The 3 Piano Pedals DeMOUSEtified

So today me and my assistant, Mr. Maus, are going to be teaching you about the three pedals on the piano, aren’t we Mr. Maus?

-*Squeak* Yessir!

I’ve decided it’s time to get some outside help with my blogs, so Mr. Maus is going to enlighten us about what those mysterious pedals actually do. This is his first public blog, so I’ll be here too in case he misses something. It’s all yours Mr. Maus!

-*Squeak, squeak* Thanks Darryl! Hewwo everyone, welcome, today we are going to learn *squeak* about da pedows on da piano! *Nibble, nibble, nibble*

Here is da first pedow: 

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Dis is da wight pedow. It’s wike da gas pedow in your car and it makes you pway faster! *Squeak* If you’re on a good piano, it will take you from largo to prestissimo in under 3.5 seconds!

Now hold on a second here Mr. Maus, I think you’ve got your facts mixed up! We’re not talking about car pedals, we’re talking about piano pedals. What Mr. Maus meant to say was the right pedal is called the Sustain Pedal and it sustains the sound even when you take your hands off the keyboard. It even has a second name, the Damper Pedal. When keys are played the hammers hit the strings and the dampers, little mutes on the strings made out of felt, are lifted so the sound can resonate. Normally, when the keys are released, the dampers return to the strings, stopping them from vibrating. But when the Damper Pedal aka Sustain Pedal is pushed then you can remove your hands from the keys and the dampers will not return to the strings, thus allowing the piano to resonate freely. Pretty cool eh Mr. Maus!

-*Squeak* For sure my big man! *Squeak*

Hey who you callin’ big? This giant’s sensitive!

-Oops, soooowwwy! *Squeak, nibble*

Never mind, lets just get on with the show!

-Kk! Now here is da middow pedow: *Nibble*

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Da middow pedow hewps you swow down if you’ve gone too fast! It can bwing you to a compwete stop, useful when you have a fermata. It also hewps you idle on notes while you hop into da store to gwab a V-8va! *Squeak* Vewwwwy useful!

Mr. Maus, we went over this already! Ahem – what my assistant is trying to say is the middle pedal is called the Sostenuto Pedal. The name is easily confused with the Sustain Pedal and indeed it functions in a similar manner. This pedal allows you to sustain specific notes, like being a sustaining-sniper. For example, you may feel like you don’t always have enough hands when a composer writes a big, long chord in the bass, while at the same time you must play a complicated passage higher up. In this situation, you would play the low chord first and put the Sostenuto Pedal down, which frees up your left hand to deal with the material on the other end of the keyboard. Any notes you play after the Sostenuto Pedal is down won’t be sustained so it gives you more nuanced control about what you want held. It can even be used in conjunction with the Sustain Pedal!

Isn’t that interesting Mr. Maus! Mr. Maus? Mr. Maus wake up!

-*Yawn, squeak! Ooops! Sowwwwy! Good mowning! *Squeak*

Never mind.

Many pianos do not have a Sostenuto Pedal. Instead they may have something called a Felt Pedal if they are smaller apartment-sized pianos. The Felt Pedal lowers a piece of felt between the hammers and the strings to make the sound very quiet so people won’t disturb their neighbours. Some pianos only have two pedals, with no middle pedal.

With super fancy electronic pianos these days, the middle pedal can also function as a page -turning pedal. You can hook up your iPad, and turn the digital pages, freeing up your hands and putting professional page turners out of work.

Okay, last but not least, Mr. Maus is going to tell us about the left pedal. Take it away!

-*Squeak* Okay! *Squeak*

Here is da weft pedow: *Nibble, Squeak*

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Da weft pedal is vewwwy interewesting *Squeak* It is used to change key! On most models it can shift through 12 gears!

*Squeak* When you push down da weft pedow, make sure you bwing da wight pedal up at da same time, otherwise you will gwind da hammers!

Arg…Mr. Maus, you are incorrigible. I think we have to have a talk after this. My apologies folks.

I am afraid there were a few inaccuracies in Mr. Maus’s explanation. You see, the left pedal is called the Soft Pedal. Unsurprisingly, it makes the music sound softer. But it’s not always used for making everything quieter. For example, it’s also used to change the colour of the sound. In the time of French Impressionism, composers like Claude Debussy used the soft pedal to make the music sound more etherial. So, in theory you could play loud with the Soft Pedal on, it just wouldn’t sound as bright.

The Soft Pedal also has two names. It is also known as the Una Corda Pedal. Una Corda means ‘one string’ in Italian. As you may know, each note on the piano (in the medium and higher ranges) has three strings. On a grand piano, when you push this pedal down, the keyboard and the hammers slide to the left a couple mm. This means that the hammers no longer strike the strings in the same place. In fact, they will be striking one string less, therefore making the piano sound quieter. This pedal is commonly used, but it’s often up to the pianist’s discretion on when to use it as it’s not always written in the score.

Well Mr. Maus, it looks like we need to review our notes, don’t we?

-*Squeak* Whaaaatever!

I hope you’ve learned something here and that our audience has learned something as well. Those are the three pedals on the piano – use them wisely!

Well, wave good-bye to everyone, Mr. Maus.

-Ok! *Squeak* ‘Till next time!!! *Big squeak!!!*

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