Pedalling to Create Colour in Piano

In our next Pitch In session I’m going to spend some time going over the pedal. Specifically the sustain pedal. This is generally the one on the right of your pedals (or the accelarator pedal in a car in the UK).

The sustain pedal allows us to create colour in our repertoire. When you press the sustain pedal you lift dampers off the strings in the piano. This effectively lets the strings vibrate for longer allowing for longer notes.

In an acoustic piano the sustain pedal is analogue. You have have the greatest control over the dampers using the pedal and that’s where the art comes in. If you press the pedal all the way down then there are no dampers on the string. However, if you press it a little then the dampers can still be touching the string which gives a different sound and length to your notes and chords.

Digital piano sustain pedals are in most cases an on and off effect. It either sustains the note or it doesn’t. I’m sure the more expensive pedal will allow for more control but they’re still digital and don’t give quite the same effect as acoustic piano pedals.

When thinking about using the pedal, there’s often a danger that it’s used as a crutch. A way to disguise some missing technique. This isn’t always the case but where you can, practice and learn your music without the pedal then add it for effect. Delve deep in to where you can move seamlessly between notes and only apply pedal to create colour or help with large leaps.

I generally cover pedalling technique in lessons however if you’re looking to get started with it then there is a great book called Pedaling – Colours in Sound (affiliate link) by Katherine Faricy.

In this book it dives in what the pedals are for and houw to use them. There are loads of pieces of music in the book that clearly shows you when, where and how to apply the pedal.

One of my favourite exercises early in the book is the Nest of Boxes. It talks about playing notes, applying pedals then gradually playing the following notes, within the same pedal, quieter. This allows for the 1st note to still be audible when you get to the end of that phrase or pedalled section.

When using the pedal, always listen closely to what’s happening. Are you creating a muddy sound by not fuly lifting the pedal or are you not using enough. Use it to create your own sound and interpretation of the music you’re playing.

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