The sustain or damper pedal is a fun addition to piano playing. Commonly referred to my students as “the brakes”, the pedal mixes the colours of the notes being played as long as the pianist holds it down with their right foot.
Quick Facts about the Pedal
The sustain pedal is great for:
- Continuing the sound of a note while the pianist has to shift their hand position to play another note.
- Creating a resonance with many notes
- Creating the classic sound of romantic piano songs.
The sustain pedal is NOT great for:
- Playing many fast notes that are not meant to be mix with each other
- Mixing together notes from clashing chords
- Making every note be heard clearly.
Ultimately, a pianist’s goal is to use the sustain pedal as little as possible. The sustain pedal is like adding salt to food. While some is often (maybe always!) necessary, you don’t want to over do it. To minimize overusing the pedal, pianists train to have their fingers hold notes and transition through notes slowly. To move back to the food example, if you have cooked your ingredients right, you shouldn’t need too much salt to add flavour!
Students begin to use this new tool once they have adequate control over their hands. The reason for this is that multitasking with both hand and foot can be challenging for beginners.
The most common hurdle when a student is first learning to use the pedal is figuring when to switch the pedal. Essentially you want to have zero break in the quality of sound! Imagine if your food was salty in some chunks and bland in others. Coordinating the foot changes with the movement of the notes is both a physical and intellectual challenge.