Robert Estrin - piano expert

When to use the Soft Pedal on the Piano

How to use the soft pedal on the piano?

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. Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com, your online piano store, with a great question, which is, when do you use a soft pedal on the piano? Una corda pedal, that's the left pedal on a grand and baby grande pianos is an amazing device for expressive playing because it changes the tone. Now those of you who practice on upright pianos, the left pedal does not do what it's supposed to do. What is una corda?

Una corda translated from the Italian as "one string." One string, now what does this mean? Well, originally, pianos had two strings, and by depressing the una corda pedal, the hammers would only strike one of the two strings giving a softer, delicate tone. Well of course modern pianos have three strings through most of the piano, so indeed pressing the una corda pedal makes two of the strings hit directly, depending on how the piano is voiced, it may even hit all three strings with softer parts of the felt of the hammer. But that's a whole other discussion.

But the reason why I bring this up is the fundamental thing about soft pedals is that every piano is different. Think about this: One piano, it may strike two of the strings when you depress the una corda pedal, and another piano, it may strike all three, but a little off axis. So the grooved part of the hammer with the hammer with the hardened felt is now not hitting the string, so you get a more delicate tone.

I'm telling you all this so you understand how different the impact is in depressing the soft pedal on different pianos. So the answer to the question is, it depends upon not just the music and the performance you're after, and the acoustics of the room, which always enters into everything, but the specific piano, and how the soft pedal affects the tone.

I'm on this beautiful 1993 Steinway Model M, and I'm going to play now the middle section of Chopin's B-flat minor Nocturne. And when it changes key, I'm going to, I'll kind of nod so you'll know. And I'm going to depress the soft pedal there. And let's hear what kind of tonal change it achieves. Then we'll talk more about the impact of the soft pedal on your performance.

You may have noticed that I released the soft pedal at a certain point and it got louder again. Now a great deal has to do with how you approach the piano with your hands, naturally. On this piano, it's a subtle difference. Here's the remarkable thing. I played some pianos where every time you put that soft pedal down, it's a drastic tonal difference. Other pianos, you depress the una corda pedal, and you don't even notice any difference at all. On such a piano as that, the latter one that I described that has almost no effect, you might use the soft pedal very liberally. Every time you want a little change of color, you want it just a lot of softer, might as well push that soft pedal just to make it easier to play softer.

On other pianos, maybe you've worked out all the places you want to use the soft pedal, and as soon as you start playing the piano, it's like, oh my gosh, the tone gets swallowed up completely. And you may find that you're not going to use the soft pedal except very sparingly in the most delicate sections.

So that's long and short of it. You must use your ears. When playing the performance, it's so important to have an opportunity to try the piano beforehand, not just for the soft pedal, but the sustain pedal, the damper pedal on the right, your traditional pedal you use all the time, it's just remarkable how different the pedal responds. Some pedals you barely touch, and they sustain, other pedals you have to push way down.

Some are very easy, some are very hard. In fact, I would go so far as to say that in trying out a piano for an audition or recital, or just to play for anyone, checking out the pedals is probably the most important thing because they vary more than any other aspect from piano to piano.

I hope this has been interesting for you. Again, Robert Ester here at LivingPianos.com, your online piano store. See you next time.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Kathryn A Bowman * VSM MEMBER * on August 22, 2018 @10:22 am PST
My piano has three pedals. The middle one makes it softer but it still rings a little like the pedal on the right. The left pedal deadens the sound, and there is no ringing at all. Neither pedal moves the keys to the right like you said is a true una corda. So which pedal would I use to soften the tone? I have never used any pedal except the one on the right.
reply
Robert Estrin - host, on August 22, 2018 @4:56 pm PST
You can watch a video I made and read an article about what pedals do on most upright and grand pianos. They are quite different from one another!

https://livingpianos.com/piano-pedals/what-do-the-pedals-on-upright-pianos-do/
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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