Three pedals on a piano is the accepted norm on most pianos. Virtually all new grand pianos sold in the United States contain three pedals. Two pedal pianos are an increasingly rare breed but they do exist and we actually have some of them here in our showroom. The real question is, do you really need three pedals?
To be clear, today we are talking about the pedals on grand pianos. The pedals on upright pianos do not perform the same functions as the ones on grand pianos (with the exception of the damper pedal, the one on the right which sustains all notes). One of our first videos we ever produced covers this topic: Upright Pianos Vs. Grand Pianos.
No upright pianos actually have three functioning pedals. The middle pedal is almost always a dummy pedal that is used for other purposes than what is accomplished on grand pianos. A lot of them are used as practice pedals which place a piece of felt over the strings to dampen the sound for quiet practice. The left pedal on upright pianos also never functions as intended; they never shift the action as the una corda pedal does on grand pianos creating a quieter tone.
So that being said, if you have an upright piano, having two or three pedals will not matter.
Many older Asian pianos and European pianos have only two pedals. Why is this?
The middle pedal is a relatively modern innovation in pianos that did not come into general use until nearly the 20th century. Music written before this time doesn’t require the middle pedal and doesn’t utilize it. So if you play only music from before the 20th century you will never have an opportunity to use the middle pedal!
The vast majority of piano music doesn’t call for the use of the middle (sostenuto) pedal. Even music that utilizes the middle pedal doesn’t absolutely require it. You will be able to perform the music fine without the middle pedal.
For most players, having two or three pedals isn’t a big factor when buying a grand piano. If you play a lot of contemporary music then it could be important for you to have three pedals on a grand piano. For the majority of pianists though, two pedals will not present much of a limitation to your playing.
To find out a little bit more about how the middle pedal functions on the piano watch our past video on: The Mystery of the Middle Pedal.