Robert Estrin - piano expert

Do You Need Three Pedals on a Piano?

An answer to an interesting question among piano owners.

In this video, Robert tells you about the three piano pedals, and how and why they are different between grand pianos and upright pianos.

Released on December 9, 2015

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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, this is Robert Estrin at and

The question today is: Do you need three pedals on a piano?

It seems like of course you do. Almost all piano's have them. Why wouldn't you? Well, a couple of interesting tidbits that you might not be aware of. For example, did you know that no uprights, virtually no uprights, have three truly functional pedals? In fact, the middle pedal, on just about every upright, is really a dummy pedal, that does one thing or another. It might be a practice pedal to mute the sound. It could just be a bass sustain. It could do a number of things, but it really never does what it's supposed to do, on the vast majority of uprights. And the left pedal, the una corda pedal, which is such an expressive device on grand pianos. No uprights have true shifting of the chords, where the whole action moves over striking two of the three strings squarely giving you a change of tone. No, on upright pianos it merely makes the action go closer, or just other things, but not what it's supposed to do. So, if you have an upright piano with two or three pedals, or even one pedal, you know what, it wouldn't make any difference - because they don't do what they're supposed to do anyway!

Now, what about on grand pianos? You may have seen some older Asian Pianos or some beautiful European Pianos, many of which only have two pedals. So what's the deal? What happened to the third pedal? Do you need it? Well, yes and no. The middle pedal didn't evolve until much later in the piano's development, so it really isn't called for until you get to 20th Century music. And it just holds down certain notes, without holding all of them, and since you don't use it for the vast majority of the time on most music, it really isn't essential. And you know even for music that calls upon the sostenuto pedal, the middle pedal, you can live without it. You can actually play the music okay without that middle pedal. So, for most players, I would say it shouldn't be a deal breaker, having only two pedals instead of three. It won't effect you at all unless you play 20th Century music. And even then you can still play the music without the use of that middle pedal.

I hope this has been helpful for you, and go out and get a beautiful piano, even if it has two pedals. I don't think you're going to miss out on anything substantial. Thanks again for joining me, Robert Estrin, here at and
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Gib Rogers on January 6, 2016 @5:40 am PST
Enjoyed the video on 3 pedals. However, Robert did not go far enough in explaining what notes the middle pedal holds in sound. I use the middle pedal (sostenuto) in a lot of my playing. You know it holds the sound for the bottom notes of the keyboard. A full chord played with the left hand needs to be held while both hands are playing in the upper register(s). Thought the video spent too much time rambling and not zeroing in on the full use of the sostenuto pedal. Still watch the videos. Thanks!! gib Rogers (Lexington, SC)
Robert - host, on January 6, 2016 @12:22 pm PST
Thanks for the comment. On upright pianos the left pedal often sustains only the bass notes. However, the middle pedal on fine grand pianos is a sostenuto pedal which holds down only selected notes which is described here for you:
Hank on January 3, 2016 @6:55 am PST
I have been playing the piano for some time now but I my teacher never really talked much about the pedals on the piano. Are they really that easy to use so that you never really need to practice using them? And are there any great exercices for learning how to use the sustain pedals?
Robert - host, on January 4, 2016 @12:51 pm PST
The damper pedal (the one on the right) is used extensively on the piano. However, Baroque music of Bach, Handel, Scarlatti and others were written for the harpsichord which had no pedals. Furthermore, early Classical era music of Mozart, Haydn and their contemporaries were written for pianos that did not have pedals yet. So, the pedals are not necessary to play music of these composers either.

Here is an article and video which describe how to use the damper pedal on the piano.
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