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I have been playing the piano for some time now, and have recently switched from the electric piano to the grand piano. My grand piano has three pedals. What does each of the three pedals do?

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    Open up the top, and have a look at what happens when each pedal is pressed. It's fascinating. – Tim Mar 4 at 6:51
  • In my experience the left pedal usually does nothing. – AndreKR Mar 4 at 16:45
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    @AndreKR - you're probably pressing the keys harder than you're pressing the pedal. Or, check inside for a missing rod. – Tim Mar 4 at 17:13
  • @AndreKR The effect is difficult to see in the piano (the hammers shift sideways very slightly below the strings) but if you look at the keys it’s much easier: they shift sideways too but without strings over them. (Grand pianos only; on upright pianos the hammers move closer to the strings.) If you really don’t see anything Tim is probably right. Though ideally you’d be able to tell by ear something happens when you press the left pedal, of course. – 11684 Mar 5 at 11:12
  • This "experience" is mostly limited to upright pianos. :) – AndreKR Mar 5 at 14:57
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On just about every piano, studio (upright) or grand, the right hand pedal (?!) moves the felt dampers away from all the strings. This allows all strings to vibrate in sympathy when a note relating to them is played. Press pedal, play G - other G strings will also sound, giving a richer sound, which will sustain longer. Hence sustain or damper pedal.

The left hand pedal on grands moves the hammers sideways, so they hit fewer strings, or hit with the softer edge of the hammer. Thus una corda or soft pedal. Now somewhat of a misnomer, as the upper strings, once in pairs, now have three per note, and the hammers may hit two out of the three, creating an ethereal sound. Unlike on most uprights, where the hammers are moved closer to the strings, giving less movement to the hammers, making the playing quieter.

The middle pedal is usually used for sustaining notes that are played while the pedal is pressed. A sort of pinpointing sustain pedal. Called the sostenuto pedal. On other pianos with a middle pedal, it's used as a practice pedal, as it brings a curtain of material between the hammers and the strings, making it much quieter than the una corda. That's the practice pedal. Sometimes called the moderator or celeste pedal, generally found on uprights rather than grands.

It's certainly worth a look at what happens inside the piano, when you can experiment with half-pedalling as well.

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    "left-hand pedal", not "left hand pedal", etc. – chepner Mar 4 at 16:10
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    @chepner - it was a little joke! On the other hand... – Tim Mar 4 at 17:09
  • "Play G - other G strings will also sound" - Is this suggesting that if you hit one octave of a G, another octave of a G will also be struck? The pedal just moves the dampers away so that they aren't quieted when you let go of the key – Kyle W Mar 4 at 20:51
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    Some upright pianos have a "fake" sostenuto pedal in the middle, which is actually a damper pedal that only works on the lower notes. – 200_success Mar 4 at 22:26
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    An obvious indication that the middle pedal is a practice pedal is that it latches in the down position by pushing it sideways - so you don't have to keep your foot on it. You can see the notch in the bottom of the slot that facilitates this (much like the pedals on a harp). – Ian Goldby Mar 5 at 10:35
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For almost all pianos:

  • right pedal = sustaining or damper pedal. The dampers are disabled so all strings you hit will continue resonating until you lift your foot from that pedal.
  • left pedal = una corda or soft pedal. It will allow you to play softly. On grand pianos, this works by shifting the keyboard so that the hammers hit one (hence "una corda") or two strings while on uprights, this works by bringing the hammers closer to the strings, so they do not gain as much speed when you play the notes.

For most uprights:

  • middle pedal = practice pedal. It drops a felt between the hammer and the strings and the sound is significantly attenuated. No score will call for the use of that pedal: it is just to practice and not bother people around you as much.

For most grand pianos and all digital pianos with 3 pedals:

  • middle pedal = sostenuto pedal. It takes some practice to use: First you press some notes with your fingers. Then you press that pedal while still holding these notes. Then you play whatever else you want while still holding that pedal. Only the keys you were holding down while you pressed on the pedal will have their dampers disabled.

Much more rarely, you will find some uprights and cheaper or older grand pianos where the middle pedal sustain only the bass register.

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    The description of the left pedal applies to the historical una corda, but this is not what we have today. – replete Mar 4 at 8:14
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    @replete - so what does the left pedal actually do on modern grands? – Tim Mar 4 at 11:15
  • @Tim, we haven't had a genuine una corda for many years. The strings are too closely placed. The hammer strikes two not one. – replete Mar 4 at 19:09
  • @replete - as the edit in my answer says. – Tim Mar 4 at 20:05
  • @replete Thank you. I didn't know about that fact and made the correction. – Lolo Mar 4 at 21:07
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On Steinway and other American built (or designed) grand pianos they work as follows.

Left Pedal: (damper pedal) Raises the dampers so that any note played will reverberate. Middle Pedal: (sostenuto) Raises the dampers on the notes currently pressed. Right Pedal: (soft pedal) Shifts the hammers sideways to strike fewer stings and put a softer part of the hammer on the string.

The middle pedal acts otherwise on uprights and some European grand pianos.

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    Have you swapped left and right? Surely every piano has the damper ('loud') pedal on the right? – Tim Mar 4 at 6:53
  • So it’s like in car: The right pedal is for the gas and the left pedal for slowing down? ;) – Albrecht Hügli Mar 4 at 7:41
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    @AlbrechtHügli - not always. I press the left pedal in my car, and it coasts, not slowing down as much ! And as for slowing down, I put some difficult music in front of me... – Tim Mar 4 at 7:46
  • And if you press the right pedall it costs? – Albrecht Hügli Mar 4 at 7:48
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    I'm still looking for the talent-booster pedal. Guitarists have them, why not pianists? – user57266 Mar 4 at 16:24

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