What do the three pedals on the piano?
Each acoustic keyboard instrument is equipped with two or three pedals, located at the bottom of the front of the instrument, within reach of the user’s legs.
Why do pianos have three pedals? What are these pedals for? How are they used?
The right pedal is also called the forte pedal, and in electronic keyboards it may be referred to as a sustain pedal or just a pedal. It is the most commonly used pedal and it prolongs the played sounds after removing your fingers from the keys.
The term forte pedal can be misleading, because it is not used to strengthen the sound of the instrument. Its purpose is only to combine the harmonics of different sounds, to achieve a sound space, multiply the sounds and create the impression that more than one person is playing simultaneously.
If you want to connect a sustain pedal to a digital piano which does not have a pedal input, we recommend using an FS2M - USB MIDI adapter. With this adapter, thanks to MIDI, you will incorporate the effect into your playing.
The left pedal (in Italian “una corda” – “one string”) is also called the piano pedal.
This pedal makes the sound more delicate, damped, soft. Most sounds in a piano are generated by three strings (except the lowest sounds, to which one or two are assigned). Pressing the left pedal moves the entire mechanism (including the keyboard) a little to the right, so that the hammers strike a smaller number of strings. In pianos, this pedal moves the hammers towards the strings, so they travel a shorter distance, and the instrument produces quieter and less expressive sounds.
The middle pedal – sostenuto (“quietly” in Italian) performs different functions in various instruments.
This pedal is often not found in cheaper and older instrument models. When it is present, its function may vary depending on the instrument. Normally in pianos it is called the sostenuto pedal and it works a bit like the right pedal. However, it does not raise the dampers like a forte pedal, but only immobilizes the dampers which are already raised. This allows to sustain selected sounds and play others in a normal way. In pianos, it silences the sound of the whole instrument to the maximum and that’s why it’s often called a “friend of the neighbors”.
Pressing and releasing the sustain pedal is related to the harmony of the song, i.e. the chord change. The general rule is that we press the pedal with the chord function change and release it just before the next change.
In musical notation, the places where the pedal is pressed are usually marked with the letter P, and the places of its release with a star ✶.
The following video perfectly shows how all 3 expression pedals work:
This applies to both acoustic and digital instruments, although in the latter case it’s only electronic, not mechanical. However, the effect is identical!