So I recently upgraded from an (old) electric keyboard to an actual piano, and to no surprise, the music sounds a lot better with the sustain pedal pressed down.

But the problem comes due to the fact that this thing obviously did not exist on my old keyboard so I had to play all my music without it, but now that I have it and the sheets don't exactly label when to step and when to let go, and if I step on it the entire way through the bass gets REALLY messy after just a few lines.

Now if I suddenly let go at random time, the "echo" halts almost too abruptly, making a "whoa, what the hell" kind of situation for listeners and myself. And if play the entire music without stepping on the sustain pedal the music sounds REALLY dry.

So I'm stuck here.

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    Pedal along with the rhythm and the chord progression of the music you are playing. Depress the pedal when you play a chord. Let go of the pedal when the chord changes to a new chord, and/or when the sustained notes and overtones pile up into a dissonant sound.
    – user1044
    Jul 3, 2014 at 0:29
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    If the music involves a lot of rapid melodic playing, you'll want to use the pedal less. If the music involves long slow passages where the chords don't change as often, use the pedal more.
    – user1044
    Jul 3, 2014 at 0:31
  • Many electric keyboards support sustain pedals! It would be the first thing I would recommend to anybody learning keyboards - get a good sustain pedal! Jul 25, 2014 at 8:15
  • Does pedaling always go with the left hand chords? Feb 23 at 3:46

5 Answers 5


A lot of the time, you won't be pressing the sustain pedal anyway. Yes, it sounds 'good', but you're already tiring of the novelty.

Timing is all. Press the pedal AFTER you play a note/chord, and release your hand while the pedal's still down. When the next note is ready to be played, press that note, let pedal go, and press pedal again before lifting finger.This probably sounds quite complex. To an extent it is, but once you get the timing, your playing will be a lot less muddy. Try this all very slowly, and you'll hear the smooth transition between notes/chords, with no bleeding between each.

There's more, and I'll try to find a good link for you later.

  • I'm learning Chopin Op9 No2. The score indicates "Ped" usually directly under that first 1/8 beat chord of a beam, and "" (release) directly under the third (last) 1/8 chord of that beam. Should I step on the pedal at the very moment my left hand starts playing the chord above it, and release at the very moment when LH starts playing the 3rd chord above the ""? (I ask because you say "press the pedal AFTER you play a note/chord". Feb 23 at 3:52
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    @GrandAdagio - the timing is as I explained.
    – Tim
    Feb 23 at 9:04
  • Thanks. That's even harder than doing three things at the same time (LH, pedal, RH). Feb 23 at 17:40
  • @GrandAdagio - it's not at the same time - it's sequential.
    – Tim
    Feb 23 at 21:54
  • Tim, thanks. I was saying it's harder to be sequential than at the same time, because there is one more time point (pedaling) that is not the same time as LH or RH. I'm trying it on the first measure and can't get it right especially when releasing then repressing the pedal... Feb 23 at 22:42

A good way to begin learning proper pedal is to release the pedal after every time the line changes (marked by slurs), when the chord changes, every other beat, and every beat. Listen to each of these and try hear the difference. Depending on the music, some of these will sound better than others and you will learn what fits and what does not.

Typically, slow melodic songs will sound best after every chord/line change, whereas more complex music can become muddled and confused with too much sustain and is better to be changed more frequently. As you practice it will become more natural, but experiment and learn what is best.

As for the actual timing of pedal, try to add pedal right when you play the notes, if not a fraction of a second later and release at the same time as your hands. You can use the sustain


Listen carefully to what you are playing. Record it and listen critically. Just holding the pedal down doesn't sound better. It merely sounds messy, with all the notes running into each other. It doesn't sound quite as terrible as it would on an electric keyboard, but it's pretty bad!

There is one basic rule of pedalling. It's the same rule that applies to reverb and similar effects when recording. USE LESS OF IT! When needed, when it enhances the music. But only then. You seem to have noticed when it's grossly counter-productive. Good start! Now try to recognise where it does more subtle harm.


Generally, being aware of phrases and when the harmony changes is key to playing the sustain pedal well. After you know where the phrase or harmony ends, you should change pedal. Typically you will play the note, and then release the pedal and press down again (before the next note)-- this is called delayed pedaling, which is probably the most commonly used and it's probably the one you will practice a lot if you are a beginner. I would also make a note that it's possible to press the pedal "lightly", "heavily", etc, and have a noticeably different sound.

Nonetheless, there is an endless variety of pedaling techniques and what it all boils down to is not your foot action or even the actual score (depending on the composer and edition), but your ears. You need to pedal as you hear in real time especially when you're changing venues or the weather changes, etc.

This pianist wrote a very good introductory guide to using the pedals here and she outlines three major techniques in pedaling and emphasizes the importance of listening and in fact, playing without the pedal when practicing. Good luck!

  1. Take some piano lessons from a good teacher. Don't be afraid to study classical music. 19th century romantic repertoire especially. And Jazz, Pop, and TV/Movie ballads. That's where good use of the pedal really can make the music shine.

  2. Use your ears! Without that your fingers and pedals are useless. If you use a digital piano use headphones or good monitors to critically listen to the result of your pedalling. Or else you will be shocked when you play on a good concert grand piano for the first time.

  3. Don't forget to practice also WITHOUT the pedal. Don't use the pedal to "fix" sloppy playing. Use the pedal only to make the music sound better, not worse.

  4. Think about harmony, melody, rests, breathing, song structure, etcetera, and make musically sensible choices to be able to choose how and when to use the pedal.

  5. Listen to and learn from the great pianists.

  6. Practice, practice, practice

  7. Most important: Have fun and make music !!

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