Introduction to Piano Pedals
You are never really a complete pianist until you’ve mastered how to use piano pedals. Learning and perfecting how to play a keyboard can only take you so far but until you become an expert of the pedals you will never really achieve your full potential as a player and the potential of your keyboard.
Piano pedals are designed to modify sounds. They help in adding richness to the sounds. They help you to deliver dynamic performances that are pleasing to both you and your audience.
Just like learning how to play the keyboard, mastering the art of pedals also requires time and dedication. Most seasoned players will tell you that it took them some time to get used to the pedals and to learn how and when to use them. For all beginners, therefore, patience is important if you are to get it right. Fortunately, with practice, incorporating these pedals into your plays will become an intuitive affair and the results will be nothing but impressive.
In this review, we will tell you about the various piano pedals and their functions. We will also go a step further to recommend a couple of really good piano pedals that will get the best out of you and your keyboard.
Piano Pedals and their Roles
First, you need to understand that there are so many types of piano pedals. Most keyboards come with just three pedals for the essential functions. Others have more than three pedals which can be quite hard to master especially for beginners.
On the left side is a pedal known as “una corda” Italian for “one string”. It is more commonly referred to as the soft pedal.
On the right side is the “forte” Italian for a strong pedal. We know it as the damper or sustain pedal. It is usually the most used pedal of the three.
Finally, we have the “sostenuto” Italian for sustain. This may sound similar to the sustain pedal but as we are going to see, it’s function is different from that of the sustain pedal.
So, what do all these pedals do?
As the names suggest, this pedal is designed to make the notes sound softer than normal. It will also make the sounds feel a bit distant. In upright pianos, when this pedal is engaged you won’t see any changes but in grand pianos, engaging the pedal can cause the keyboard to shift slightly to the right side.
Normally, when you play certain notes on the keyboard the hammer tends to strike three strings. If you engage the soft pedal, the slight shift makes the hammer to strike just one or two strings instead of the three. In situations where the pedal doesn’t cause a shift, the hammer is usually brought closer to the strings. The reduced distance hence causes the hammer to strike the strings at a lower speed. This causes the keyboard to produce softer sounds.
The soft pedal can also be utilized in inflection where it controls vibrators and bends among other effects.
Damper or Sustain Pedal
The damper pedal is a sweetheart to every seasoned pianist. It is a popular pedal and that’s why almost all pianos including digital keyboards try as much as possible to have it.
When the damper pedal is pressed it removes the dampers thus causing the strings to vibrate freely. This sustains the sounds coming out from the strings and the effect will go on until the vibration dies off naturally or if you release the pedal. If you continue hitting the keys while you are still pressing the pedal the sounds will continue overlapping. This makes the keyboard very useful especially when you are looking for a dramatic performance.
Take note that most digital keyboards don’t really have the strings to produce this effect accurately. What most companies do, therefore, is to fit the keyboards with a technology that mimics the effect is made by grand keyboards. You will still get a sustain pedal when you purchase most digital keyboards but its performance or results aren’t exactly the same as the ones found in acoustic pianos. All the same, the pedal helps in increasing the richness and warmth of the sounds your keyboard is making.
The sostenuto pedal is commonly found in American grand pianos. This pedal is located between the soft and sustains pedal. It is often confused with the sustain pedal but the two have very distinct functions.
The sostenuto pedal is used to sustain specific notes, unlike the sustain pedal that sustains all the tones. To use this pedal, you need to hit the note that you want to be sustained and then press down the pedal. The pedal will remove the dampers of that specific note while leaving the rest intact. This particular note will continue resonating until you release the pedal. All the other notes will have their normal sounds while the sustained one resonates even when you are playing notes with the staccato effect.
The Sostenuto pedal isn’t very popular compared to the other two but most digital keyboards still have it onboard in case the user wants to be a bit adventurous.
You may also find additional pedals such as the volume and half-blown pedal. Not many digital keyboards have these pedals though.
The best piano pedals
If you are in the market looking for that perfect set of pedals, then you should probably choose between the following three:
M-Audio SP-Triple Electronic Piano Pedal
The M-Audio SP-Triple piano pedal is arguably the best set of pedal there is out there! The pedal was keenly designed to have the touch and response similar to that of high-end pedals used with acoustic pianos. It has a premium appearance and a sturdy construction that allows it to sustain extended periods of usage. At its base is a slip-resistant rubber coating that keeps the pedals in place as you use them.
Another significant reason behind the pedal’s popularity is its three pedal system. With this setup, you will gain the full experience of playing on an acoustic piano.
We also loved this M-Audio pedal due to its vast compatibility with different kinds of keyboards. This means that with the pedal you no longer have to worry about purchasing a new keyboard which might not be compatible with pedals and thus having to reinvest on another set. With this pedal, you gain the freedom of upgrading into a new keyboard without having to squeeze your budget for other pedals. Combine its compatibility and how durable its construction is and you realize that you can go for years without ever having to replace or repair the pedal.
The M-Audio SP-Triple pedal is quite light for portability purposes. Carrying the pedal with your keyboard for gigs and other purposes is hence more convenient. The pedal connects using three 3 1/4” jacks.
Finally, we have to tell you how affordable it is. Normally you’d expect a tri-pedal setup to cost you an excess of $150. You can get the M-Audio pedal for less than $80!
Casio SP20 Piano Style Sustain
This is a sustain-only pedal that is compatible with a wide variety of keyboards thanks to the polarity switch. With this switch, compatibility issues will never be a problem again. You’ll be able to switch between different keyboards and the pedal will still remain fully functional.
It has an appealing yet simple design with a plug-and-play technology that will save you a lot of time and hassle. Its L-shaped plug also allows users to comfortably plug in the pedal without having to move the keyboard.
The Casio SP20 Sustain pedal also comes with a nonslip surface that anchors it firmly on any surface. This way, you can focus more on playing the keyboard and less time worrying about whether the pedal has moved or not. You can also press the pedal quickly and hard with more ease thanks to this surface and its overall sturdy construction.
Yamaha FC5 Compact Sustain Pedal
The Yamaha FC5 is the most portable of the three pedals. It is extremely compact measuring just 1.7” by 7” by 4.4”. It weighs approximately one pound.
The pedal features a strong footswitch making it durable. Its top surface also seems to kind of grip the user’s feet and this is an incredible feature as it prevents your foot from sliding off the pedal. We also have to mention that the surface is pretty large offering sufficient space to press the pedal with ease. At the base of the pedal is a rubber coat that keeps the pedal still on different types of floors.
There have been minor issues about its “boring” appearance. It is true that the Yamaha FC5 is not the most aesthetically pleasing pedal but I don’t think that is too much of an issue to stop one from appreciating the good work that it can do.
Again, the best way to master and fully utilize piano pedals is by practicing. Learn how they work, get used to them and keep practicing and you’ll become an expert in no time.