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Take Your Foot Off That Pedal!!!

July 11, 2019

 

 You know the driver that "puts the pedal to the metal" all the time?  Never slows down, does not know what a brake is?  Eventually that driver is going to run over something.  Likewise, the pianist who keeps their foot on the pedal all the time or way too much is running over the rest of their musical expressiveness! 

 

Why do we use the damper pedal on the piano?  It can make Romantic period pieces and Popular pieces sound fuller and more resonant.  It can provide color in Impressionistic pieces, blending harmonies and making the sound more fluid.   The pedal can connect when our fingers cannot, such as with a jump bass.  It can help us create accents when we just pedal on downbeats.

 

But when used inappropriately, the damper pedal can hide bad technique, or hinder good technique.  If you pedal across phrases, rests, staccatos, we can no longer hear those elements of the music. (You are running over and killing your music!) Students can get lazy with the pedal down, and stop playing legato with their fingers.  If a student is not controlling their fingers well, the sound becomes heavier, more accented in the wrong places, and less expressive.

 

That is why, no matter what the lesson book or sheet music indicates, my students always have to learn to play their music without pedal.  Both they and I can then hear if they are playing legato, if they are letting the phrases "breathe" when they lift their hands at the end of slurs, if they are truly playing a staccato.  Finger pedaling (learning to overlap notes, especially in the left hand) comes BEFORE using the damper pedal.  If the finger pedal and legato is excellent, very little damper pedal is needed.  

 

I have had to ask accompanists to not use so much pedal because they were blurring harmonies so much, the choirs or ensembles with whom we were working could not hear the notes they were supposed to sing!

 

So take your foot off that damper pedal and learn to play well!  Add it back in only to help your good finger technique!  Keep the music expressive!

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