The Art of Pedaling

With regards to so many students who asked the same questions on piano pedaling throughout my years of teaching: What age/grade will I learn pedaling at? How to pedal? When to pedal? Should I pedal? Which pedal do I use?

I’m dedicating this post as a direction to these questions. There are various reference books that discusses the same topic such as the one by pianist Anton Rubenstein, and many more that you may want to read other than my article itself. It is not the answer to piano pedaling as the art of pedaling is very profound. You can take my words as a suggestion but judgement must be made as the final pedaling setting defers from time to time on every piece. I will show you along the way and I hope it helps to lessen the doubts of the above questions as much as possible. Now, I will go into this slow and detailed so more thorough of an idea how pedaling can come about in a piece.

First, for a head-start and clarity, I’m basically referring to the 3 pedals on an upright or grand piano. The first on the right, its named as the Damper Pedal but I prefer to use the terminology as Sustain Pedal. This is used to hold notes/beats/chords/bar/sections and the sound produced is simply a vibration with overlaps in all the notes pressed together. This is not to be confused with the middle pedal on the grand piano and certain upright models that has a different function named similar – Sostenuto Pedal. It works alike to hold note but only one at a time while other notes will not overlap. On a normal upright piano, the middle pedal works as a Mute Pedal instead. This pedal can be shifted to a side and locked upon pressing down. It is often used to prevent a disturbance to others during your practice especially at night. However, the sound produced from this pedal is not the same as the original without a pedal. This is because the felt cloth inside your piano is lifted/hung down when the pedal is pressed and then when you struck the hammer, it hits the felt cloth instead of the string directly. The pedal on the left is known as the Una Corda or otherwise known as the Soft Pedal, produces quieter tones compared to struck a key at same weight without pedal. Also, these pedals can possibly be used together based on required situations.

What age/grade will I learn pedaling at?
I would like to explain more about when one can start learning to pedal before going on from there to introduce a few common pedaling styles. In my teaching, I have tried cultivating the start on learning pedaling as early as on a 4 year old, beginner to the latest 2nd and 3rd graders. I would rarely begin my students late to pedal such as when the exam pieces requires it or when we encounter a repertoire that needs pedaling which some teachers would do so. My experience tells to start pedaling as early as possible. I start off with teaching the Sustain Pedal and incorporate the use of other pedal in slightly later grades after students are used to pedaling. There are many good reasons why its beneficial to start early in learning pedaling. For a young child, playing with the pedal is an enjoyment, mainly they see it as something FUN. Many beginners have shown curiosity in the pedals once they start learning and usually it can be seen during the first lesson. Some may try pressing down with the foot by their own instinct, while others may ask the teacher what the pedal is, and then there is also the minority who doesn’t bother. As a teacher, I felt its easier to teach when the learner is interested, giving you attention for something they want to know and not burdened by the fact that pedaling is a technique that requires more than just pressing down by the foot. I think this is an excellent time to introduce the pedal upon the first lesson with its name then subsequently let them test out the difference between a key struck with pedal then a key struck without pedaling. Often the result is a satisfying yet intriguing expression from them, as engaging pedaling in a much friendlier way to young ones I get to develop them to be more curious about it too. For other ages,especially the older kids, teenagers and even adults, I would not even hesitate to teach them pedaling as soon as they can play a piece with both hands fluently. Emotionally, it is very spirit lifting to know you can play music out of the instrument you just learnt and using the pedal which carries a myth for a good long ages that its something difficult to do. For those students who’s self-taught, you can play with pedaling and record as a gauge if you are not able to focus listening and playing at a start. Some people can instantly catch how to do it while others will need a longer time.

The main reason why starting to learn pedaling must be coached early as I have seen too many transferred students who comes to me and pedals a piece in often the wrong posture, wrong method, wrong interpretation and most importantly not used to piano pedaling. Many usually start pedaling only when they need to enter exams with a piece requiring pedal work and doing in a short period of time. I highly believe that using the pedal in the correct way enhances a piece of music but if done the wrong way, it not only alters the actual intentions of the composer but at the same time changes all the tonal colour and style of the piece. Even if the pedagogy of pedaling is understood, the execution of pedaling must be practiced so that the pianist playing the certain piece requiring pedal will be used to it. It is very good to cultivate a habit of using the pedal while young, developing one’s hearing and coordinating senses with physical movements to produce good music.

Basic Piano Pedaling Methods
These are pedal types which are the basis of learning pedaling. I will not go in dept to the advance ways of pedaling as by then, a lot can be explored and too much cannot be explained just by words. I highly encourage you to discuss with your teacher or research on the piece you’re playing when doing so.
The first type of pedaling that all should be very familiar with is the Legato Pedaling. 

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