Piano Pedals

Most piano models are built with three foot pedals as pictured above.  Each pedal was designed to serve a different function.
Damper Pedal (Sustain Pedal).  This pedal is the one that is most often used.  It is on the far right and is played with the right foot.  When the damper pedal is pressed down on an acoustic piano (i.e. grand or upright piano), all of the dampers resting on the piano strings are lifted at the same time allowing the strings associated with the pressed keys to vibrate and resonate.  The piano strings will resonate freely until the pedal is released causing the dampers to return to the strings silencing any sustained vibrations.

Below is an example of a pedal marking that you would see in piano music indicating that the damper pedal needs to be used:
The illustration below takes this same example and explains what each piece of the pedal marking means:

#1 – The vertical line tells you to press the damper pedal down with the right foot.

#2 – Hold the damper pedal down for the duration of the notes within this horizontal segment.

#3 – The spike here tells you to slightly release the damper pedal (probably half way), and then press it down again immediately.

#4 – Hold the damper pedal down for the duration of the notes written within this horizontal segment.

#5 – The vertical line at the end of the pedal marking tells you to release the damper pedal completely.

Sostenuto Pedal.  On three pedal pianos, the sostenuto pedal will be the center one and is played with the left foot.  If a piano comes with only two pedals, then there is no sostenuto.  Personally, I have rarely used this pedal and most of my students have never seen music requiring its use.  Sostenuto pedals allow you to selectively sustain a single note at a time.  The way it works is that you first play a note or chord.  While the piano key(s) are being held down, you then want to press the sostenuto pedal.  After those keys are released, those notes will continue to be sustained until the pedal is released.  If you play additional notes after the pedal has been pressed, those notes will not be sustained…unless you are using the damper pedal in conjunction with the sostenuto pedal.

Soft Pedal.  This pedal is on the far left and is played with the left foot.  With acoustic pianos, you will notice that the entire piano keyboard seems to shift horizontally and the sound is muted when the soft pedal is pressed.  I do require that my students learn the proper technique for creating dynamic contrast from forte to piano without cheating and using the soft pedal.  This pedal should be used primarily to create dramatic effect as opposed to doing your dynamics for you.

You may also find these links helpful:
Parts of The Piano
Suzuki Method For Piano
Correct Piano Posture
Piano Practice Tips
Middle C Postion


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