Using the Piano Pedals

Question: I want to knew when pedals are used and how can I guess their use? Also, there are many signs in the sheet music which are difficult to understand; could you please help me? My sincere thanks.

– Olfa (Japan)

Albert’s reply: Most important is the right pedal, called the sustain pedal. In general, you can pedal whenever the harmony changes.

One thing that pianists tend to overlook is that during the Classical period (Haydn’s, Mozart’s and Beethoven’s generation, or roughly between 1750 and 1820), the sustain pedal was a special effect. Therefore it should be used carefully when playing their music – it shouldn’t be automatically applied!

The left pedal is called the una corda or soft pedal. “Una corda” means “one string” and pressing it moves the whole keyboard (on a grand piano) a few millimeters to the right so that the hammers strike one string less. (The modern piano’s treble is triple-strung, so two strings are struck rather than only one, but the name “una corda” is still used.)

It’s important to remember that the soft pedal is there more to change the tone color than to make the sound softer. Make sure you can play pianissimo without it, and use it only whenever you want a special sound!

Regarding signs in sheet music, I’ll have to write a separate article on that…

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