s) and their functions :)

    As I child, I used to experiment and press down on the left pedal (soft pedal) when playing some pieces (esp. Chopin’s “Raindrop” prelude and a couple others), and using the sustaining pedal for smoother legato…this experimenting really turned on my hearing sensibility back then. I realized there are more sounds to be had from the piano, and I really detested, as you refer to it, the ‘dirty’ pedaling (great term! ha!). But that was it, and has been it, for the longest time. Pedaling has essentially been based on my own instinct and hearing (in fact, PED and * marks in scores went unnoticed for the most part).
    You mention that instinct/experiece/hearing are important. That’s reassuring. But you also explain delayed/simultaneous/preliminary techniques (which I just assumed only ‘delayed’ pedaling was correct, and the others were simply wrong! oh boy…) And full/half/quarter pedaling. I am so excited about this!!

    Lately, I’ve been experimenting with different shades of sound, and using full/half/quarter? pedaling techniques: As I mentioned in another message, I’m working on Schumann’s Kinderszenen No. 10. I wonder if I am wasting time using the wrong technique (ok, experience is never a waste, but patience is not something I am very good at in terms of my own piano studies/practice), and wonder if Schumann INTENDED some “blurring” of tones from bar to bar, especially in carrying the melody which seems to carry over each bar.
    But I’m not yet satisfied with my renditions…I think my pedaling timing is off. (sometimes I lose the beautiful lower LH bass note as I move my LH up the keyboard to carry the rest of the harmony closer to my RH! yuck, and what an empty sound!) I think I should be using the full pedal-delayed pedaling technique, esp. after pressing the low LH note at the beginning of the measures and hold the RH melody manually (without relying on the pedal, although sustained by the pedal anyway until the next measure). Regretfully, I have not had time these past two weeks to work it out yet. Any advice you might have would be terrific!

    Your point about practice with/without pedaling is great too. For example, although I’ve been told this advice before (and read it too somewhere), I’ve only ever applied it to practicing actual pieces of music. Well, today, being in ‘pedaling mode’ lately and after reading/watching about this topic, I applied some pedaling to my SCALES and ARPEGGIOS. wow! what a treat that was today. haha! (I dont think I’ve ever heard a B minor, 4 oct, short arpeggio pedaled ‘cleanly’, but it really changes one’s perspective on the importance of the pedal!

    Best wishes, as always.

    • Ilinca says:

      Hi Alexandra!

      Thank you for another wonderful comment! :) I’m really happy that you enjoyed my mew tutorial!

      Playing scales WITH pedal?! I remember that when I was little I liked to experiment and ‘apply’ some pedal to my arpeggios as well, but my teacher told me that it is not appropriate and I soon forgot about my original explorations! In the Russian piano school we play scales without pedal, because it is harder this way and scales represent the classical saying ‘who cries in the dojo (training room), laughs on the battlefield!’. After playing arpeggios without pedal, it is a breeze to play the arpeggios with pedal in Chopin’s works (for example) :).

      Tomorrow I hope to find some time and play a little Schumann’s Kinderszenen No. 10 – and then write a longer reply to your comment, with pedaling advice included :). Since for many years already I’m mostly using the pedal instinctively, I have to play a piece in order to ‘discover’ which pedaling technique I’m using LOL.

      Have a wonderful weekend!!!

      Talk soon,
      Ilinca

      • Alexandra says:

        Hope you’re enjoying a relaxing and enjoyable weekend, Ilinca. (I love Autumn so much; the season’s lighting and crispness is so energizing and inspiring! And I love sweaters and boots and hot soup :) )

        btw, yes, I agree that pedalling scales/arpeggios is inappropriate. Somehow, it instinctively detracts from the whole effort of studying articulation, key attack, etc…Your teacher’s saying is really a good one “..crying in the dojo, laughing on the battlefield..” Will add that bit of wisdom to my notes :)
        Looking forward to your next advice whenever you find some time. Thanks so much, Ilinca!!!

    • Ilinca says:

      Hi again Alexandra!

      I’ve just played through Schumann’s No. 10, for remembering the exact pedaling technique I was using when I played it in childhood :). Then I started to play other pieces from the suite – first of all the amazing No. 13 – and so I spent an extra half of hour at the instrument, remembering this beautiful music!

      Now let’s return to our pedaling questions. You said:

      I think I should be using the full pedal-delayed pedaling technique, esp. after pressing the low LH note at the beginning of the measures and hold the RH melody manually (without relying on the pedal, although sustained by the pedal anyway until the next measure).

      Yes, you’re absolutely right! :) While this piece is indeed challenging from an expressive point of view, the needed pedaling technique is not so complicated: we should simply change the pedal (the delayed technique) on each low LH note (in the beginning of each bar). The only challenge is that we have to make a swift change for ‘catching’ the note in time without blurring the harmonies and making a ‘dirty’ sonority. ‘Blurring’ is definitely not appropriate from a stylistic point of view – after all, we’re talking about romantic music, not about impressionism! :)

      Here is the pedaling technique I recommend:

      Make sure that you change the pedal swiftly, but without sudden movements or noises. And yes – you should be able (by cleverly using the fingering) – to make a good legato in the RH with your fingers, without relying on the pedal. This objective legato is not possible everywhere, but it’s definitely possible most of the time!

      Pay attention to the melody – it should ‘hover’ above the harmonic background, being deeper and very expressive. Phrasing is extremely important in this piece – allow the melody to be that ‘shining light’ that will guide you through the (sometimes) dark tunnel of the harmonic structure :). Before playing, you can SING the melody with your voice and create a good phrase – this way you’ll understand better the movement of the melody, its continuity. After this, it will be easier to create the same effect on the instrument!

      You can also practice hands separately: when playing the LH, concentrate on a swift, ‘clean’ pedaling. When playing the RH (better without pedal), concentrate on unifying 8 bars (connected with a single slur) on one breath, on one uninterrupted movement. Make sure the middle voice played with your thumb is really soft (pp) – it needs a totally different touch – without the arm weight! So – a little polyphonic trick here :).

      When you practice hands together, you should be able to maintain the ‘luminousness’ (do we have such a word?) and continuity of the melody despite the LH position shifts and pedaling tasks.

      Mindful practice makes perfect and creates the necessary instincts and reflexes – so practice slowly, with awareness, until you develop the necessary mind-hands-foot coordination!

      Good luck, I hope you’re having a great weekend as well! ;)
      Ilinca

      P.S. By the way, the ‘dojo vs battlefield’ quote is not my teacher’s – it is something I learned during my recent trainings. It applies 100% to piano playing! :)

      • Alexandra says:

        Excellent! Just what I needed to know, Ilinca. Sometimes I feel like my playing is like putting on my makeup without a mirror… I sort of know or can guess or understand intellectually what I should be doing, but the application of knowledge is reassured, in the end, from feedback of what is in fact the reality of the output, ideally from one more experienced who can properly guide. So, I really appreciate your support and guidance.

        Luminosity is the noun for luminous. :)

        Interestingly, the term “dojo” is a Japanese term coming from the two terms “dou” meaning “the way” or “path” and “jo” meaning “place”. So, “the place (for learning) The Way”, usually used in relation to studying martial arts (karate, aikido, kendo, or other physical discipline.). Very applicable to the study of piano playing! :)

        Best wishes.
        p.s. Was browsing/emailing around on FB and enjoyed seeing your photos!

        • Ilinca says:

          Hi Alexandra!

          I know how important reassurance can be sometimes – and I’m glad I could help! ;)

          But the most important thing is that you can find good solutions by yourself – great job! As I always like to say – slowly, with mindful practice and experience, we develop a ‘piano instinct’ that is in fact based on knowledge, accurate hearing and many skills that we master during our ‘piano quest’.

          I didn’t know the exact translation of the term ‘dojo’ – thank you for explaining it in such detail! “The place for learning the way” sounds simply wonderful! :)

          Yes, I really enjoy making parallels between piano playing (or musical performance in general) and martial arts, yoga and other holistic systems. Musicians have a lot to learn from these spirit+mind+body disciplines! Every passing day convinces me that happiness and fulfillment are about balance, not about focusing all our energies on a single goal and not seeing the Life around us.

          I hope you’re having a great week! Thanks for ‘liking’ my Facebook photos – yes, I’ve seen a lot of fantastic places during our tours with the orchestra!
          Ilinca

  2. Rodney James says:

    Another great video Ms Vartic! Truly you could write volumes on the uses of the pedal. I remember my old teacher, who stressed tone above all else, used to make frequent use of the soft pedal. It didn’t matter what dynamic he was playing. He explained to me that did it to hit the strings with a slightly different part of the hammer. In his words, he wanted the string to contact the hammer in a different groove. He only did this on his Steinway. He didn’t do it on different pianos. I guess each piano is different!
    How long does it take you to adapt to the pedals and general feel of a different piano? Also do you ever use flutter pedal?
    Talk to you soon!

    • Ilinca says:

      Hi Rodney!

      Thank you for your comment and your support (as always!)! :)

      I agree that each piano is different – and not only the brands! Each individual instrument is different (especially if it’s not brand new).

      When I was still studying in the lyceum, these differences bothered me A LOT! For example, I was getting used to playing on our classroom Bluthner (which had really light keys and a soft sound). Then, about one week before the exam, I had to rehearse on the August Forster from our lyceum’s concert hall. The first rehearsal was always a disaster! :) The Forster had light keys as well, but its mechanics were somehow ‘off’ and he sound was too acute, very unpleasant – at least until you learned what key attack was necessary for softening the sound. After a couple of rehearsals, everything was great!

      Then, during the Academy years, my professor ‘trained’ me to adapt immediately to a new piano. She used to say that a good pianist should be able to make even a broken old upright model SING. Her training was extremely useful – nowadays it is a breeze to play on most grands in a relatively acceptable shape. On a good instrument, I have the feeling that the piano is playing alone, without me making any efforts :).

      This ‘tough’ training was necessary because in my country we don’t have many good instruments – but we still need to play beautifully on them!

      I had a HUGE surprise when I went to South Korea for the first time. I don’t remember the brand of the first piano I tried there (It was a Steinway or maybe a Yamaha) – but I was STUNNED how good that instrument was! It was a dream, not a piano! Our Korean manager laughed and said that in their country all concert grands are in a wonderful condition – it’s something normal. So I had a great time there, playing on all those amazing new pianos! LOL

      The bottom line is – the ‘adaptability’ speed of getting used to the general feel of a piano and its pedals depend on your ‘training’, on how many pianos you ‘switch’ on a regular basis. It’s normal to have difficulties adapting to a new piano if you play on the same piano all the time.

      Flutter‘ pedal? Wow! Thank you for teaching me another English term! :) I don’t think we have an appropriate pedaling equivalent in Russian or Romanian for this term. I understand what it means – I usually encounter this word in novels – for example ‘she fluttered her eyelashes…”. In using the pedal, does it mean engaging and raising it the same way – in a fast, light manner?

      In this case, we would simply say that we’re using the delayed half pedal in a light manner, changing it really fast – depending on the meaning of the music :).

      However, I still need to make some research on this term – maybe I’ll find some time these days and read some articles on the Internet on this subject (if I find them).

      Have a great weekend and an inspired practice!
      Ilinca

      P.S. By the way, how is your current program progressing? I remember that you were practicing several amazing pieces!

      • Rodney James says:

        Exactly!! You nailed it on the definition of flutter pedal. I was just wondering if and when you used this technique. I can’t recall specific passages where I do it, but I know that I kind of do it instinctively. It’s so incredible that you knew what I meant!!
        Thanks for asking about my pieces! They are going pretty well. I put the Mozart c minor fantasy, Chopin’s 1st and 3rd ballades away. Now I’m focusing on Liszt’s Liebestraume no 3, Chopin’s black key etude, Bach/Siloti organ prelude in g minor, and Beethoven’s Appassionata sonata. Everything is finally memorized except the Appassionata, but that’s about 85% memorized. After I get it memorized I’ll bring the other pieces back and try to come up with some sort of schedule to practice everything, I’ll post this under your question section. How do you juggle practice among many pieces and how and what do you look for when putting together a program?

        • Ilinca says:

          I really love Liszt’s Liebestraum No. 3 (not that I love less the the other pieces you’re currently learning)!!! As I said – your current program is truly amazing! :)

          My answer to your question about practicing many pieces at the same time is coming soon – in the ‘Ask Me a Piano Question’ section :).

          Have a great week!
          Ilinca

  3. elwyn says:

    Hi Ilinca,

    Wonderful videos and a great article (and thanks for the Grieg example)!!

    • Ilinca says:

      Hi Elwyn!

      Thank you for your comment – I’m glad you liked my tutorial! Yes, the Grieg example was inspired by your question! ;)

      Enjoy your weekend!
      Ilinca

  4. Joost Brands says:

    Dear Ilinca,
    Thanks for your Nice videos!

    I often use the left pedal, it makes my instrument sound still more soft and intense, as it is already.
    Here’s a small example I would like to let you hear…
    The Soft Pedal Tune
    It’s an extract of a longer piece.
    I love to play with a soft touch and a lot of sensitivity… And that’s what my style is all about.

    I’m a happy owner an Stieff, built in 1916, Baltimore USA. So in a few more years it’s antique! The factory of Stieff got a “faillisement” during the crisis in the 30′s of the last century.

    And on my grandpiano there’s indeed the middle pedal, which I am using a little bit: in fact it’s rather difficult.

    Finally, my compliments for your fine playing and great skills!

    Kindest regards and good luck making your interesting en engaging videos, keep it going!

    Greetings from Holland,
    Joost

    • Ilinca says:

      Hi Joost,

      Thank you for your comment and for appreciating my videos! :)

      I just listened to your Soft Pedal Tweet – it’s beautiful! :) (I wrote a little comment on your site!) Thank you for sharing it with us! I had always a predilection towards sensitivity and subtle musical colors as well!

      The soft pedal is amazing because it really transforms the instrument and its sonority, allowing us to ‘transcend’ even more the ‘hammer’-reality of the piano. It is irreplaceable in creating soft, ‘foggy’ images, in putting some ‘distance’ between the sound and our perception.

      Wow, it’s great that you own such a grand piano! It sounds very good in your recordings!

      I like your writing and performing style very much – you always create in your Piano Tweets expressive, inspiring musical images and emotions!

      I hope to ‘see’ you again on PianoCareer.com soon! ;)

      Thanks again and good luck with your project!
      Ilinca

  5. Vicente says:

    Hi Ilinca, thank you very much indeed for one more amazing lesson! Pedalling is a fine craft and you achieved to explain it wonderfully. Very, very useful.
    Best wishes!
    Vicente

  6. Pauline says:

    Hi Ilinca

    Amazing playing, videos demonstration and article. I was lost for words – and that doesn’t often happen to me! This is going to help me so much; although I’ll need to focus on one technique and its function in stages to be to fully comprehend and to learn all the different ways of using the pedals. My piano does have a middle pedal which dampens the action of the strings so that the sound is almost silent.

    I love the J S Bach Chaconne in D minor. It has always been one of my favourite pieces to listen to.

    In two of the pieces I’m learning at the moment for my ABRSM Grade 4, I have to use the right pedal, even though there are dynamics marked p, or pp. I don’t understand why I can’t use the left pedal instead to produce the softer sound. I might be confusing dynamics here with sustaining the sound, as I’m learning to control the loudness of the right pedal to make it p and pp. I would appreciate your help on this, please.

    Developing my hearing with the use of the pedals will be an on-going process for me to enjoy and to enhance the creativity in my playing. When I initially asked you the question about how to use the pedals constructively and convincingly, I didn’t envisage how complex and skilful the subject would be. I am very grateful to you.

    Best always

    Pauline

    • Ilinca says:

      Pauline, thank you for such a warm comment! :) And thanks again for inspiring me to create this tutorial!

      Yes, Bach’s Chaconne is fantastic! I played it in my Master solo concert – and I enjoyed every minute of practicing it!

      Now a little about your question:

      You wrote:

      I have to use the right pedal, even though there are dynamics marked p, or pp. I don’t understand why I can’t use the left pedal instead to produce the softer sound.

      The sustain and the soft pedal have different functions and they are NOT mutually exclusive! Using one of them does not mean that you can’t use the other! So your word ‘instead’ is definitely not appropriate here.

      Let me explain: the left pedal should be used ONLY when we need to change the color of the sound, making it softer and more distant – no matter if you’re using the right pedal at the moment or not. However, it should NOT be used each time you see a piano or pianissimo in the score. You should develop first the ability to make the sound softer only by changing the depth and force of your key attack. If you use the soft pedal for this purpose, you simplify your task tremendously and your fingers (and hearing) will get lazy :). After learning how to create a wide range of dynamic gradations only by using our mind, hearing and fingers – we can use the soft pedal (but again, ONLY in places that require a change of timbre, not a simple pp).

      You also wrote:

      I might be confusing dynamics here with sustaining the sound, as I’m learning to control the loudness of the right pedal to make it p and pp.

      Yes, you are confusing dynamics with sustaining the sound :). The pedals have independent functions. If the piece requires the use of the sustain pedal – you should use it regardless if you use the soft pedal in certain places or not. It’s perfectly ok to keep the soft pedal pressed and at the same time use the sustain pedal, for ensuring the sound continuity. Or, for example, you can use the sustain pedal as required, then keep the soft pedal pressed for a certain number of bars, then release the soft pedal when needed without affecting the pedaling technique of your right foot.

      Yes, the right pedal enriches the sound, making it deeper and more vibrant. At the same time, it’s absolutely possible to make a quality pp while sustaining the sound with the right pedal. Again, the functions of the pedals are different and NOT mutually exclusive! :).

      So, for the time being, you can concentrate on two things: learning how to make a quality p without the left pedal – by playing with relaxed arms and a soft, deep, ‘gradual’ touch. At the same time, you should improve your sustain pedaling technique – which is the most important one in piano playing (especially the delayed pedal).

      Also, don’t forget to practice without pedal as well – as I describe in my article!

      One more thing: using the sustain pedal is not just a matter of musical awareness and good hearing: it is also a skill that requires mastering certain pedaling techniques (which I describe in my tutorial).

      The soft pedal, on the other hand, involves no ‘techniques’. Using it is very easy – it’s only a matter of musical awareness: you simply have to know when to press it and for how long to keep it pressed – that’s all!

      For all these reasons, I recommend not using the soft pedal yet. You should be aware of its function and you can also experiment with it and ‘study’ the way it changes the sound. However, it’s much more effective to practice without it – by relying only on the capacity of your arms, wrists and fingers to create the softness of the sound you need :).

      Good luck, talk soon!
      Ilinca

      • Pauline says:

        Hi Ilinca

        Grateful thanks for your kindness and patience in meticulously answering my question on the different functions of the right and left pedals. What you said makes sound sense and I will certainly heed your advice in all the aspects you mentioned and practice them accordingly. It seems that using the pedals in an effective and an authentic way seems to be an art in itself.

        Take care and talk soon.

        Pauline

  7. Romario says:

    Hi Ilinca. The article is fantastic. It teaches me a lot about the pedals.
    But I have a question: I saw some music sheet with the pedal mark “(with pedal)” only at the first bar. So I want to ask how do we know when press the pedal, since there’s only this pedal mark?

    • Ilinca says:

      Hi Romario!

      Thank you for your comment! ;)

      Actually, when you see the ‘with pedal’ mark at the beginning of a piece – it means that the piece has to be pedaled according to its style and genre (also keeping in mind the rules of common sense and making sure that the pedal is not ‘dirty’!).

      This mark usually tells the pianist that the use of the pedal is appropriate for the piece (because, as we all know, there are many pieces for beginners that have to be played without pedal).

      Good luck! ;)
      Ilinca

  8. Alfonso Tenreiro says:

    Hello, I am a Composer and lately have been practicing my sight reading, and this has turned into perfecting my piano sound. I’m working on Bach’s French Suite in G (Allemande) . Is my intuition telling me right? 1. Try to accomplish the delicate sound I like without using the soft and damper pedals. 2. As much as I love the soft pedal, don’t give into it, but make your fingers work to accomplish the non hammered sound I’m looking for. 3. Same with the damper pedal. 4. Then, when accomplished, use them to the minimum. Or should I omit them all together in Bach’s music.

    Thanks,

    Alfonso

    • Ilinca says:

      Hi Alfonso!

      First of all, please watch my video tutorial Using the Piano Pedals : On Style and Notation. There I explain what type of pedaling is appropriate for Bach’s music.

      In the Allemande you’re currently learning, you can use the damper pedal – but use it carefully, according to the rules I describe in my tutorial.

      The soft pedal should be avoided. You don’t need it for this piece. Its role is to change the timbre of the instrument, making it more ‘muffled’ and distant – which is not appropriate for this Allemande.

      Yes, you should learn how to create the delicate sound you’re looking for without the soft pedal.

      The sustain pedal, however, is helpful in Bach’s music – but only in certain places! It’s a good idea to practice this piece without the sustain pedal first – and then gradually to add the pedal. However, don’t forget that your pedaling skills need practice as well!

      Good luck! ;)
      Ilinca

      P.S. Have you heard about my recent project – Piano Career Academy? Click here to find out more! ;)

  9. Reuven says:

    Dear Ilinca,

    I liked your short videos on pedaling and the details about the playing techniques.
    I am studying now the Serrenade by Schubert and I have a question for you.
    While using the sustaining pedal it also calls for using the UNA CORDA pedal on some measures.
    Should the UNA CORDA and sustaining pedals be used together?
    Looking forward to hearing from you.
    Thanks.
    Reuven

    PS Not related to piano I would like to share that my mother was born in Soroca not too far from Chisinau and I was born in Bucharest, Romania. It is a small world afterwards.

    • Ilinca says:

      Hi Reuven!

      It’s great to meet you and to find out that we have common ‘roots’! It’s a very small world indeed!!! :)

      I’m sorry about replying with delay – I dedicate all my time to my Piano Coaching Program at PianoCareerAcademy.com and it’s not easy to find a free minute to reply to all the emails and questions I receive :).

      In reply to your question – yes, of course, the sustain pedal and the soft pedal (which is also called ‘una corda’ pedal) can be used together. Their functions are different and they are NOT mutually exclusive! ;)

      So you can use the soft pedal whenever you need to create a distant, delicate, ‘muffled’ sonority – no matter if you use the sustain pedal at the moment or not.

      Enjoy your practice and have a wonderful day,
      Ilinca

  10. Diogo Miguel says:

    Hi Ilinca,
    Just came across your website and found it very informative.
    I have a question for you. I’m a piano student and a huge fan of Chopin. I’m a little confused when it comes to the sustain pedalling of his Nocturnes, like this one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SdoP83_gCQ4

    My guess is that the appropriate and logical technique would be the “delayed pedal technique”. Pressing the note first, immediately followed by the sustain pedal, yet when we look at the sheet music from the video in the link above, the pedal symbols tell me the exact opposite: pedal and note at the same time, followed by a release at the end of the first beat so that you can press the pedal down again at the same time you press the first note of the second beat. Therefore, while I’m inclined to play this piece with the “delayed pedal technique”, the sheet music tells me that I should be using the “simultaneous pedal” technique. I’m puzzled and confused. Would really appreciate some feedback on this.
    Thank you so much.

    • Ilinca says:

      Hi Diogo!

      Thank you for your comment! ;)

      Your intuition is 100% correct – this piece has to be played by using the delayed pedaling technique.

      Many old scores indicate the pedal in a ‘weird’ way – with the release on the last note of the previous bar (beat). In time (and with experience), you will learn how to ‘read between lines’ – and you’ll know when to use the delayed pedaling technique (in lyrical romantic music) and when to use the simultaneous one (in dances, in classical pieces etc.).

      Good luck and enjoy your practice! ;)
      Ilinca

  11. Tom Rose says:

    Thanks for an accurate, useful, and easy-to-read article. There is so much nonsense written about piano playing in general, and pedalling in particular, that it is nice to see good accurate information, well presented, and carefully thought out for the level of pianist at which it is aimed.

  12. John Sprung says:

    Hi, Ilinca —

    I notice that you’re wearing high heels in the pedaling video (I can’t, the look just isn’t me ;-)).

    I used to get pain in my right leg from keeping my heel on the floor and stretching the toe up to the pedal. Now I just keep a block of wood on the floor, which raises my heel about 4 cm. That solved the problem. Particularly when a piano is on a stage dolly, the pedals can be uncomfortably high.

    – J.S.

    • Ilinca says:

      Hi John!

      I don’t always wear high heels when I pedal – I guess it depends on the season and also my mood! LOL

      Ideally, we should pedal in low-heel shoes – and they should cause no discomfort (at home, I usually practice wearing slippers LOL).

      I must admit that your discomfort is rather unusual – maybe it happens because you’re trying to cover the entire pedal with your foot (when in fact your foot has to cover only its broader part)? Doesn’t the block of wood prevent you from pressing the pedal all the way down?

      In any case, the most important thing remains your comfort – and also the quality of your pedaling! ;)

      Cheers,
      Ilinca

      • John Sprung says:

        I have no trouble pressing the pedal all the way down. The wood just brings its range of motion into my range of motion. I think the pedals are just unusually high on this piano. Maybe some previous owner put bigger wheels on it.

        – J.S.

  13. Clif says:

    Your videos are wonderful and demonstrate insight not always available. It is essential when watching a video of any kind that the viewer can clearly see the speaker. That is hard to do in your videos because there is no light on you. All the light is behind you or reflected off the walls. You, being the center of interest should be the brightest thing on the screen. n the videos, the piano keys are the brightest screen element. In is human nature to always be drawn to the brightest thing in front of you. The conflict is trying to pay attention to you while being distracted by the “brighter” piano keys. You don’t need studio lighting but a fill light and a spot as a slight angle would make an enormous difference in the quality and viewer experience. I produced many video programs over the years and taught production as well. Your content is wonderful and your presentation is also top notch. The lack of appropriate front lighting makes it difficult to view.

    I have learned much from your videos and please keep making them.

    Clif

    • Ilinca says:

      Hi Clif!

      Thank you for your appreciation – and for your awesome suggestions! ;)

      These videos were made about two years ago (I started with a zero budget LOL) – and since then things have considerably improved! Now I work with two very good cameras, professional tripods and two soft boxes (not to mention that I have an assistant who edits my videos).

      You can find all my new videos (hundreds of them!!!) on my Piano Coaching Program at PianoCareerAcademy.com :).

      Click here to go to the Complete List of Tutorials that are available for our members (new tutorials are being posted on a weekly basis)!

      Thank you for your comment – and have a very enjoyable practice ;),
      Ilinca

  14. Simon says:

    Hey Ilinca,

    I played piano from age 5-13, and now at 19 I’ve been trying to get back into it. I found that Tarantella by Pieczonka helps with rebuilding the mechanical skills I need (I was never very good at piano). After watching some videos, I found that a lot of people use pedal, but I am not really sure how to apply it. I know you said to not use pedal if it is going to link dissonant sounds, but does that mean to never use it with step-wise runs (e.g. scalar motion)? It seems like some people would just use it whenever the pedal tone changed, but for some that would blur the notes of the runs together.

    As you can see, I am confused and don’t know what to do. Please help!
    Simon

    • Ilinca says:

      Hi Simon!

      Please watch my video Using the Piano Pedals: On Style and Notation (and don’t forget to read the important article below the video!).

      You will discover that the pedal should always be used depending on the style of the piece: in classical (or pre-classical) pieces we use it sparingly, in romantic pieces we usually change it on each new harmony – while in modern music (starting with Debussy and Ravel and reaching expressionists and modernists) we can certainly connect dissonant sounds on one pedal (usually all we have to do is follow the indications of the composer, who knows exactly what type of pedaling will help you to create the sonority he had in mind).

      You can also find other detailed pedaling tutorials on my Piano Coaching Program at PianoCareerAcademy.com :).

      Good luck and enjoy your practice,
      Ilinca

  15. Hien Vu says:

    Hi Ilinca,

    I just came across your site and found your videos incredibly informative and rather enlightening. I hadn’t ever heard of the half or quarter pedaling techniques before and I found your explanation really interesting!

    I’m currently learning Poulenc’s Toccata from Trois Pieces, and I’m having trouble with the pedaling. Here’s a link:
    http://youtu.be/ZyvAqD8ZhfI?t=6m58s
    I read that Poulenc was famous for using lots of pedal and detesting dry sounds (‘You can never use too much pedal!’, he said) but it was also said that he could produce clear sounds despite using so much pedal! Whenever I try it in this piece, everything sounds muddy, or ‘dirty’ as you put it, especially on the scalar runs. After watching your video I was thinking of trying half-pedal. What would you recommend?

    Thank-you for your great videos!
    -Hien

    • Ilinca says:

      Hi Hien!

      Thank you so much for your appreciation! ;)

      I would love to write a answer to your question – but I currently dedicate my entire time to my Piano Coaching Program at PianoCareerAcademy.com – and unfortunately it’s physically impossible for me to offer free individualized guidance as well (by giving detailed replies to all the hundreds of emails/questions I receive on a daily basis). There are simply not enough hours in a day! :(

      So the only way I can help you in your piano quest is through my Piano Coaching Program – where you can find hundreds of piano playing tutorials where I share the professional principles of the Russian piano school (including many tutorials about pedaling) :).

      In the meantime – a little advice: whenever you work on a new piece, try to listen to several good recordings by professional pianists (more about correct practice and the process of mastering a piece – including WHY we need to listen to recordings – in the Members Area of my Coaching Program).

      Listen to Poulenc’s Toccata and allow your hearing to perceive and understand the needed sound effects. Then, try to create the same effects – again, by using your hearing as your main guide. Only your ears can tell you which pedaling technique is more appropriate for a certain fragment – full pedals, half pedals, quarter pedals etc. – and without direct guidance from a real-life teacher (who would demonstrate everything for you), professional recordings can be very helpful!

      Good luck – and have a bright and successful New Year 2014!!! :D
      Ilinca

  16. Ennio Paola says:

    What an inspirational video.

    Gives a wonderfully presented look re: “sustain pedal” rethink for teachers & students regardless of years, or experiences.

    Well done Ilinca!

    Please continue with a tradition of success.

    Ennio

  17. Catherine says:

    Thank you so much pianocareer.com for this article. This is very useful for my presentation in my pedagogy class about “Pedalling”
    Your video is really amazing and i can understand just by watching it!
    Thank you :)

  18. sam says:

    lovely presentation….bravo

  19. Joris says:

    Great summary about pedal techniques, thanks for that!

    Sometimes I find scores indicating staccato markings but at the same time sustain pedals. An example for this is Mazurka Op 6 no 2 from Chopin.

    Does this indicate a specific technique? How can I play staccato with sustain pedals in play? It looks contradictory. For now I prefer to play these passages in legato created by the sustain pedal.

    • Ilinca says:

      Hi Joris!

      Thank you! :-)

      Actually, a combination of sustain pedal and staccato is not contradictory, it’s simply a way to create a very interesting character and tone color (used by Romantics and also by Impressionists): the pedal provides continuity, while the staccato touch makes the sound more resonant, sharper, more elegant, ‘spicier’ :) (especially if we play a dance like a Mazurka). This type of color/character is impossible to create if you play with a simple legato articulation.

      You can find more information on this topic (in video form) on PianoCareerAcademy.com – my online Piano Coaching Program.

      Good luck and have an inspired practice ;),
      Ilinca

  20. leomsone says:

    when i am playing the piano could i dance to the music i am playing meaning that i move around my head and body too?

    • Ilinca says:

      Hi!

      No, this is not desirable! For more information, please watch my video The 5 Basic Elements of a Correct Piano Posture :).

      • leomsone says:

        i think that you are a classical pianist that is why you are telling me that it is not desirable to move around when playing the piano but i strongly believe that you actually can to give emotion and energy to our playing can you please explain why we can’t move around our heads and bodys when playing the piano.Thank you very much

Leave A Comment...

*