Learn the 3 Piano Pedals With Pictures
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There are two standard foot pedals on the piano: the “una corda” and the “sustain.”
The middle pedal is only standard on the American grand piano and is very rarely used. Read on to learn how the three piano pedals work and how they sound.
About the Una Corda or ‘Soft’ Pedal
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The una corda pedal is the left pedal and is played with the left foot. It is also known as the ‘soft pedal’ or the ‘piano pedal’.
The Effects of the Una Corda Pedal
The una corda pedal is used to enhance the timbre of softly played notes, and exaggerate a low volume. The soft pedal should be used with notes that are already played softly, and will not produce the desired effect on louder notes.
The una corda was the first mechanism to modify the piano’s sound and was originally operated by hand. It was invented in 1722 by Bartolomeo Cristofori and quickly became a standard addition to the piano.
How the Una Corda Pedal Works
Most treble keys are attached to two or three strings. The una corda shifts the strings so that the hammers only strike one or two of them, creating a softened sound.
Some bass keys are only attached to one string. In this case, the pedal creates a shift so that the hammer strikes on a lesser-used portion of the string.
Una Corda Pedal Marks
In piano notation, use of the soft pedal begins with the words una corda (meaning “one string”), and is released by the words tre corde (meaning “three strings”).
Interesting Facts About the Una Corda Pedal
Most upright pianos use a “piano” pedal instead of a true una corda pedal. The piano pedal moves the hammers closer to the strings, preventing them from striking with full force. This produces a similar effect on volume as the original una corda.
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The sostenuto pedal is usually the middle pedal, but it is often omitted. This pedal is played with the right food and was originally known as the ‘tone-sustaining’ pedal.
Effects of the Sostenuto Pedal
The sostenuto pedal allows certain notes to be sustained while other notes on the keyboard are unaffected. It is used by hitting the desired notes, then depressing the pedal. The selected notes will resonate until the pedal is released. This way, sustained notes can be heard alongside notes played with a staccato effect.
History of the Sostenuto Pedal
The sostenuto pedal was the last addition to the modern piano. Boisselot & Sons first showcased it in 1844, but the pedal didn’t gain popularity until Steinway patented it in 1874. Today, it’s primarily found on American grand pianos but is not considered a standard addition since it is very rarely used.
How the Sostenuto Pedal Works
When the sostenuto pedal is depressed, it keeps the dampers off the selected strings, allowing them to resonate while the rest of the keys’ dampers remain down.
Sostenuto Pedal Marks
In piano music, use of the sostenuto pedal begins with Sost. Ped., and ends with a large asterisk. Notes meant to be sustained are sometimes marked by hollow, diamond-shaped notes, but there are no strict rules for this pedal since it is hardly ever used.