Robert Estrin - piano expert

Do All Piano Pedals Feel The Same?

Learn about one of the differences between pianos

In this video, Robert shows how different pedals can be on different pianos.

Released on April 8, 2020

    
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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

Welcome to livingpianos.com, your online piano store with a question. Do all piano pedals feel the same? All right. Well, first of all, I'm not talking about the three pedals on a specific piano. They might feel different from one another. I'm talking about, for example, the damper pedal, the sustain pedal on the right that you push on a piano. Is there a certain way that all pedals should feel on pianos? And believe it or not, the answer is no. Pedals, as a matter of fact, can feel drastically different from one another. Let me give you a great example. Growing up with my father Morton Estrin, he had many pianos and usually we had three or four pianos in the house through most of my childhood. Early on there was a Steinway Model S from the 1930s and a little baby grand and then there was a Baldwin L six foot three grand.

Sitting down in the Steinway, if your foot was even leaning on that pedal, it would start to sustain and it had a very, very small amount of travel and it was hard to push. Then sitting down to the Baldwin, you could push that pedal down close to an inch with nothing happening at all, just dead travel. And it was easy to push and had a lot of travel to it. Completely different. So why isn't there a normal? I guess whatever piano you play becomes your new normal and you compare all other pianos to that. So the lesson for this is, be sure that if you're ever performing anywhere else, even if it's informally at a friend's house, try out those pedals, see how hard they are to push, how much travel they have, at what point in the travel they start to respond.

And it's not just the sustain pedal. The other pedals, the soft pedal, for example, the one on the left, the una corda pedal, sometimes you push it down and you say, "What's the deal? I don't think it's working." You don't notice any change of tone at all. Other pianos, you push it down, it's a drastic change of tone. Is this normal? Well, yes, that can be regulated, but there's a certain amount that just has to do with how much the piano's been played and how it's voiced. So the pedals on pianos are all unique and you must be able to adjust. So anytime you get an opportunity to play pianos, just for fun, try out the pedals so that when you do have that time that you're playing for people, you can adjust quickly so that you can do a satisfying musical performance.

I hope this is helpful for you. Again, I'm Robert Estrin at livingpianos.com. You're welcome to subscribe for more videos and lots of more coming your way. We'll see you then.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Peter Moffitt on April 8, 2020 @7:28 am PST
Ah, the pedal! Specifically, the sustain, or..."loud" pedal. There are so many variables that govern pedal effectiveness. Some are regulatable, that is, there are adjustments available in the piano to compensate for normal wear & tears (sic) over the decades of use. The pedal is a multi-application of the simplest machine: the lever-and-fulcrum. You push the pedal down (yes, that force does vary greatly, usually by design) and all the dampers lift off the strings.
In uprights you fight all the damper-lever springs, and in the grand piano, you raise all dampers against the force of gravity. Frustratingly, not all dampers lift the same amount, or at the same time. Dampers are supposed to start lifting off the strings about halfway through the pressing of the key, or, its "excursion." This seems to be universal among all brands. Each damper has an adjustment that can delay or accelerate its moment of lift.
What's this got to do with our lovely damper (sustain) pedal? Well, the keys are 88 levers with lifter-pads on the back ends of about 68, and the pedal mechanism uses one big damper-lifter-bar (sometimes in two segments in "guppy" baby grands) to raise ALL dampers at once. Thus, lack of action regulation can ruin the experience of using the pedal.
The pedal lever system has at least five friction points, bearings made of felt (which can pack down, and gets dirt ground in) which can be lubricated (in the old days, I always had chap-stick in my bag) or replaced. Leaf-springs made of seriously tempered steel are expected to rub against felt pads quietly (another lube-point), but they wear through, or make horrible sounds, until a new patch of felt is glued in place.
In overview, each adjustment to a piano mechanism affects all the others. Only long experience will give the technician the ability to target the most effective repair, to bring the most (and appropriate) playing satisfaction to the client.
The experience of making music is the most important thing, whatever the level of the player's ability! I knew of a customer who traded in his studio upright for a fancier model (I used to work in a dealership), and all of us technicians gathered around, looking inside this not-so-old, shiny, trade-in. Six hammers were worn flat! The other hammers looked almost brand-new. ...Well, it turned out that this businessman had used the piano as after-work therapy, playing the melody that brought him "back to his self": the seven notes that begin "Fur Elise." ...The power of music. That piano was not abused, in my book.
reply
Robert - host, on April 8, 2020 @10:45 am PST
Thanks for the technical insights about the damper pedal!
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