Building from this question, I learned that it is possible to notate a tie that is held by the pedal and not the hands. To me that's a bit strange - if the pedal were not held down in that passage, the effect would be different because the right hand is playing more notes that would not be sustained.

That brings me to the question: if I play a chord without the pedal and hold it for 3 seconds, and if I play the chord with the pedal, releasing it after I play it so that the pedal holds the notes, are the effects going to be the same?

I recognize that I can just go ahead and play this myself (I have), and personally I couldn't tell a difference. But, since there is an obvious physical difference (the pedal either is or is not being pressed), I was wondering if internal to the piano there is a difference that would make a musician choose one option over the other. Remember, I'm asking about a single chord. I recognize that there is a big difference if multiple chords or notes are played successively.

  • I notice that you left out a possible scenario. You play a chord along with the pedal and hold both down for 3 seconds. This will sound the same as "play the chord with the pedal, releasing it after I play it so that the pedal holds the notes." In both cases, the hammers will strike the string for the note, and the dampers on all strings will remain lifted until you release the pedal.
    – trlkly
    May 17, 2019 at 21:55
  • But do note there is a difference once you start playing more than one note or chord--see music.stackexchange.com/q/42614/12300. Keeping your fingers on the notes when you can will help with maintaining an even legato.
    – trlkly
    May 17, 2019 at 22:00

4 Answers 4


Playing a chord lifts the dampers from just the strings of the notes played. Depressing the pedal lifts the dampers from ALL the strings. A lot more resonance.

I'm amazed that you can't hear the difference! Maybe you aren't playing a real piano, but a basic-grade electronic imitation that doesn't model this important part of the piano sound?

  • 3
    Correct. I haven't had a real piano in many years I'm afraid. I have a Yamaha Arius from 2007, so probably not designed to model that resonance May 17, 2019 at 11:58
  • 2
    On a multi-pedal piano "the pedal" may actually be the sostenuto pedal, which only keeps existing dampers raised.
    – OrangeDog
    May 17, 2019 at 17:20
  • @MichaelStachowsky from the photo your piano indeed has three pedals. You may be using the wrong one.
    – OrangeDog
    May 17, 2019 at 17:23
  • There are three. One is the damper, one is (I believe it's called) sostenuto, and one is sustain. I used the sustain pedal to run my little experiment May 17, 2019 at 17:25
  • 1
    @MichaelStachowsky Usually with three pedals, one is the damper aka sustain, one is the sostenuto aka sustain, and one is the una corda aka soft. What do the three pedals on your piano do, exactly?
    – Draconis
    May 17, 2019 at 17:41

One of the most distinctive features of the piano (as opposed to e.g. the harpsichord or the clavichord) is the sympathetic resonance. Whenever you hit one string, all the strings sympathetic to that one (*) will vibrate along with it. Usually the dampers get rid of this resonance immediately, but holding down the damper pedal lets it shine through.

Try this: hold down middle C (C4) and/or the G above it (G4), then keep holding them after the sound's died away. This keeps their dampers off so they can resonate properly.

Then, while still holding those keys, strike and release the C below middle C (C3). When you release C3, its own sound will be cut off—but the other strings will still be sounding! This is the extra sound that you get when you hold down the damper pedal, except the damper pedal gives you every sympathetic note, all at once. It's a much richer, warmer sound.

(*) How "sympathetic" two strings are comes down to how well their harmonic series overlap. Try the experiment again, but this time hold down D4 and strike C4. You won't hear much resonance, because those strings aren't very sympathetic to each other.

  • This is one example of so-called finger pedaling, although more commonly that means continuing to depress certain keys longer than notated, instead of a silent depress of keys not notated. May 17, 2019 at 20:39

Using the pedal, there is sympathetic vibration from other strings that would otherwise be dampened. This leads to more of a "chorus" kind of sound. You can amplify the effect by striking a chord strongly and very shortly and right after releasing the keys pressing the pedal. While the strings of the struck keys will still contribute more to the resulting sound, the contribution of the other strings becomes quite more obvious.

  • I asked about this technique several years ago. What is it called?
    – Tim
    May 17, 2019 at 16:39
  • @Tim I'm not sure it has a name, actually; usually the description is just written out like in this answer.
    – Draconis
    May 17, 2019 at 17:40
  • @Tim That would be laissez vibrer, often written as notes tied to nothing.
    – ericw31415
    May 19, 2019 at 1:57
  • @ericw31415 - Isn't laisser vibrer simply leaving the pedal down. My effect is playing a chord percussively, staccato), then using the pedal after the keys have been released, but the notes are still sounding.
    – Tim
    May 19, 2019 at 7:39

On my old Acrosonic Baldwin (1947), I have played with the center pedal down to get a kind of resonance that's similar to "hall" on electronic pianos.

Of course, I have to stay at the upper end and steer clear of bass notes as those will just sustain indefinitely when center pedal is down.

Side note: What's that pedal really used for, anyway, and does it have a name?

  • 2
    The middle pedal is called the sostenuto; originally, it would keep the dampers off for every note being held at the moment the pedal was pressed. But this was really hard to implement on an upright piano, so uprights tend to "cheat": the sostenuto instead keeps the dampers of for all the bass notes (since those are usually what you want to sustain).
    – Draconis
    May 17, 2019 at 17:38
  • (For a fuller answer, feel free to ask that as a question!)
    – Draconis
    May 17, 2019 at 17:39
  • @Draconis, the bass notes held by the sostenuto pedal is how my baby grand works as well. I have never seen it do differently, on any piano I have checked. (Keeping in mind that I wasn't fiddling around looking at the pedals and their effects on the dampers when I had opportunity to rehearse or perform on a real concert grand.)
    – Heather S.
    May 17, 2019 at 19:32
  • @HeatherS. Huh, interesting! I've never seen a grand with that sort of sostenuto, but I've only played on a few pianos myself, so I'm ready to believe it.
    – Draconis
    May 17, 2019 at 19:44
  • @Draconis, I never imagined differently because I never saw a need to sustain higher notes. Besides, the highest notes don't have dampers anyway.
    – Heather S.
    May 18, 2019 at 19:21

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