In the cosmos of pedaling, where the “soul of the piano” is explored, I asked a few teachers about when and how they introduce students to the use of the sustaining or damper pedal.
Definition of Terms: https://www.pianocub.com/blog/3-piano-pedal-techniques-you-need-to-know
“In legato pedaling, the sustain pedal is pressed down after a note or chord has been played but before it has been released. It’s called legato pedaling because the pedal is used as a way to connect notes together and create the illusion of smooth playing. This technique is also called syncopated pedaling.”
The Direct Pedal
“In the direct pedal, the sustain pedal is depressed at the same moment the keys are struck. This is useful for accenting a sharp attack or giving a big chord some extra resonance.”
The Preliminary Pedal
“The pedal is pressed down before the first notes of a piece or section. This allows the piano to be at its most resonant when the keys are struck and creates a full, deep, and beautiful sound.”
I introduce pedal when students are ready. Usually it doesn’t happen until the second or even third year (with kids). I give them simple exercises for direct and late (syncopated) pedal and explain the difference. Pedaling is an extremely difficult subject to write about: It’s too complicated and subtle. But when students are ready to pedal, I expect them to do it perfectly so we work very hard on it, using more and more complex pedal tricks.
I introduce pedaling when we get to repertoire that requires it and when the student can reach the pedal comfortably. I don’t use pedal extenders for small kids. I prefer that the student is first well-grounded in playing without the pedal.
When I teach the use of the pedal, I start with syncopated pedaling as “default” and later move on to various pedal techniques and uses as they are deemed necessary and required by the music.
I never mention the concept that pedal is used for legato playing even though it can help with legato at times. I view the pedal as enhancement and enrichment of the sound and as an aid in phrasing. The use of the pedal depends not only on the music that’s being played but also on the piano it’s being played on and the room it’s being played in.
Seymour Bernstein presents his views on pedaling with compelling demonstrations of actual exercises he enlists in the early years of study, continuing with a more complex mentoring/development of pedal techniques as students advance.
In vimeo format, Bernstein explains and demonstrates the history of the right pedal.
We learn two startling facts: 1) Hairpins, (cresc. and decresc. markings), beginning with Beethoven, mean tempo fluctuations, and 2) In my opinion, the asterisks, following Chopin’s pedal indications, mean nothing at all. Along the way, I reveal important information concerning interpretation, all coupled with PowerPoint slides which show the points under discussion. It’s a must for all teachers and serious pianists.
In his book, The Art of Piano Fingering, Rami Bar-Niv explores finger pedaling as a technique applied to the same measures of Chopin’s Ballade No. 1 in G minor (LH) that Bernstein referenced in his video trailer. Bar-Niv, then further probes the same work.
Bar-Niv: The tool of finger pedaling can be very helpful when playing without using the sustain pedal or when pedaling needs to be cleared if some extra resonance and overtones are still desired. It can also be very effective when we wish to bring out some extra-hidden voices/melodies in the music.
Kirsten: From my teaching perspective, the world of pedaling is filled with complexity. Mentoring students about how to use the pedal as an enhancement of musical lines, fleshing out colors and nuances the pianoforte affords, is an incremental journey. Attentive listening should be at its center, supported by technical and physical approaches that best realize what is an imagined sound image. The process of assimilating various dimensions of pedaling may take years of exposure to varied repertoire. And what might work for a Chopin composition in sound imagery terms, will not necessarily carry over to a Debussy Prelude. It’s our job as teachers to help sort through the varied tonal and atonal vocabularies of composers as we explore their works. By experimenting with pedaling options and exchanging ideas back and forth with our pupils, we foster mutual musical growth.
Author The Art of Piano Fingering
Rami’s Rhapsody Piano Camp for Adults of all piano-playing levels in San Francisco, April 22-28, 2018.