Thanks in advance for your help here. I am very new to music theory and notation. As such, I may struggle with your reply if it has a lot of musical vocab. I'm using a great free music notation program called MuseScore. I have written a new piano score, but am still confused about the proper way to indicate pedal sustain in the score. Apparently, one school of thought says that if you are sustaining the notes in a measure, then start a new measure with similar notes, the sustain pedal should end on the first note of the next measure. The other school says the sustain pedal should be released at the end of the notes in each measure, and begin again on the next measure. I have written the score notation showing both approaches (see below). Which approach is correct; system 1 or system 2?

Score excerpt with different pedal mark styles

Alternatively, since this sustain pattern will occur throughout the entire piece, is there some text note I can add to the score instead, to simply tell the player to use and release pedal sustain on the bass clef for every measure?

I want to hear my score with MuseScore's built in playback synthesizer. How do I mark the pedal to achieve accuracy and also be useful to a live performer?

Here is my attempt to properly notate pedal sustain, based on answers above.

enter image description here

My problem is, MuseScore, the software I am using, does not draw sustain lines the way they seem to be needed. Using square brackets rather than sloped ones, as Dekkadeci said, the lines overlap if I include the first note of the next measure (system 1). It only works if I use sloped lines. Conversely, if I just bracket all the notes in a measure (example 2), the square lines start and end on a note, but do not encompass them (see image above). Further, if I use system 2, but the bass notes stop in the middle of the measure, the pedal sustain would not extend to the end of the measure, so the treble notes would not all be sustained. So, what the heck do I do now?

  • I've taken the liberty of a significant change to your question to reflect the desire for playback. If it doesn't suit, you can roll back the changes, or let me know, and I'll take care of the rollback. – Aaron Feb 12 at 4:45
  • Aaron: Your change is fine. Thanks. – fsgregs Feb 12 at 5:07
  • I edited my answer to hopefully answer your new questions, fsgregs. – Dekkadeci Feb 13 at 13:37
  • My answer should explain everything unambiguously @fsgregs – Creynders Feb 19 at 9:47

For a human performer

Both notations are acceptable and mean the same thing, even though they appear to indicate separate release points. In general, the pedal is "changed" (released and reapplied) at the beginning of the "next" measure. Releasing at the end of a measure leaves and audible gap in sound between that measure and the next.

For pieces intended for beginners or students, pedal is often marked throughout. However, more conventionally, it's left to the performer. A typical way to handle this is to place pedal markings in the first measure (or two or three), and then write "Ped. sim." or "Pedal simile", which means "keep pedaling in a similar way" (see below). If you want a departure from that (say, a specific way of pedaling that's different), you would notate that explicitly at the appropriate place in the score.

Pedal marking example

Note that in the above example I've used another style of pedal indication, but, as indicated, the ones in the OP are just fine as well.

For the MuseScore synthesizer

To get the best effect from MuseScore's playback, I would use your first notation. This would be acceptable for a human, and not uncommon in modern scores.

To keep the score cleaner, you could make the pedal markings not visible after a certain point. MuseScore will still play them, but then you can use the "Ped. simile" for the human.

enter image description here

  • Aaron: Thanks for the clear answer. If I am using a built in synthesizer in MuseScore to play my music, I will have to instruct "it" on how to use Pedal sustain. I checked and the phrase "Ped. simile", or "Ped. sim" is not an instruction the synth understands, so if the score is being played on a synth (or via a MIDI file), I assume I will have to mark every measure with pedal sustain marks. MuseScore understands both the lines mark, and the Ped. ... * marks. In modern music, do most piano compositions prefer one over the other? – fsgregs Feb 12 at 3:25
  • @fsgregs See revised answer. – Aaron Feb 12 at 5:06
  • Aaron: Wow. Thanks for adding two different instructions for live performance and MuseScore synth. That has really helped me, and others who were also confused. I am getting it ... slowly. – fsgregs Feb 12 at 5:21
  • @fsgregs Glad it helped. The best thanks you can give if your upvote, which would be much appreciated. – Aaron Feb 12 at 5:26

I disagree with Aaron's answer - only System 1 shows the correct approach if you want to sustain all notes in each measure. System 2 greatly risks the human player lifting the pedal early in the last beat (e.g. Beat 4.5) and therefore breaking sustain early.

(Both systems are technically written incorrectly, as pedal lines should start and end with square, perpendicular corners a la |_ and _|, not sloped lines.)

The Ped.-and-* notation for pedalling pretty much forces you to write like System 2 even if your intent is System 1, but I hate that notation and never use it myself for exactly that reason.

To my knowledge, Musescore will play back the pedalling in both systems similarly to the human I mention in my first paragraph, so play it safe and use System 1's pedal notation instead.

The preferred pedalling notation I use, and the one I recall seeing in all my beginner piano books, is the one implied to be marked "invisible" in the last picture of Aaron's answer - start with |_, mark pedal pumps with _^__, then end with _|.

  • I cannot create the kind of Pedal marks that Aaron suggests in MuseScore. In Aaron's last example, his pedal pump occurs just prior to the notes in each measure. That is fine, because the first note of each measure should not be rung before the pedal is released. It should be rung after pedal release so that its tone can be part of the next measure. Yet in MuseScore, when you add a pedal sustain line, it either ends at the end of the last note in a measure, or ends after the 1st note of the next measure. See my two original examples. How do I create Aaron's last example in MuseScore? – fsgregs Feb 14 at 3:31
  • @fsgregs - You're looking at the wrong line of Aaron's last example. Look at the faded pedal line instead. To create a pedal pump, take a pedal line ending with _ / and make that end reach the first note of the next measure, then take a pedal line starting with \_ and start it at that first note you ended the _ / at. Basically, do your original System 1 except you start it with |_ and end it with _|, keeping the middle and all its correct pedal pumps the same. – Dekkadeci Feb 14 at 15:47
  • Thanks for the advice. My problem is that when I carry a pedal sustain through a measure to encompass the 1st note of the next measure as I did in my system 1 example, the synth in MuseScore will sustain all the notes in the first measure, + the first note of the next measure. That next measure, however, may change the chord or key, so including it in the prior measure will cause dissonance. In Aaron's example, his hidden pedal sustain ends in the next measure, but BEFORE THE 1st note of the next measure is played. That works with the synth but I don't know how to do that in MuseScore. – fsgregs Feb 15 at 17:19
  • @fsgregs - That is actually how a human-performed version of my preferred pedalling notation works too. When lifting the pedal just at the first note of that next measure, you hear the ghosts of the previous measure. I think this is a sound you need to get used to and I've heard so often when playing from books that I don't notice it. (On the other hand, since your preferred pedalling is not what I was taught by piano teachers, I'm probably not quite used to the slightly-cut-off sound of that.) – Dekkadeci Feb 16 at 13:36
  • did Aaron create his example in MuseScore? If so, how do you get the pedal sustain to end JUST PRIOR TO THE NOTE IN THE NEXT MEASURE, as he did? I know you can physically grasp the end of the sustain mark and drag it left a bit, but to do that for every measure is a lot of work. – fsgregs Feb 17 at 14:07

Maybe this is just more noise, but I'm going to try to clear up some of the confusion, inadvertently raised by the other answers.

So, first of all, let's separate this into 2 problems:

  • what's the proper way notation wise?
  • What's the proper way in musescore?

==Notation wise==

There's 2 types of notation:

  1. using "Ped. *"
  2. using lines

Some prefer one, others prefer the other. No matter, you should never mix them. For the purpose of the examples here, I will.

The system (2.) using the lines, will use both sloped and straight corners. They have different meanings.

-- So let's look at situation a) here --

enter image description here

a.1 and a.2 seem to be identical in meaning and the way they're pedalled, but they might not:

a.1 is ambiguous. You can either release the pedal at the end of the measure and re-press at the beginning of the next. -or- you can play legato, keep the pedal pressed until the first note of the next measure and then quickly pump. It's left to the player to decide what's appropriate.

a.2 is NOT ambiguous: at the end of the measure the pedal is release and re-pressed at the beginning of the next and there will be a clear, audible gap. Most of the times, this is NOT what you want. If you want to achieve legato, this is not it.

For a.2 we're using straight, 90° corners here. That's the only valid option. No slopes. The straight corners indicate "press pedal" and "release pedal" respectively. Nothing more, nothing less.

-- Ok, so let's look at situation b) then --

enter image description here

b.1 is identical to a.1, since there's no way to make things more clear using this notation.

b.2 however is different: it starts with a straight corner and uses the sloped ones on the first note of the next measure. This tells the player unambiguously they need to keep the pedal pressed until the note of the next measure starts and then pump quickly.

So what's with those corners? You only use the sloped ones to indicate a pump. That's it.

Proper notation:

enter image description here

Anything else is improper notation: starting with a sloped line, having 2 straight corners on one note etc.


Use whatever notation system you want, but "ped. *" is ambiguous and the lines are not, and you should never mix both.

== Musescore ==

All of the above sound almost identical in musescore. (Not quite though, a.2 and b.2 sound slightly different to my ears) if you want more control you'll need to start editing it in a DAW where you can decide exactly where the pedal will be pressed and released.

Now, in order to use notation a.2, simply select the measure and click on this specific button:

enter image description here

If however you wish to use b.2, you need to select the entire measure and the first note of the next one, then click the appropriate button out of 3:

enter image description here

Hope this clears things up.

  • And yes my recommendation would be to only use the lines – Creynders Feb 19 at 9:54
  • I normally just drag the pedal line to the first note I want pedal for, then adjust the ends by clicking on them and then using Shift-arrow keys. – Dekkadeci Feb 19 at 12:49
  • Based on the question asker fsgregs's comments on my answer that "If so, how do you get the pedal sustain to end JUST PRIOR TO THE NOTE IN THE NEXT MEASURE, as he did?" and "when I carry a pedal sustain through a measure to encompass the 1st note of the next measure as I did in my system 1 example, the synth in MuseScore will sustain all the notes in the first measure, + the first note of the next measure. That next measure, however, may change the chord or key, so including it in the prior measure will cause dissonance.", I think s/he wants a.2-like pedalling regardless of how improper it is. – Dekkadeci Feb 19 at 12:53
  • Crenyders: I want to thank you and all the other posters here, who took the time to comment or post answers. I now understand how to do this in music and in MuseScore. Your images and explanation were very clear. There is one question I still have, which I have to post as a new question, since it contains an image. Please look for it. It involves how to carry a sustain from one stave to the next one in a row. – fsgregs Feb 20 at 13:19
  • @fsgregs please mark one of these answers as the correct answer. It will help others with the same question. – Creynders Feb 20 at 14:13

The two notations command two quite different things. 1. indicates an overall legato, with a pedal 'change' on the first note of each bar. Think a phrase mark over the entire passage. This is normal 'legato pedalling'.

  1. asks for a break at each barline. Think a separate phrase mark over each individual bar.

Yes, a 'change' should be an upward V within an otherwise continuous line. 'Up and finished with pedal' is a vertical hook.

MuseScore has four pedal line shapes that can build any of them.

enter image description here

  • This is a perfect time to ask this. Of the four pedal lines in MuseScore, or in any other music notation, are they all the same in practice? Does it matter if a measure is pedal marked with straight up lines, or sloped lines? Does MuseScore treat them all the same exactly? – fsgregs Feb 19 at 3:57
  • Don't ask, try! Oh, you want me to do it for you? Hold on... Yes, Musescore seems to play a straight hook the same as a slanted one. Sibelius does it a bit differently, it offers a line terminated with an up-down V rather than building the V from a pair of sloped ends. None of this gives you permission to write incorrect notation! Ped. lines don't start or end with a slope, the slopes are just for constructing a V in the middle of one. (There ARE some experimental notations for gradual pedalling, but that's out of range here.) – Laurence Payne Feb 19 at 15:23

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