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I am working on a piece for solo jazz piano that includes the following two part writing for the right hand.

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It is possible for me to play the sequence beginning on beat 3 without pedaling by holding the lower voice with fingers 1 and 2 while the melody is played with fingers 5-4-3-4. However, does the arranger expect one to sustain the lower voice with pedal to free up the hand to play the melody more smoothly?

There are no pedal markings in this piece, but the book it's included in does include some pedal markings for arpeggiated sections in other pieces.

Generally speaking, is it appropriate to use the pedal (instead of the fingers alone) to sustain a voice in two part writing if you feel it allows you to better phrase the melody? This pattern of a half note voice simultaneously occurring with four sequential eighth notes is fairly common (but often less cumbersome than the example I provided) in the book I'm working through.

  • In general? Yes. During a descending chromatic melody? Not really, no. That's probably the least appropriate context for technical (as opposed to sound-enhancing) pedalling. – Kilian Foth Jun 14 '17 at 9:22
  • Thank you all for your input. It seems that I just need more practice playing the chromatic line while sustaining the C# and F with the fingers alone. – RyanZ Jun 15 '17 at 0:52
  • Even more generally, is any decision to sustain a note/chord solely with the pedal (where the fingers leave contact with keys immediately after the initial attack) considered to have successfully captured whatever duration is notated for the note/chord? – RyanZ Jun 15 '17 at 10:32
  • Some concrete advice: I would finger that passage as 5-4-3-3, or even 4-5-4-5. More general advice: nobody really cares if you have "successfully captured whatever duration is notated," it only matters whether it sounds good. – Tavian Barnes Jun 15 '17 at 20:50
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This is quite playable legato with no pedal. Playing it over, I found myself just using a dab of pedal half way through the bar, to faciliatate the change of hand position. But it's just laziness really. It would be perfectly playable on organ, with no possibility of sustain.

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Yes, you can use pedal per your own judgment if the composer wasn't explicit about it. I would avoid pedal if it would cause the melodic line to get muddy, e.g. sustaining the chromatic line in your example would cause quite a sonic mess. On the other hand, Some pianos have a separate pedal that only sustains held notes or lower notes, so it could work for this passage.

  • I submit that you can use the pedal per your own judgment even if the composer was explicit about it. :) However, it's also important to look at composers' pedal markings because they can contain beautiful ideas that you would otherwise miss. – BobRodes Jun 14 '17 at 2:29
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I'll speak even more generally to your question. It is appropriate to do anything you want if you feel that it allows you to better phrase the melody.

I sight read this bit, cycling from the end to the beginning a few times, to see how I used the pedal. Tempo makes a big difference in the pedaling choices you have available; for example, if you play it slowly, you can pump the pedal on each 8th note if you want to.

Personally, playing at about 120 to the quarter note, I like a bit of pedal on the two stressed beats, although I don't have much trouble holding out the half notes while playing the upper voice. The only place I use the pedal to connect notes is between the D and C#, taking both notes with the thumb. Also, I finger the upper voice 3,235434.

Keep in mind that you can use the pedal to create a better legato if that's what you want, but more importantly, it colors your music differently. If you think of the pedal only as a way to connect notes, then you need to give some thought to how the coloristic aspects of the pedal affect phrasing.

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I agree with BobRodes that whatever allows the best phrasing is the right approach.

My personal approach would be to finger the passage as 1 & 2 on the C# & F, 3/4/5 on the eighth notes. Obviously the challenge to mastering this is to make the eighth notes as smooth as possible.

Once I got comfortable playing this without the pedal I'd throw the pedal in without changing the fingering) to see if it adds anything to the phrase. If you keep the same fingering the only significant change the pedal adds is to smear the eighth notes. You'll have to decide if this spoils the affect of the passage and the harmony. Good luck!

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