what do the pedals on a piano do?

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  • 1 decade ago
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    The most used pedal is the sustain or forte(loud) pedal which gives the notes extra sustain- that nice big echoey sound- it's on the right.

    The second most popular is the una corde or soft pedal which helps you to get a quieter sound without changing your touch as much. It's on the left.

    The third pedal is the sostenuto and rarely used; it keeps whichever notes you were holding when you stepped on it sustained- it's like a sostenuto pedal but you get pick certain notes instead of all of them.

  • 1 decade ago

    Pianos have had pedals, or some close equivalent, since the earliest days. (In the 18th century, some pianos used levers pressed upward by the player's knee instead of pedals.) The three pedals that have become more or less standard on the modern piano are the following.

    The damper pedal (also called the sustaining pedal or loud pedal) is often simply called "the pedal", since it is the most frequently used. It is placed as the rightmost pedal in the group. Every string on the piano, except the top two octaves, is equipped with a damper, which is a padded device that prevents the string from vibrating. The damper is raised off the string whenever the key for that note is pressed. When the damper pedal is pressed, all the dampers on the piano are lifted at once, so that every string can vibrate. This serves two purposes. First, it assists the pianist in producing a legato (playing smoothly connected notes) in passages where no fingering is available to make this otherwise possible. Second, raising the damper pedal causes all the strings to vibrate sympathetically with whichever notes are being played, which greatly enriches the piano's tone.

    Piano pedals from right to left, Damper, sostenuto and the una corda pedal.Sensitive pedaling is one of the techniques a pianist must master, since piano music from Chopin onwards tends to benefit from extensive use of the sustaining pedal, both as a means of achieving a singing tone and as an aid to legato. In contrast, the sustaining pedal was used only sparingly by the composers of the 18th century, including Haydn, Mozart and in early works by Beethoven; in that era, pedalling was considered primarily as a special coloristic effect.

    The soft pedal or "una corda" pedal is placed leftmost in the row of pedals. On a grand piano, this pedal shifts the whole action including the keyboard slightly to the right, so that hammers that normally strike all three of the strings for a note strike only two of them. This softens the note and modifies its tone quality. For notation of the soft pedal in printed music, see Italian musical terms.

    The soft pedal was invented by Cristofori and thus appeared on the very earliest pianos. In the 18th and early 19th centuries, the soft pedal was more effective than today, since pianos were manufactured with only two strings per note, just one string per note would be therefore struck — this is the origin of the name "una corda", Italian for "one string". In modern pianos, there are three strings per hammer and are spaced too closely to permit a true "una corda" effect — if shifted far enough to strike just one string on one note, the hammers would hit the string of the next note.

    On many upright pianos, the soft pedal operates a mechanism which moves the hammers' resting position closer to the strings. Since the hammers have less distance to travel this reduces the speed at which they hit the strings, and hence the volume is reduced, but this does not change tone quality in the way the "una corda" pedal does on a grand piano.

    Digital pianos often use this pedal to alter the sound to that of another instrument such as the organ, guitar, or harmonica. Pitch bends, leslie speaker on/off, vibrato modulation, etc. increase the already-great versatility of such instruments.

    The sostenuto pedal or "middle pedal" keeps raised any damper that was raised at the moment the pedal is depressed. This makes it possible to sustain some notes (by depressing the sostenuto pedal before notes to be sustained are released) while the player's hands are free to play other notes. This can be useful for musical passages with pedal points and other otherwise tricky or impossible situations. The sostenuto pedal was the last of the three pedals to be added to the standard piano, and to this day, many pianos are not equipped with a sostenuto pedal. (Almost all modern grand pianos have a sostenuto pedal, while most upright pianos do not.) A number of twentieth-century works specifically call for the use of this pedal, for example Olivier Messiaen's Catalogue d'oiseaux. This pedal is often unused in modern music.

    Many uprights and baby grands have a bass sustain in place of the sostenuto pedal, which lifts all the dampers in the bass. It works like the damper pedal, but only affects the lowest notes.

    Some upright pianos have a practice pedal or celeste pedal in place of the sostenuto. This pedal, which can usually be locked in place by depressing it and pushing it to one side, drops a strip of felt between the hammers and the strings so that all the notes are greatly muted — a handy feature for those who wish to practice in domestic surroundings without disturbing the neighbours. The practice pedal is rarely used in performance.

    The rare transposing piano, of which Irving Berlin possessed an example, uses the middle pedal as a clutch which disengages the keyboard from the mechanism, enabling the keyboard to be moved to left or right with a lever. The entire action of the piano is thus shifted to allow the pianist to play music written in one key so that it sounds in a different key.

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