What do the three pedals on a piano do?

Piano students often have a curiosity about the three pedals that pianos have.  What do these foot pedals on a piano do?

Piano PedalsThe right pedal is the most commonly used pedal by any type of pianist.  It is often referred to as the damper or sustain pedal.  Unless otherwise indicated in the music, this is the pedal that is expected to be used while playing.  When the right pedal is pushed down, it prevents the dampers inside the piano from falling on the strings.  The result is that any key(s) played will continue to sound while this pedal is being used; when the pedal is lifted, the dampers fall on the strings and the sound will stop.  Pianists use this pedal for a variety of reasons including the ability to play several keys at once, connecting sound which would be difficult to do with just their fingers.

The left pedal is often called the soft pedal or una corda pedal.  This is the second most used pedal on the piano; some upright pianos and electric keyboards come with just these two most commonly used pedals.  The left pedal is used to get an overall softer volume on the piano.  Normally, when a key is pushed on the piano, the hammer strikes three strings all for the same note.  The left pedal shifts the hammers so that when the key is played, the hammer only strikes one of the strings (una corda) and the volume is softened.

The middle pedal, commonly called the sostenuto pedal, is most challenging of the three pedals.  For grand pianos and electronic keyboards, the middle pedal is somewhat similar to the right pedal. The pianist chooses which keys to sustain by pressing the keys and then pressing the middle pedal.  The chosen keys will continue to sound, while all other keys on the piano will continue to play as normal.  Because the middle pedal is rarely used, many upright pianos have a different type of middle pedal.  For these pianos, the pedal acts as a ‘practice pedal’.  Pushing this pedal will greatly deaden the sound so that a student can practice very quietly and not disturb others in the room.

If your electric keyboard does not come with a pedal, you can often purchase an attachment that will plug into the back of your keyboard.  The pedal attachment will function exactly like the right pedal on the piano.  The advantage of having this pedal for your keyboard is that you will get to explore different sounds on the keyboard and get practice with the most commonly used pedal of the piano.

For information about piano lessons at the Altadena Academy of Music, please call (626) 296-0799 or use our email contact form.