Using the Sustain Pedal
Grand pianos contain three pedals: sustain, sostenuto, and una corda. The sostenuto pedal allows only select notes to ring out. The una corda pedal shifts the hammers on the piano so that they strike only one or two of the strings rather than all three. The result is a muffled or softer sound.
The sustain pedal — also called the loud pedal, the forte pedal, or the damper pedal — has the widest applications in music. This pedal creates a full-bodied tone and allows pianists to play beautiful legato phrases.
On a grand piano, the sustain pedal is the pedal farthest to the right. It should be played with the ball of the foot while the heel rests comfortably on the floor. FIGURE 4-10 shows you the order of all three pedals on the grand piano.
Pedaling on the sustain pedal comes down to three words:
FIGURE 4-10: Una Corda, Sostenuto, and Sustain Pedals
How does a sustain pedal work?
When you press down on the pedal, the dampening mechanism lifts so that the strings can vibrate freely. As a result, it's important to coordinate your playing with your pedaling. If your pedaling is sloppy, your playing will be sloppy. If you're not careful, unwanted notes will ring out and create ugly dissonances.
In written music, pedaling is indicated below the grand staff. There are different symbols used to denote pedaling. Sometimes, the abbreviation “
FIGURE 4-11: Pedaling Brackets
Blues styles like boogie-woogie and early rock-n-roll rarely use pedaling because the music is percussive and fast. Adding the sustain pedal to fast tempos often results in a washy mess. Pedaling is primarily used to add breadth and nuance to slow or sparse passages; chords, arpeggios, and melodic patterns all benefit from the sustain pedal. Be careful, however, when using the sustain pedal on music that contains lots of fast runs or complex rhythms. It can be used in these settings, but again, clarity must come first.
Upright pianos typically have una corda and sustain pedals, but manufacturers usually omit the sostenuto pedal. Digital pianos only use a sustain pedal, although some presets on today's keyboards include “una corda” sound. The sustain pedal is all you will need to play rock and blues music.
In this book, when pedaling is indicated on chords, you may either depress the pedal just after you strike the chord or while you strike the chord. For melodic patterns, you may depress the pedal just before the pattern or as you play the first note. It's important to listen to the way the pedal affects the flow of the music. The pedal should make each phrase sound rich and colorful. If it muddies up the sound, you need to improve your timing or omit the pedaling altogether.