Robert Estrin - piano expert

When to use the Soft Pedal on the Piano

Learn one of the most interesting piano techniques

In this video, Robert talks about the soft pedal, and when to use it. You don't want to miss this video!

Released on December 10, 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

Hi, I'm Robert Estrin, and welcome to LivingPianos.com and virtualsheetmusic.com. Today's subject is "When do you use a soft pedal?" This is a great question, and it has, actually, a kind of complex answer, so enjoy the show.

All right, the soft pedal, first of all, is sometimes referred to as a soft pedal, but really it's the "una corda", una corda meaning "one string". Why? Well, early pianos had two strings for each note, and when you engage the una corda pedal, it moves the hammers over. So it would strike only one of the two strings. Well, today the piano has three strings through most of it, and when you put the soft pedal on, or the una corda, it does indeed shift the hammers so that the hammers are not striking the same way on the three strings, giving a change of color of tone. Now note that even though...if you have an upright, it may have a third pedal on the left...it still is not a true shifting una corda pedal. And you will know if your piano has a true shifting una corda pedal because when you press it, the keys actually move to the right. It shifts the entire action, giving a change of tonal color.

So when do you use it? Well, I'm going to demonstrate first by playing the movement, the Chopin movement from Schumann's "Carnaval". It happens twice. The first time I'm going to play it without the una corda pedal, and on the repetition, for a change of color, I'm going to engage the una corda. And listen to the change of tone. It's not just softer, but it's a different quality because a different part of the hammer is striking the strings.

You notice the change of sound on the repetition of that theme? It really is an extraordinarily, expressive device when used correctly. So when do you use a soft pedal? Well, this is an obvious example. You've got the same theme twice in a row, making it softer the second time, is quite lovely. The soft pedal aids in the change of tone. Now, the fact of the matter is that every piano's soft pedal has a different response. Some pianos, you might try your piano, push down the soft pedal and not notice any difference at all. It's possible that the soft pedal has a minimal effect on tone on your piano, and yet on some other pianos, it has a dramatic effect. So naturally, if you're playing different instruments, you can't necessarily use the una corda pedal the same way each time because it's different on different pianos. Not only that, but room acoustics, audience noise. There are many factors that determine when the appropriate time is to use a soft pedal. Sometimes you will have a piano that's extraordinarily bright, the tone is maybe bordering on harsh, and you want to use the soft pedal a great deal to sweeten the tone, though, a lot of times when maybe you would never use it at home on your piano. And the opposite could be true. You come to a piano that maybe is quite mellow, and you don't require the soft pedal to get a beautiful pianissimo.

So the bottom line with using the una corda pedal is use your ears. Use your judgment. You must listen. At home, you can determine places that are logical to use the soft pedal, but you must be flexible because every instrument has different sonorities and those sonorities change differently when you depress the soft pedal. So that's the long and short of it. Utilize the soft pedal for expressiveness, but don't be dogmatic about it. You've got to...Each instrument at each performance, be fresh in the way you approach the use of the soft pedal. Thanks so much for joining me. Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com and virtualsheetmusic.com
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cgolcherc * VSM MEMBER * on January 31, 2016 @6:44 am PST
Thank you so much for you explanation Mr Estrin. I have only this doubt. What about if the composer tels not to use it, as in the 1st mvt of Moolight sonata Beetoven writtes "si deve suonare tutto questo pezzo delicatissimamente e senza sordino" Greetings. Cristian.
Fulvia Bowerman * VSM MEMBER * on December 10, 2014 @12:42 pm PST
Thank you for the explanation. I could see the shifting of the keyboard on your piano. My Yamaha has 3 pedals, and nothing shifts! Also, it seems that the left and the middle pedals have the same slightly muting effect, but if combined, then the muting is doubled. My mother's Italian piano had also 3 pedals, with very distinct effects, the center was true muting, the left just slightly.
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