When to Add the Pedal in Your Piano Practice

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When to Add the Pedal in Your Piano Practice

The question today is “When do you add the pedal in your piano practice?” Some of you may be thinking, “Why don’t you use the pedal the whole time?” There are good reasons to practice without the pedal. I have discussed this at great length in many videos. Today, we’re going to talk about when to add the pedal in your piano practice.

Why should you practice without the pedal?

As I’ve talked about before, in order to discover the best fingering to really connect the music with your hands, you want to be able to practice hearing all the notes clearly. The pedal is like the icing on the cake. It makes everything sound better! But, you want to try to achieve a beautiful, smooth performance playing without the pedal. If you do that, then adding the pedal is going to enrich your performance. More than that, you won’t use the pedal as a crutch to connect music that you can connect with your hands. This leaves the pedal as an expressive device to enhance tone instead of merely connecting what you should be able to do with your fingers.

I’m going to take a familiar section of the Chopin Ballade in G minor to show you on the accompanying video what to do when you are practicing this section of this famous piece. I’m going to play as written first with the pedal. Then I will show you when to add the pedal in your practice.

The first thing is to know how to practice to begin with!

As I’ve discussed in the past, it’s really important with solo piano repertoire to break down the music to its most intrinsic elements so that you can absorb all the details. Because if you try to learn too much at a time, there’s only so much you can assimilate at one time. It is necessary to take a small section at a time, hands separately, figuring out the notes, counting out the rhythm, figuring out the best fingering, as well as observing, phrasing, such as staccato and slurs, as well as all the expression marks such as dynamics (the loud and soft indications), accents, and all the rest of the details of the score.

If you are learning a fresh, new piece, you should tackle a small section as demonstrated on the accompanying video. You could take more. But it could take you more than twice as long to learn a phrase that is longer. More than that, if you are practicing a whole afternoon and want to keep practicing productively, it would be really challenging to take 16 major or 32 measure phrases. However, you could knock out smaller phrases very easily and sustain a longer practice.

Next you get the left hand securely memorized so you can play smoothly with comfort. Finally, you put the hands together. I suggest when putting the hands together the first time, challenge yourself by doing it from memory. You may need to go substantially slower at first in order to achieve this. You’ll know right away if your fingering needs work since you will hear things that are not connected. In fact:

One of the most important solutions to most technical problems is finding better fingering.

This transcends just this lesson today about when to add the pedal. I would suggest whenever you run into snags in your playing, investigate alternative fingering to solve problems.

Once you get hands together smoothly and memorized at a reasonable tempo (which is as fast as you can get it up to in one sitting before the point of diminishing returns), you are ready to add the pedal.

Instead of relying upon the pedal to connect notes that can be connected smoothly with your fingers, instead, you utilize the pedal to enhance the tone as well as to connect what you can’t connect with your hands. For example, in this phrase, you can extend the left hand broken chords to sustain longer than your fingers can possibly hold the notes which sounds much more beautiful. I had the good fortune of studying with many brilliant concert pianists, and all of them taught me the importance of practicing without the pedal. It’s an essential practice technique for the piano. So, remember to add the pedal to reward yourself as you master each phrase of music.

Even after you have the whole piece on a high level with the pedal, check your work without the pedal to keep your playing honest.

You piano playing will be on an entirely new level when you stop using the pedal as a crutch and learn how to connect the music with your hands. I hope this tutorial helps your piano practice and your playing. This is Robert Estrin at LivingPianos.com Your Online Piano Store 949-244-3729 info@LivingPianos.com