Robert Estrin - piano expert

How to Use the Pedal on the Piano - Part 1

Learn the basics of pedaling on the piano

In this first video of a multi-part series, Robert teaches you the basics of pedaling on the piano. You'll be surprised how your performance will change after these easy-to-understand tips!

Released on August 6, 2014

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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

Hello and welcome to I'm Robert Estrin, your host. This is a several part series, the art of pedaling on the piano. There's so much to the pedals and I want to cover this today. We're going to cover one facet of pedaling today, but it's an essential basic element of how to control the damper pedal. That's right, that's the pedal on the right that you use most of the time and using that pedal, I'm going to give you some basic tips of how to approach pedaling. A lot of people have asked me about this, "When do you use the pedal?" Now, there are no absolutes, but there are some general guidelines that you want to follow in your music. The basic rule is this: when harmonies change, you must clear the pedal. Why is that? Because otherwise you'll get clashing dissonance.

I've chosen the First Prelude and Fugue of Bach, from book 1, in C Major to demonstrate because this piece is very, very regular in that the harmonies change every measure and I'm going to show you this. Now, I'm going to play it first and I'm going to play it without any pedals so you can hear how the harmonies change. So you hear how the chords change, they're just broken chords and in fact, you can play this piece without the sustaining pedal; it was originally written for keyboards that most likely had no sustaining pedal back then; harpsichord, clavichord and such. But, when you're playing on a piano, the pedal can enhance the tone, so where do you use it? Well, here's the secret.

Aside from the fact that the pedal must be changed whenever there are new harmonies, the secret to pedaling is, the pedal comes up when the harmonies change. So this is the counterintuitive part of it because if you're used to tapping your foot you want to tap down on the beat, but the pedal clears exactly on the downbeat of the new harmonies. So now I'm going to employ the pedal and watch how the pedal comes up exactly on the downbeat of the change of harmonies, and that's the whole principle of pedaling. Now, of course when I started, I didn't put the pedal down first because it gets kind of an echoey sound.

So, the pedal always goes down right after you play the note but before the finger is released because if you put the pedal down and you've released your finger, it's obviously not going to hold the note. So that is the whole key to pedaling. Release the pedal on the downbeat of the new harmonies and that is the proper use of the damper pedal on the piano. There's more to come on the art of pedaling, so stay tuned here at Again, I'm Robert Estrin, thanks for joining me.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Fabian on August 14, 2014 @9:49 am PST
Hi Robert,

thank you so much for your videos. They have great value for me.

Here is my problem:
There are pieces where you have to use the pedal
(e.g. the first piece of Scenes from Childhood).
Then there are pieces (or passages) where you are not "allowed" to use it.
But many times it does not matter and is a matter of taste.
But how do you decide? Is there a guideline or a set of rules?

A concrete example: The C Maj prelude of book 1.
The score tells you that the left hand has to hold the notes,
while the right hand does not (they are played one at a time).
But by using the pedal this information becomes irrelevant.

This is a comprehensive subject and I fear the is no simple solution,
but maybe you bring some light into it.

Robert - host, on August 15, 2014 @11:04 am PST
This is an excellent question! You must practice your music without the pedal first so you can play honestly how the score indicates the notes are to be played. Then, if you add pedal for color, you don't obfuscate the intentions of the composer.
Kendah on August 11, 2014 @4:37 pm PST
Thank you so much mr.robert and I'll be waiting for the other parts.
Fulvia Bowerman * VSM MEMBER * on August 8, 2014 @7:54 pm PST
Well, at least I am using the pedal the right way!
And I missed the pedal when I played this Prelude on a church organ. I am a complete beginner on the organ, just took a few lessons mostly out of curiosity, and how different is the touch from the keyboard of the piano!
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