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I'm an adult beginner doing piano self-study using Alfred's Adult Piano Course book and have a question concerning the use of the sustain pedal. In one piece (Alpine Melody, 3/4 timing) there is a measure in which the F# key is hit on the first beat with the left hand and lasts for the full measure. The right hand plays the D7 chord on the 2nd and 3rd beats. The sustain pedal is to be pressed for this entire measure.

I understand that the sustain pedal is supposed to be pressed at the same moment as the F# key on the first beat, but to my ear there seems to be a big difference in whether the sustain pedal is pressed even slightly before the F# key or slightly after the F# key on the first beat. This seems to make sense when I think about it: If the sustain pedal is pressed even slightly before the F# key then all of the other strings in the piano are undamped at the moment that the F# string starts to vibrate and so all of these other strings are free to undergo sympathetic vibrations with the F# string resulting in a louder sound involving many strings vibrating in the piano. If, on the other hand, the sustain pedal is pressed slightly after the F# key, then at the instant that the F# string is hit and starts to strongly vibrate all of the other piano strings are still being sampled and sympathetic vibrations in them are suppressed until the sustain pedal is pressed.

In my practicing, I prefer the sound when the sustain pedal is pressed slightly after the F# key is pressed because the chords sound more natural and pleasant. If I hit the sustain pedal slightly before the F# key, the chords sound unusually loud and not very well defined, presumably because there is so much sympathetic vibration going on with other strings. I wanted to check here to make sure that I'm am using the sustain pedal correctly, though, because I don't want to develop any bad habits. Is this the proper way to use the sustain pedal?

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Let your ear be your guide.
Pedal down slightly after the beat is called syncopated pedaling, and is the most common use of the pedal, so your ear is right.
The pedal is not an on/off switch - there are many gradations and variations of pedal use: quarter pedal, half pedal, flutter pedal, pedal on the beat, pedal after the beat, and all the variations in between.
Let your ear be your guide...

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Actually, using your ears is a great way to learn to pedal and should be how you use it most of the time. The thing with the pedal is that the effect is highly variable and dependent on the piano and the room you're in. In one setting a piece may sound very dry and require more pedal while in a different setting the same amount of pedal may make it totally blurred.

The "academic" (I don't want to call it "correct") way of changing the pedal is to release it fully exactly on chord changes but there are many cases where you will want to do it differently, perhaps not releasing fully or doing it slighly before or after. If you use your ears you can adapt to any situation.

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Originally Posted by Qazsedcft
The "academic" (I don't want to call it "correct") way of changing the pedal is to release it fully exactly on chord changes but there are many cases where you will want to do it differently, perhaps not releasing fully or doing it slightly before or after. If you use your ears you can adapt to any situation.
I think this is far too complex an inappropriate advice for a beginner.

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Originally Posted by Sam S
The pedal is not an on/off switch - there are many gradations and variations of pedal use: quarter pedal, half pedal, flutter pedal, pedal on the beat, pedal after the beat, and all the variations in between. Let your ear be your guide...
IMO this is too complicated and inappropriate advice for a beginner.

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Sam +1. And it's appropriate for a beginner.

Don't "hit" the pedal. Try to pedal lightly around its sweet spot. Unless you are playing something with a heavy beat and like the additional noise


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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
Originally Posted by Sam S
The pedal is not an on/off switch - there are many gradations and variations of pedal use: quarter pedal, half pedal, flutter pedal, pedal on the beat, pedal after the beat, and all the variations in between. Let your ear be your guide...
IMO this is too complicated and inappropriate advice for a beginner.
The "beginner's" post shows a great deal of awareness. Both posts are appropriate therefore, and I suspect he'll know what to do with the information. smile

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Originally Posted by keystring
Originally Posted by pianoloverus
Originally Posted by Sam S
The pedal is not an on/off switch - there are many gradations and variations of pedal use: quarter pedal, half pedal, flutter pedal, pedal on the beat, pedal after the beat, and all the variations in between. Let your ear be your guide...
IMO this is too complicated and inappropriate advice for a beginner.
The "beginner's" post shows a great deal of awareness. Both posts are appropriate therefore, and I suspect he'll know what to do with the information. smile
Even if master classes with top conservatory students, although the teachers discuss pedaling I've only rarely heard the teacher talk about flutter pedaling and never in more than 100 master classes about 1/2 or 1/4 pedaling. If it's not crucial for students of that level, I don't see how it can be important/appropriate for beginning students no matter how aware they are. More appropriate IMO would be discussing why pedaling before, on, or after the beat would be appropriate in the particular passage the OP mentioned.

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Originally Posted by Sammy111
In my practicing, I prefer the sound when the sustain pedal is pressed slightly after the F# key is pressed because the chords sound more natural and pleasant. If I hit the sustain pedal slightly before the F# key, the chords sound unusually loud and not very well defined, presumably because there is so much sympathetic vibration going on with other strings. I wanted to check here to make sure that I'm am using the sustain pedal correctly, though, because I don't want to develop any bad habits. Is this the proper way to use the sustain pedal?
The (sustain) pedal is the soul of the piano - Chopin

You need to learn the basics of pedalling from the basics, including what happens in the piano (the effects are simulated by good digitals) when you depress the pedal:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BV1GW3PGx8o

And legato/syncopated pedalling has to be practiced continually (starting with the very basics, as demonstrated here), until it becomes second nature, because it's used in almost all classical music from Beethoven onwards. As always, listen carefully.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F_d8oask2VU

I wouldn't worry about any other kind of pedalling, nor about using the other pedal(s) until several more years into your learning.


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Pedaling is fundamental to piano playing. I think I was told on my first lesson with my 2nd teacher that I pedaled too heavily. I think this is not often discussed in master classes because students at that level already master pedaling


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OP here. Thanks for all the responses. Will continue to work on pedaling armed with the knowledge that it's not just a simple on/off switch but that precise timing and technique are important. Also, I appreciate the mention about other more advanced pedal usages such as quarter pedal, half pedal, and flutter pedal. Yes, I'm sure that they are too advanced for me at this stage but it's good to have a "heads-up" alert about what else is out there so I can gradually read up and prepare myself for the future. Appreciate the links to the YouTube videos with more information about pedaling, too. Thanks for all the help, everyone! You've really cleared things up for me.

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Originally Posted by wouter79
Pedaling is fundamental to piano playing. I think I was told on my first lesson with my 2nd teacher that I pedaled too heavily. I think this is not often discussed in master classes because students at that level already master pedaling
What's not discussed either at all or only very minimally are some of the things(flutter, 1/2, 1/4)that some posters think is appropriate to discuss with a beginner. More basic pedaling ideas(when to use or not use in it the piece being taught) is discussed even with conservatory students. They certainly have not mastered pedaling. All the above is based on my attendance at over 100 master classes at a top conservatory over a 20 year period.

When your teacher said you pedaled too heavily, chances are he meant you used too much pedal and not that you should start using 1/2, 1/4, or flutter pedaling.

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Originally Posted by Sammy111
OP here. Thanks for all the responses. Will continue to work on pedaling armed with the knowledge that it's not just a simple on/off switch but that precise timing and technique are important. Also, I appreciate the mention about other more advanced pedal usages such as quarter pedal, half pedal, and flutter pedal. Yes, I'm sure that they are too advanced for me at this stage but it's good to have a "heads-up" alert about what else is out there so I can gradually read up and prepare myself for the future. Appreciate the links to the YouTube videos with more information about pedaling, too. Thanks for all the help, everyone! You've really cleared things up for me.
I think at the beginner level pedaling should be an on/off switch. Only the timing is important. In five years, some of the things mentioned on this post may be important.

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Indeed one needs to see how the pedal works. One is not to use one's pedal as a sort of crutch for bad finger touch. If one note is louder, it's not about the pedal but one's touch.


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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
Even if master classes with top conservatory students, although the teachers discuss pedaling I've only rarely heard the teacher talk about flutter pedaling and never in more than 100 master classes about 1/2 or 1/4 pedaling. If it's not crucial for students of that level, I don't see how it can be important/appropriate for beginning students no matter how aware they are. More appropriate IMO would be discussing why pedaling before, on, or after the beat would be appropriate in the particular passage the OP mentioned.
We may have been talking past each other. Let me try to clarify my thoughts.

I would not think of suggesting a beginner be told to do advanced pedal (or other) technique. But I do think it is ok and even good to tell a beginner of the existence of other techniques and roles. This is what I think was done here. I don't think anyone was advising the OP to do these things yet. it is the right time because the student came upon an awareness that there is more to it, and this awareness is a good thing to foster.

I've gone through different teaching approaches as an adult - while I learned to play some instruments on my own since childhood, I had my first ever lessons on a new instrument when approaching 50. There is what I've dubbed a "blinkered" approach (like horse blinkers limiting what the horse is allowed to see - these https://image.shutterstock.com/image-photo/cart-horses-eye-behind-blinker-600w-771567232.jpg) where you're carefully given only part of the picture. I think the idea is to protect a student from trying to do what they are "not ready to do". The result for me was a distortion of my concept of what the thing actually was, since it was limited to how it was presented. It also blocked awareness of the full potential and nature, and also awareness of some elements existing in music. Of course while I was thus "blinkered" I knew none of this.

Anyone I study with nowadays does not do that. It is not only because I am "more advanced" now than I was then. It is also attitude. There are plenty of things that I know *of* but don't try to do. I start hearing it applied as my ear gets keener. Sometimes I might play a few notes and experiment with the concept and then let go of it. None has caused harm. But the limiting of what I was allowed to learn about, I do thing that was harmful.

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Originally Posted by keystring
We may have been talking past each other. Let me try to clarify my thoughts.

I would not think of suggesting a beginner be told to do advanced pedal (or other) technique. But I do think it is ok and even good to tell a beginner of the existence of other techniques and roles. This is what I think was done here. I don't think anyone was advising the OP to do these things yet. it is the right time because the student came upon an awareness that there is more to it, and this awareness is a good thing to foster.
The awareness of the timing means that would be appropriate to discuss. I think very few good and experienced teachers of beginners would tell them about flutter pedaling or 1/2 pedaling if a beginner asked them the same question did. I don't think it's appropriate. Much, much more important to focus on the numerous aspects of pedaling and piano playing that are important to the student at whatever level they are at. A beginner or even intermediate is not going to be able to hear those very advanced pedaling techniques applied even if they know about it.

I think the best answer IMO to the OP's question would have been to explain what was the best way to pedal the specific passage in question and why or explain several alternatives that were good. This would probably have required more information about the passage and what came right before it. Even the advice to "use your ear", while sometimes good for a more advanced student, is not so good here because of the student's experience. Even in masterclass students with conservatory students the teacher rarely talks in such generalizations. They usually give more specific advice and the best teachers also explain why they are giving that advice.

I am a retired math teacher with 40+ years of teaching experience.

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Originally Posted by Sammy111
. . .

In my practicing, I prefer the sound when the sustain pedal is pressed slightly after the F# key is pressed because the chords sound more natural and pleasant. If I hit the sustain pedal slightly before the F# key, the chords sound unusually loud and not very well defined, presumably because there is so much sympathetic vibration going on with other strings. I wanted to check here to make sure that I'm am using the sustain pedal correctly, though, because I don't want to develop any bad habits. Is this the proper way to use the sustain pedal?

Congratulations on having a good ear.

What you're doing is called "Syncopated pedaling" -- pressing the pedal _just after_ striking the LH note (or chord).

That's what most players do, and what most teachers advise, most of the time.

When you strike a key, the overtone spectrum starts out very rich, and includes a lot of non-harmonic frequencies. The non-harmonic frequencies decay quite quickly, leaving a long tail of decaying sound, composed mostly of harmonic frequencies.

If you press the pedal _before_ you strike the key, all those non-harmonic frequencies will excite the whole harp of undamped strings.

If you press the pedal _after_ you strike the key, only the slowly-decaying harmonic frequencies will excite the harp --

.. . Most of the time, that's what you want.

I'm sure there are exceptions, but a good general practice is, if you want to pedal:

. . . Lift your foot, as you play the first note after the barline,

. . . and when you strike the first note that establishes a new harmony.

(I don't teach, this advice is worth what you paid.)


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@Charles Cohen
Thanks for the information! As a retired physicist, I like to know the "why" of how things work the way they do, so I appreciate your explanation. It all makes sense now. That explains the somewhat "muddied" sound chords I sensed when I pressed the pedal before hitting the first key as opposed to the "cleaner" chords that resulted when I delayed pressing the sustain pedal.

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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
I think this is far too complex an inappropriate advice for a beginner.

I almost forgot that all the curmudgeons arguing enlessly are the reason I stopped posting here. Thanks for reminding me.

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Originally Posted by Sammy111
@Charles Cohen
Thanks for the information! As a retired physicist, I like to know the "why" of how things work the way they do, so I appreciate your explanation. It all makes sense now. That explains the somewhat "muddied" sound chords I sensed when I pressed the pedal before hitting the first key as opposed to the "cleaner" chords that resulted when I delayed pressing the sustain pedal.


One of the joys of being an adult is you can be exposed to many new concepts — decide to incorporate some now, experiment with others and wait on some. I regret it took me so many years to really explore the hidden wonders of the pedal. It is an art not a science so keep trying and listening.


"Music, rich, full of feeling, not soulless, is like a crystal on which the sun falls and brings forth from it a whole rainbow" - F. Chopin
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