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I'm returning to the piano after 7-8 years away. I took lessons for 15 years then stopped after college, but I'm trying to play without a teacher for the time being, then will potentially get a teacher again as I hit roadblocks. I'm now working on Scriabin's first piano sonata, which would have been difficult but within reach at the end of my lessons. Things have been going very well so far through the end of the first section (m. 58), but after so long and without a teacher, I am worried I am doing some things 'wrong' with no one to correct me.

One of the biggest questions I have is around legato and pedaling. The opening phrases (first 8 measures) are sounding quite good to me at around 70 bpm (and I doubt I'll ever get it must faster than 85, maybe 90, certainly not to the 104 given), but I am having some inconsistent issues with pedaling. At slower tempi, I was pedaling each harmonic change (so, in m. 0-1, almost every eight note), but I'm now reaching a tempo where I'm unable to cleanly execute this consistently, and I'm unsure whether I should work on improving the speed and accuracy of my pedaling or whether pedaling each of these is just unsustainable.

Scriabin sonata no. 1 m. 0-1

I'm thinking it may be the latter; however, holding the pedal across note changes leads to mushiness for obvious reasons, so I've tried to selectively pedal (eg the G but not the F octave leading into m. 1), but with no pedal under some transitions, my playing does not seem to me legato enough. At this point, I've just been using 5 for white key octaves and 4 for black key octaves, rather than alternating 5 and 4 regardless of white/black key (or including 3 at all).

Should I adjust my fingerings throughout to create legato sans pedal? Or will the speed and volume compensate enough to allow me to use my current fingerings? I have medium to slightly small hands (comfortable 9th, white key 10th on the edge of the keys) which I think makes some of this harder (eg I'm not sure I could make the right hand legato with just fingering), but I know people with smaller hands who've played this piece well, so while larger hands would no doubt help, I don't want to blame hand size for my inadequacies.

For most of my years playing piano, I've relied too heavily on pedal legato where I should have used finger legato, and I've been trying to correct that, but I wonder whether I'm now demonizing pedal legato even where it makes sense to use it.

The last option, which is sort of what I've been doing automatically, is to half-pedal some of the notes while full-pedaling others. This is probably why I've had inconsistent results at faster tempos - since I'm not doing it fully consciously, it's inconsistent what is half- vs full-pedaled, and thus sometimes muddy and sometimes good. Is the best option to just refine the half-pedaling while keeping my hands roughly the same?

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    'Pedalling is just unsustainable'. I like it, even though it must be unintentional..!
    – Tim
    Oct 30, 2023 at 16:44
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    Ah dang, I really wish that was intentional. I did have the word 'sustain' in mind while making the post though (hence the tag), so maybe my use of 'unsustainable' was subconsciously related. Oct 30, 2023 at 18:42

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With octaves, there's little choice but to use pedal for most players. So stick with it. The trick is the timing of pedal deployment - up/down. By playing slowly, you can get that synchronisation more accurate, just by listening to the muddiness, or lack of it.

It may depend on how good your piano is, or how well calibrated the pedal is, too. A grand will have more effective pedals than an upright, for example. Half pedalling is a good option, but again, ears will be the best judges, at a slower tempo, then gradually take it up. Remember that piano playing isn't just two hands, it's usually a foot (or two) as well, all working together like a well oiled machine.

Try to play slowly with no pedalling, then use pedal where it sounds stilted, for a start. But trying to play at speed, and getting the pedalling right is a non-starter.

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  • I've been practicing with the pedal since the start (not exclusively with the pedal, but some portion of the time) and up to about 50 bpm, I can pedal each note very cleanly but past that point, it becomes quite inconsistent. I'm just having trouble getting a full pedal or even half pedal after each note -- sometimes it works fine, but some notes I pedal a tad late and the note isn't properly sustained. Some of it may be my hands 'lightening' to play faster, increasing the gap between notes (limiting window where I can pedal). Maybe my hands do need to be more legato, to enable ped. legato. Oct 30, 2023 at 18:23

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