7

The other day I was sitting down at my piano while composing when I encountered something that I had noticed a few times in the past. Here is what happened:

  1. I pressed the down the damper pedal
  2. Immediately afterwards, I realized I didn't want to press that yet so I lifted my foot.
  3. Immediately afterwards, I realized that I actually did want to press the pedal so I pressed it down again.

This quick "snap" of the damper pedal left an ambient - almost percussive - sound echoing out of the piano body. I also noticed that if I kept "pumping" the damper pedal, the sound would increase in volume and would become more "surrounding".

I realized that for my piece that I was writing, that would create a perfect occasional background sound for the actual piano sound to sit on top of.

My main question is this: how would I represent this in sheet music? I realized I could try something like this (I apologize for the formatting):

This looks a little weird though and the performer may not understand it. Perhaps a note should be included in the piece description?

Some side questions for clarification:

  • Does this actually work on all pianos? I own an upright piano that's about ~100 years old and I don't get that many opportunities to play other types of pianos, so I don't know if this is something that is common across other pianos.

  • Is this "okay practice" for piano pieces?

  • 5
    I think a written description should be included. Maybe even define your own symbol for it. It has worked on all pianos I've ever tried it but I haven't tried what it sounds like for the audience. In a bigger hall with not-so-excellent acoustics or a tiny bit of extra background noise it might not even be audible at all. – nonpop Feb 19 '16 at 0:08
  • @nonpop These are good points. Would you mind putting it in an answer? I'd like to give you a vote. – SirPython Feb 19 '16 at 0:19
  • 2
    I expect someone somewhere has notated this. I'm really surprised this document I just read didn't have it: mtna.org/media/79410/2014_e-Journal_AOY.pdf I included the link here anyway because there is every other type of unusual piano technique I can think of with notation in that document. – Todd Wilcox Feb 19 '16 at 4:05
  • I agree with @nonpop here. You can also use the more modern bar notation if you want to be very specific about where to hit the pedal. – BobRodes Feb 19 '16 at 6:07
  • This effect will be very instrument-specific. And it will certainly require explanation! There's a whole raft of "extended" techniques for piano, including many that make use of the general resonance available when the dampers are lifted. This Wikipedia article scratches the surface. Extended technique – Laurence Payne Feb 19 '16 at 11:17
3

There's no standard notation for this. In general, prefer the bracket notation to the old school Ped. * type notation: bracket is much more precise and is also cleaner... it makes more sense in virtually every way.

A few thoughts on this: yes, it's an interesting sound. Be aware that it will differ between pianos and rooms... you'll have a very different sound on a grand compared to an upright and the sound may be surprisingly difficult to produce at all on some instruments. This is something that pianists train pretty hard to avoid (pedaling should be silent), but you as the composer can certainly ask for something else. There may be a mechanical issue here and I would check with a piano technician if that's a tool you intend to use a lot... excessive heavy "snapping" pedaling could perhaps damage some of the mechanism. I don't think that is likely, but it's worth asking someone who knows.

write a brief note at the beginning of piece explaining what you're asking for. Then I would notate with an "inverted V" bracket below the lower staff, but other notations are possible. Just explain clearly what you want and a good performer will make it happen.

1

As user5747140 answered, some prose is required to explain whichever notation you choose.

Messing around with the damper pedal won't damage anything. The dampers individually move extremely quickly. The pedal mechanism normally goes for years without needing professional adjustment. You could rig up a robot to "snap" the damper pedal every second for weeks nonstop.

A louder version of this effect is to hold the damper pedal, then hold the sostenuto pedal (middle pedal on a grand; your upright might not have this) to keep the dampers raised, release the damper pedal, and then -- at the right moment -- release the sostenuto pedal and an instant later repress the damper pedal. This bounces the dampers off the strings more forcefully and more time-aligned than with the damper pedal alone, because you're releasing a trigger to drop them, instead of lowering them no faster than the damper's return spring permits.

But messing around with the sostenuto pedal can cause damage. If you depress the sostenuto at the same moment as you depress keys (or the damper pedal), then the sostenuto "doesn't know" which halfway-up dampers to grab, and you can feel the grinding in the mechanism through your foot.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.