Author Topic: Piano pedalling  (Read 3837 times)

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Michel.R.E

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Piano pedalling
« on: October 09, 2013, 09:51:42 AM »
I've created a short example to show the best place to place pedal markings in a piano part under certain situations.

Obviously, there will be different situations that will require different pedalling, so ask away. Post passages, examples, spots you'd like to know how to approach the sustain pedal.



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"Writing music to be revolutionary is like cooking to be famous: Music’s main function is not revolution. – Alan Belkin "

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FossMaNo1

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Re: Piano pedalling
« Reply #1 on: October 09, 2013, 10:31:52 AM »
Thank you for the post, Michel. That should be very helpful!
C. Foster Payne
Worship Leader at Arapahoe Road Baptist Church, martial artist, Cowboy, karateka, father, husband...wannabe composer
"If you get to thinkin' you're a person of some influence, try orderin' somebody else's dog around."

perpetuo studens

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Re: Piano pedalling
« Reply #2 on: October 09, 2013, 01:59:18 PM »
Very useful...thanks!
The perceived object...is not a sum of elements to be distinguished from each other and analyzed discretely, but a pattern, that is to say a form, a structure: the element's existence does not precede the existence of the whole, it comes neither before nor after it, for the parts do not determine the pattern, but the pattern determines the parts: knowledge of the pattern and of its laws, of the set and its structure, could not possibly be derived from discrete knowledge of the elements that compose it.

That means that you can look at a piece of a puzzle for three whole days, you can believe that you know all there is to know about its colouring and its shape, and be no further ahead than when you started. The only thing that counts is the ability to link this piece to other pieces...

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Michel.R.E

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Re: Piano pedalling
« Reply #3 on: October 09, 2013, 02:24:17 PM »
an important detail to understand about piano pedalling:

in real life situations, it isn't always a question of "off" and "on" like with a MIDI piano.

in passages that are heavily pedalled, the pianist will use a variety of techniques, such as fluttering a pedal (lift and depress repeatedly, but only halfway), and half-pedal (lifting the pedal part of the way so that SOME of the sound is damped, but not all of it).

while depressing the pedal lifts the dampers off the strings, releasing the pedal gradually or only partially will (on a properly calibrated piano) create a variety of very subtle effects. it's good to know that they exist, but unless you are a pianist, it is probably best not to try and notate these.

There are three pedals on a grand piano.

The left pedal is the "una corda" pedal.. the so-called "soft pedal". On a grand piano it literally shifts the entire keyboard and internal mechanism to one side, thus letting the hammers strike only one string out of the three (most notes on a piano are comprised of three strings, not just one).

The effect is dramatically different from that achieved on an upright piano. on an upright, the internal mechanism is moved closer to the strings, meaning the hammer has a shorter distance to travel to strike the strings, which allows for a softer attack. The difference in sound quality between the two is dramatic. Enough that as pianists, we consider an upright piano to almost be a different instrument from a grand.

The right-most pedal is the well-known "sustain" pedal. It removes the dampers from the strings when depressed (I've always wondered if piano pedals had to take Prozac?). This is the pedal which is the subject of this mini-guide.

The middle pedal is a difficult one.
This is where the upright and grand pianos are the most different. To the extent that pieces playable on a grand are NOT on an upright.

The middle pedal (the "sostenuto" pedal... similar name, but different mechanism) on a grand piano HOLDS any dampers that are already lifted (ie: when you press on a key, it automatically lifts the damper. when you release the key it lowers the damper).

If you play a chord and press the sostenuto pedal, it will hold that chord, even after you release the notes. this means you could play a chord, use the sostenuto pedal, then play other notes staccato, without them being affected by missing dampers.

A common effect in contemporary music is piano "harmonics". Depress the keys you want on the keyboard, but gently so that they do not actually strike the strings (it takes practice, but it's doable). Depress the sostenuto pedal, and release the notes you were holding. You can then loudly strike lower notes that are part of the same harmonic series as the notes you previously played. This will let those sustained notes, which were never struck, to vibrate in sympathy.

On an upright piano, the middle pedal basically acts like the right-hand pedal (sustain)... but only acts upon notes starting at the C one octave below middle C, and going down. So obviously, harmonics are out of the question with that type of piano.
« Last Edit: October 13, 2013, 10:24:19 AM by Michel.R.E »
"Writing music to be revolutionary is like cooking to be famous: Music’s main function is not revolution. – Alan Belkin "

"Saying something new about something old is still saying something new. – Jamie Kowalski"

FossMaNo1

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Re: Piano pedalling
« Reply #4 on: October 09, 2013, 02:39:51 PM »
Michel, how do you notate the use of the sostenuto pedal (in specific, using it to generate the harmonics you mentioned). Also, is there a guide for harmonics on the piano (i.e., understanding which notes are "part of the same harmonic series as the notes you previously played.")?
C. Foster Payne
Worship Leader at Arapahoe Road Baptist Church, martial artist, Cowboy, karateka, father, husband...wannabe composer
"If you get to thinkin' you're a person of some influence, try orderin' somebody else's dog around."

Michel.R.E

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Re: Piano pedalling
« Reply #5 on: October 09, 2013, 03:00:59 PM »
piano strings aren't that good with higher partials, so stick to 8ve/5th (and double octave). Don't expect to create melodies using harmonics. it's an "effect".

they are notated with diamond noteheads, and a text indication to depress without playing.

in my cello sonata, for example, I have a rather large-ish chord in the upper register, held with the sostenuto pedal, then the same chord is played a couple of octaves down staccatissimmo and fortissimmo.

The harmonic notes are simply diamond noteheads, "depress without playing",
and beneath that the marking for "sost. ped- - - - - - - - - - |"

I don't think the text indication to "depress without playing" is all that necessary, since harmonics at the piano have become a pretty standard device. Seeing diamond noteheads SHOULD be enough. I would add the text "harmonics" however, just to avoid any possible confusion.

You mark the sostenuto pedal starting at the notes that need to be held down, not before (which would be pointless, as the pedal works upon being pressed).

Pedals are always notated beneath the lower staff of the piano grand staff.

If two pedals are required (as can happen), then the longer duration one goes lowest in order.

By the way, it is because of this type of notation that I refuse to use the "fancy font" pedal expression.
I always have a smartshape with just the word "Ped." and a dashed line with a hook at the end.
For the sostenuto pedal, it would be "Sost. ped." with the dashed line and hook.

The dashed line should align with the text's baseline.

The "soft" pedal is generally marked with U.C. (for una corda = one string), and lifting it with tre corde (three strings).

If passages of U.C. are brief, you can also do the same thing as for the other two pedals and create a smartshape line with the text and a hook at the end (which would mean no need for the tre corde text).

I used dashed lines in my scores, but solid lines are also standard.
"Writing music to be revolutionary is like cooking to be famous: Music’s main function is not revolution. – Alan Belkin "

"Saying something new about something old is still saying something new. – Jamie Kowalski"

altasilvapuer

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Re: Piano pedalling
« Reply #6 on: October 09, 2013, 05:20:22 PM »
(I've always wondered if piano pedals had to take Prozac?). This is the pedal which is the subject of this mini-guide.

Off-topic to the thread: I hereby vote that April's topic of the month be music jokes and puns, as befitting the nature of April Fool's.  Just figured I'd give a head-start to thinking about it.

---

On-topic to the thread: Michel, this was fascinating to read, especially the initial post.  At first, I was confused as most pedal markings I've seen (disclaimer: I am not a pianist) seem to start at the beginning of the bar in examples such as those in your PDF.  I would definitely agree, however, that your recommendation seems to be the de facto interpretation of those pedal markings.  I also note that you seem to be talking more about the playback side of things, given your mention of hidden pedal expressions.

As I'm beginning to adopt the practice of having multiple score files for my works (playback, 'reader,' and part-management), I'm starting to explore more of these (quasi-hidden) notational conventions for playback scores.  It's interesting territory.

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Jamie Kowalski

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Re: Piano pedalling
« Reply #7 on: October 09, 2013, 06:04:52 PM »
Off-topic to the thread: I hereby vote that April's topic of the month be music jokes and puns, as befitting the nature of April Fool's.  Just figured I'd give a head-start to thinking about it.

We've done that one as a topic already.

perpetuo studens

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Re: Piano pedalling
« Reply #8 on: October 09, 2013, 07:47:41 PM »
Off-topic to the thread: I hereby vote that April's topic of the month be music jokes and puns, as befitting the nature of April Fool's.  Just figured I'd give a head-start to thinking about it.

We've done that one as a topic already.

Or is that an early April Fool's joke...
The perceived object...is not a sum of elements to be distinguished from each other and analyzed discretely, but a pattern, that is to say a form, a structure: the element's existence does not precede the existence of the whole, it comes neither before nor after it, for the parts do not determine the pattern, but the pattern determines the parts: knowledge of the pattern and of its laws, of the set and its structure, could not possibly be derived from discrete knowledge of the elements that compose it.

That means that you can look at a piece of a puzzle for three whole days, you can believe that you know all there is to know about its colouring and its shape, and be no further ahead than when you started. The only thing that counts is the ability to link this piece to other pieces...

Georges Perec - Life: A User's Manual

Michel.R.E

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Re: Piano pedalling
« Reply #9 on: October 13, 2013, 10:37:14 AM »
For Fossman, attached is an excerpt from my cello sonata with sostenuto pedal effect with harmonics.

there's a "note" in the first system, that goes with instructions at the bottom of the page (that's what the numeral 1 is for.. it refers to a footnote, which specifies that if the accompaniment is played on an upright piano the harmonics are to be disregarded).



notice that the harmonic notes are the same notes as those struck below. this assures the strongest sympathetic vibration. the effect is subtle, and easily drowned out.

Octave harmonics are the strongest and will produce the most prominent effect.

The opposite can be done as well, but the result isn't as satisfactory: hold the fundamental notes in the lower octave, then play the resultant harmonics in the upper octave. the lower string will vibrate in sympathy, though much more weakly. (in my opinion, not as useful an effect)
"Writing music to be revolutionary is like cooking to be famous: Music’s main function is not revolution. – Alan Belkin "

"Saying something new about something old is still saying something new. – Jamie Kowalski"

FossMaNo1

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Re: Piano pedalling
« Reply #10 on: October 15, 2013, 11:47:17 AM »
Thanks, Michel.
C. Foster Payne
Worship Leader at Arapahoe Road Baptist Church, martial artist, Cowboy, karateka, father, husband...wannabe composer
"If you get to thinkin' you're a person of some influence, try orderin' somebody else's dog around."