LOUD PEDAL, SOFT PEDAL… WHAT DO THEY DO?
There are a number of types of piano pedal. Here are the main ones:
1. Sustain pedal. Nearly always the right-hand pedal on all types of piano. As the name suggests, it enables the notes to continue rather that stopping after releasing the keys. Often mistakenly called the “Loud” pedal.
2. Soft pedal. Usually on the left, for enabling quieter playing, but works in a variety of ways:
a. “Una Corda” moves the hammers across so that they strike fewer strings, using a different part of the hammer felt. Found on most grand pianos and a very small number of uprights.
b. “Half-Blow” moves the hammers to a position nearer the strings, giving less momentum. This does not alter the tone, but enables the pianist to play with a gentler touch. See this page for more detail.
c. “Celeste” puts a felt strip between the hammers and strings, muting the sound. Often called the “practice pedal”. Frequently found as the middle pedal of modern uprights, and the left pedal on very old overdamped uprights.
3. Sostenuto pedal. A selective sustain device, this will enable sustaining of only those notes being played at the moment the pedal is pressed. Found as the centre pedal on many grand pianos, and certain high quality uprights.
“Why doesn’t the soft pedal work?”
On many occasions when visiting a new client to tune their piano I have been asked to “please sort out the left-hand pedal – it doesn’t seem to do anything..” The Soft Pedal should make the piano sound softer, right?
The piano in question is normally a standard overstrung upright, and in most cases I find myself having to explain that it is working, and doing all it’s designed to do!
On most upright pianos, all that happens when you press the left hand pedal is that the hammers are moved nearer to the strings – this does not alter the tone but simply gives less momentum. This makes the touch of the keys feel different, as there is a feeling of some “slack” before the hammer starts to move.
…IT ENABLES THE PIANIST TO PLAY MORE QUIETLY
So, as the hammers are only travelling about half their normal distance, this pedal is more correctly called the “half-blow” pedal, and perhaps the best way to explain how to make use of this device is to say that it enables the pianist to play more softly.