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How To Use The Sustain Pedal (Sound INSTANTLY Better)

Lisa Witt  /  Practice / Nov 1

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Using the sustain pedal (or damper pedal) is perhaps the easiest thing you can do to make your playing sound INSTANTLY more beautiful, professional, and just … better.

But if you don’t know how to use the sustain pedal properly, you can end up creating a big muddy mess of sound.

On most pianos, there are 3 pedals. The sustain pedal is the one on the right and that’s the one we’re going to be using today.

Cassi is the Queen of Technique, and she’s back with a couple of awesome ways you can practice with the pedals so your playing will sound instantly better.

If you want to practice along…

You can!

In this lesson, Cassi is using “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen as our practice song. For a tutorial on how to play the song, you can find that lesson here.

And for a FREE downloadable lead sheet click here.

Ok, here we go. Cassi has 2 great exercises to get you comfortable using the pedal.

Exercise 1 – Pedalling a scale

This is a really simple exercise to get you used to lifting your foot and putting it back down again. This is the most important skill when it comes to pedaling smoothly.

For this exercise, pick a scale (any scale), and pedal each note.

What I mean is when you press a note, push the pedal down. When you play the next note — lift your foot off the pedal and put it back down quickly.

This is important because that way only one note is sustained. When you lift your foot you are releasing the sustain from the first note, and then continuing that sustain for the second note.

If you don’t do this — and just leave the pedal down the whole time — then EVERY note will be held, and it will sound awful.

Once you’ve mastered the single-note scale

Play chords up and down the scale, using the exact same pedaling technique.

So for example, in the key of C. The first chord is a C chord. Then you move up to a D minor. As soon as you play the D minor chord lift your foot off the pedal and quickly back down. Repeat that all the way up and down the scale.

Now it’s time to play a song

As I mentioned earlier, Cassi is using “Hallelujah” to demonstrate this, and you can play along.

To practice using the pedal in a song, start with only the left hand.

In “Hallelujah”, there is a chord change at the start of each measure. Here’s the first line:

That is where you’re going to pedal — on the first note of every measure.

Sou you’ll start with a C arpeggio, and keep the pedal down for that entire measure. The second measure is A minor. As soon as you play the A — lift your foot off the pedal and put it back down.

Then repeat that for every measure. Once you can do that comfortably then it’s time to add the right hand in.

The power of the pedal

I absolutely LOVE using the pedal and I use it all the time. In my opinion, it’s the best way to create beautiful, flowing music that is really smooth.

And once you can play with the pedal comfortably, your playing will sound so much more professional and polished.

Have fun!

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Lisa Witt has been teaching piano for 19 years and in that time has helped hundreds of students learn to play the songs they love. Lisa received classical piano training through the Royal Conservatory of Music, but she has since embraced popular music and playing by ear in order to accompany herself and others.

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