Robert Estrin - piano expert

Why Does a Soft Pedal Make No Difference on Some Pianos?

Learn about some of the differences among pianos

In this video, Robert talks about the soft pedal and how, for some pianos, the soft pedal doesn't seem to give you a different effect. Why is that?

Released on May 27, 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 I am a Robert Estrin with a really interesting subject. Why does a soft pedal make no difference on some pianos? Have you ever noticed that? You go to some pianos and you use a soft pedal and you hear a nice tonal change. Other pianos, it doesn't seem to do anything at all. Are they broken? What's the deal? All right. Well, first of all, I'm talking about the una corda pedal, which is the real soft pedal found on grand pianos and baby grand pianos. Upright pianos have various things that the left pedal does, but it's just about never when it does on a grand piano, which is to shift the entire action. So the hammers don't strike the three strings directly. So una corda, as a matter of fact, means one string because a long, long time ago, a piano only had two strings and shifting the action made the hammers only hit one of the strings.

Well, modern pianos are a little bit different. You see, on modern pianos, it doesn't actually only strike one less string, the entire hammer hits at a different point. If you ever look inside your piano, you'll see a piano that's been played a good deal has grooves where the strings are and this is a compacted felt, which is harder, which gives a more brittle, brilliant tone than the softer felt surrounding. So when you push down the soft pedal, you'll hear a dramatic change on pianos that are broken in. Now let's take this Mason & Hamlin. Although this piano was built in 1929, we just had it rebuilt. And more than that, it has brand new hammers. So there should be a minimal difference in the soft pedal because the hammers aren't really broken in at all.

So I'm going to play a brief section, just a brief chord progression without the soft pedal, then I'm going to engage the soft pedal. Let's hear if we can hear any difference on this piano with brand new hammers. I purposely played very delicately. Now I'm going to play just as softly, but with the soft pedal and we'll see if we hear any tonal change. I would say this, if there is a total change, it is extremely subtle, which is what you'd expect. Here's the interesting thing. After six months or a year of playing this piano, the hammers will get grooved, the tone will brighten up, which is normal on all pianos. However, the soft pedal will engage a part of the hammer that isn't normally played, and you'll hear a dramatic difference. I remember, for example, a couple of months ago, I was at a good friend's house and he has a Yamaha that he plays a good deal.

And the hammers are pretty, pretty hard. And pushing down the soft pedal was like a completely different piano. You couldn't believe the difference because the hard felt of the compacted felt of the grooves were bypassed, just by a fraction of an inch because that fresh part of the felt is being hit on the strings. So that's why on some pianos, you'll hear a minimal amount of change. Now, certain amount can be voiced or regulated. However, time is your best cure for a soft pedal that doesn't do much. Just play your piano. And indeed, the soft pedal will make a bigger difference over time. And that's the lesson for today. Pretty interesting stuff, huh? I hope you like this and other videos. If you do, you're welcome to subscribe. Again, I'm Robert Estrin here at, your online piano store.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

William McClellan * VSM MEMBER * on May 27, 2020 @11:56 am PST
If a high-quality grand piano is very carefully rebuilt, will it sound the same as when it was new? Will the action feel the same?

Thanks very much for your videos!
Robert - host, on May 27, 2020 @4:05 pm PST
How a piano sounds and plays after rebuilding comes down to many factors: which parts of the piano have been replaced, the choice of materials, as well as the quality of the work. If there is a new soundboard, the sound signature will not be the same as the piano was originally. It may not be as good, or it could be better!
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