Robert Estrin - piano expert

When to Add the Pedal in Your Piano Practice

An important tip to improve your practice with and without the use of the pedal

In this video, Robert tells you when to use and when not to use the pedal during practice.

Released on September 25, 2019

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hi, welcome to I am Robert Estrin with a great subject today, when do you add the pedal in your piano practice? Well, a lot of you might be thinking, "What do you mean when do you add it? Why don't you just use the pedal the whole time?"

Well there are good reasons to practice without the pedal. I've discussed this at great length in many videos. Today we're going to talk about when to add the pedal to your piano practice. Now why is it you should practice without the pedal? As I've talked about before, I order to discover the best fingering, to be able to really connect the music with your hands, you want to be able to practice hearing all the notes clearly. Now the pedal is kind of like the icing on the cake. I makes everything sound better. But you want to try to achieve a beautiful smooth performance playing without the pedal. If you do that, then adding the pedal is going to enrich your performance.

More than that, you won't use the pedal as a crutch to connect. You can already connect with your hands leaving the pedal as an expressive device to enhance tone instead of merely correcting what you should be able to do with your fingers.

I'm going to take a familiar section of the Chopin Ballade in G minor. I'm going to show you what to do if you were practicing this section of the famous G minor Ballade. I'm going to play as written first with the pedal. Then I'm going to talk about when would you add the pedal in your practice.

Of course, it goes on from there. Well, the first thing is, how do you practice to begin with? I've talked about this also and it's really important with solo piano repertoire to break it down to it's most intrinsic elements so that you can get all the details. Because if you try to learn to much at a time, there's only so much you can assimilate at one time, which is why you want to take a small section at a time, hand separately, figuring out the notes, counting out the rhythm, figuring out the best fingering as well as observing phrasing markings such as staccatos and slurs and all the expression, all the other marks that are in there with the dynamics, the louds and softs, accents all the rest of it.

If you took just the right hand at that very beginning par that I started. Now I already know this piece. I learned it years ago. But if it was a fresh piece and I was learning this section, that's all I would learn. Why so little? Could I learn more than that? Absolutely. But how long would it take me to take a phrase twice as long? Would it take twice as long for me to learn that phrase? More than that, if I was practicing a whole afternoon and wanted to keep learning, it might be really challenging to take 16 measure or 32 measure phrases where I could knock out smaller phrases very easily and sustain a longer practice.

Let's say you get that much learned, then you learn the left hand, and you have the left hand securely memorized and smooth and comfortable. Then you put the hands together. Often times, I suggest when putting the hands together the first time, challenge yourself since you've already memorized each hand separately. Try to do the hands together from memory. You may need to go substantially slower at first in order to achieve that.

Once you get it together and the hands are together smoothly and memorized and at a reasonable tempo as fast as you can get it up to in one sitting, because of course, you'll come to a point of diminishing your turns and maybe you're better off waiting for the next day to get a very fast piece up to tempo. But still, once you get it up to tempo, you play the hands together as close to tempo as you are comfortable to achieve in one sitting. Again, without the pedal.

Now you hear already that there's good fingering, because I'm able to play legato in both hands. You'll know right away when your fingering could be better if you hear things that are not connected or disjointed, where things aren't secure. In fact, one of the most important solutions to most technical problems is finding a better fingering. This transcends just this lesson today about pedaling and when to add the pedal. I would suggest whenever you run into snags in your playing, or something just isn't secure no matter how much you've practiced it in various ways, investigate fingering. That's just a little side tip for you today.

So you got a phrase together. You've got the hands separately memorized. You put them together. You got it comfortable. You got a fluid tempo. That's the time to add the pedal for the first time. Because now you're going to use the pedal for the right reasons, to enhance the tone and to connect what you can't connect. Because after all, in the left hand in these arpeggios, it sounds much nicer to have the arpeggios sustain beyond what you can reach, what you can hold because your left hand is going all over the place. Yet, you want that low B flat, for example, to hold longer than just the eight note.

Listen to it now with the pedal. Now of course I went beyond a little bit for you just so you could hear the beauty of this magnificent writing of Chopin. So, even after you've gotten the pedal and everything and you put the piece together, going back and practicing without the pedal is really essential. I can tell you I've had the good fortune of studying with many, many brilliant concert pianists and I can tell you every one of them is or was a firm believer in practicing without the pedal. It's a great technique. So add the pedal. Reward yourself each phrase you master. Then even after you have the whole piece with pedal, return to playing without the pedal to keep your playing honest. Don't just use the pedal as a crutch to hold things that you know you can connect them with your hands after you practice in the manner I just described.

I hope this is helpful for you. Again, I'm Robert Estrin here at, your online piano store.
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