How To Use A Piano Sustain Pedal

Lisa Witt  /  Technique  /  UPDATED Jan 16, 2023

The sustain pedal. Once you get comfortable using this pedal, your playing will feel “naked” without it! It can be tricky to develop coordination at first, but with practice in a proper form, it will become second nature. Much like driving a manual transmission vehicle! Yes, I just made a mechanical reference in a piano blog.

So what does the sustain pedal do anyways?

When we move between chords or notes, we more often than not have to lift our hands off the keys. This can result in a pause or break in the sound. The sustain pedal allows all of the notes on the piano to resonate after the keys have been lifted, for as long as the pedal is depressed. It will create a more legato sound to your playing and add a whole new level of richness to your tone.

To use the sustain pedal simply depress the pedal with your right foot to sustain the sound, and lift the pedal to release. Make sure that your heel remains on the ground while you depress and lift the pedal, this will help you to make these transitions as smoothly as possible.

Now how do you know WHEN to use this pedal? My rule of thumb when using the sustain pedal is to lift it each time there is a chord change or a change in harmony. If you don’t know how to tell if there has been a change in harmony, go with your instincts. Your ear will be able to tell you if your sound has become muddy and you need to release the pedal.

Happy sustaining!,


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Lisa Witt has been teaching piano for more than 20 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. Learn more about Lisa.

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