I have been playing piano for several years, but I never got a particular lesson on pedaling. I know the basics: for most romantic pieces, the point is to clean the pedal (with "clean", I mean raise and press again) at the moment where the chords change. For what I have heard, that is the key: release the pedal when harmony changes and press it back again. But then I started learning about how pedal is notated. Consider this example from Chopin's nocturne Op. 9 No. 1:

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As far as I know, there are essentially two symbols here, the Ped and the star; where Ped means "press the pedal", and star means "release the pedal. If this is the case, then, in this example, the notation does not coincide with the description I learnt; there would be two options here (measure 2):

Method 1) Following the notation: Pedal is pressed in beat 1 and released in second half of beat 3, pressed back again in beat 4

Method 2) Release-press method: Pedal is pressed in beat 1 and released in beat 4, pressed back again just afterwards.

So is my interpretation of the notation wrong (i.e. is the notation describing the method 2)) or is the notation saying what method 1) says?

Hope this question makes sense, thanks in advance!

3 Answers 3


I think this sort of pedalling instruction is simplified. It has to be, to be able to be printed tidily.

The basic pedal operation is to use it when any harmony is static - in other words don't pedal over different chord sounds. That needs clarification.

For me, play the first note, and before letting go of the key, press pedal. Hold until the harmony changes (here on the 7th note), and, as that 7th note is played, change pedal - lift and re-press quickly, before that key has been released. That then gets repeated in this example twice per bar, and will smooth the two halves of the bars nicely. As well as the transitions between bars.Hence 'simile'. In the 2nd full bar, the two halves have the same harmony, but it seems Chopin preferred a re-pedal in the middle anyway.

It can't be printed as such - there's no room - but that's what should happen.

  • This solved my issue perfectly, thank you very much! The thing is when I took piano lessons, I was told the intuition to use pedal in general, and suddenly started to encounter this notation which made it all way more confusing. The point is that this notation cannot express the raise-press action really precisely.
    – Johnn.27
    May 27, 2020 at 0:15
  • Just to be 100% sure: you basically press the notes, release the pedal and press it down again, still with the notes pressed, where it's marked "Ped.", instead of releasing it before the notes and pressing down again as you play the notes?
    – Clockwork
    Jul 14, 2021 at 23:23
  • 2
    @Clockwork - seems right. Listen to what happens, and if it sounds clean, and not muddy, it's good.
    – Tim
    Jul 15, 2021 at 6:57
  • 1
    @Clockwork - that's the primary use of the sustain pedal - to smooth out the transition between notes, giving fingers chance to leave the keys just pressed, and get to the next, with no perceivable gap between, as would be the case with no pedal. Check out sostenuto pedal also, if available in your part of the world, which, let's face it could be anywhere. Not sure the state of Flux is a good one to be in, but that's anywhere and everywhere right now! Or am I just dyslexic..?
    – Tim
    Jul 15, 2021 at 9:32
  • 1
    @Clockwork - you like in Europe? There's still time to change that. In Europe, most 3 pedal pianos have the middle used as a practice pedal, unlike in U.S., where the middle is sostenuto. Other states to consider may be Despair, Panic, Confusion... All of which are probably familiar.
    – Tim
    Jul 15, 2021 at 9:45

In the middle of the first full bar I would release the pedal as I start to play the notes of the 4th crotchet beat and re-apply it immediately. Even when there is no previous pedalling I would begin the pedal after the beginning of the note, rather than with the beginning of the note.

The reasoning is that by lifting the pedal at the start of the note rather than earlier, the pedal helps maintain legato leading into that note. Applying the pedal later, instead of at the beginning of the note avoids sustaining sound from the previous note, by allowing time for it to be stopped by the dampers.

  • Doing that guarantees the F will be held over. Not a problem, given there's an F in the second half, but not a good idea if the harmony doesn't include an F later.
    – Tim
    May 26, 2020 at 14:28
  • No, the pedal is released as the F is released and the following note played. Then the pedal is applied after the start of the note, allowing time for the F strings to stop sounding.
    – Peter
    May 26, 2020 at 14:56

The notation for pedal is much more loose than the notation for the notes themselves. Pedaling varies greatly with the piano and even with the room. Therefore, don't see the Pedal in the score as something that you have to follow strictly. When the composer wants something unusual, or wants the pedal notation to be followed strictly, the composer writes explicitly about this.

That said, your intuition is right. Usually, press the pedal if you want this effect, and release it when harmony changes. This is also what is in method 1 above. The star is not on the last note of the previous beat, it is just before the the note with the indication Ped.

  • Sadly not so half way through the bar - star is under the note - and shouldn't be!
    – Tim
    May 27, 2020 at 7:59

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