Introduction: How to Use the Sustain Pedal on the Piano

The Sustain Pedal on the piano is played with your foot while your hands are playing on the keyboard.

Some pianos actually have three pedals and if you happen to have one of those pianos, today we're just going to use the one on the far right - the Sustain Pedal. If you only have one pedal with your keyboard, that will be your Sustain Pedal.

On my piano, the sustain pedal is right by my right foot as you can see in the 2nd image.

Learning how to use the Sustain Pedal with your piano playing isn't too hard and you will really like the rich sound that it adds to the notes that you're playing on the keyboard.

Let's find out what the Sustain Pedal does and then how we know to use it in our playing.

Step 1: What Does the Sustain Pedal Do?

When you sustain something, you hold it out and/or make it longer.

That's exactly what the Sustain Pedal does in our sound when we play the piano and use it at the same time. The notes will echo over into other notes and the sounds will blend and be audible for a longer period of time. The notes will keep ringing even after you pick your finger up off of the keyboard.

  • To use the Sustain Pedal simply press the pedal down to the floor and then play your note(s) and/or chord on the keyboard with your hand at the same time.
  • You can really hear the difference in sound with and without the pedal if you compare: once you've played the notes with the pedal, play it again without the pedal so you can experience the difference.
  • Keep your foot over the pedal instead of moving it all the way away from it when you do lift it. Keeping it hovering over the pedal while you quickly lift and press down again will save you a lot of time.

Besides blending the sounds, the Sustain Pedal is used to help you get from one place on the keyboard to another that is hard to reach without breaking the sound. The break in sound is eliminated through the sustaining sound of the pedal.

Next, let's look at when you are going to use your Sustain Pedal in your playing and how you can tell from your music when to press it down and even when to release it.

Step 2: How Do We Know When to Use the Sustain Pedal in Music?

The two main markings for when to use the Sustain Pedal in your playing are shown in the 1st image.

  • Whenever you see the "Ped" under a note or chord, you know to press down the Sustain Pedal.

  • Whenever you see "Ped" again, lift your foot up and press it back down on the pedal quickly to create a break in the sound.

  • Whenever you see the little "*" symbol, you lift up your pedal foot and don't press down again until you see the "Ped" sign.

Another way you will know to use your Sustain Pedal is when you see a line under the written music as shown in the 2nd image. (It almost looks similar to an EKG graph) We call this the Pedal Line. This line replaces the symbols that we learned above and includes it all in just one line with a few changes in direction.

  • Whenever you see the line begin, press down your Sustain Pedal.

  • Whenever you see a little line going up and right back down, do the same with your pedal and lift when the line lifts in the music.

Each type of marking works the same way - press, lift, press back down or lift and play without the pedal.

You can also use the Sustain Pedal in your playing even if there aren't any markings for it in your music. Let's find out how and when you can do this before we look at some playing examples on our keyboards.

Step 3: What Do We Do If There's No Pedal Symbol in the Music?

Since we already know that the Sustain Pedal makes the notes that we play sound longer and blend together with other notes, we can use it whenever we have whole notes, half notes, even quarter notes; or anytime we are playing a slower tempo.

You don't want to sustain short notes such as 16ths or 32nds, especially if they are being played in a fast tempo. Dotted articulations are a good indication that you shouldn't press down the Sustain Pedal during those sections of a piece.

Also, lift your pedal when you change chords so you won't have too many contrasting harmonies being heard at the same time.

Now let's go to our keyboards and practice using our Sustain Pedal together!

Step 4: Come Practice With Me!

It will help you to watch me, or my foot rather, move and up and down over the Sustain Pedal while playing the piano; and even how not to move it, as in not moving your whole foot away each time you lift it up. :)

You'll also get to hear the difference in sound when you press the pedal down and then play the same thing without using the pedal. This helps you to understand when to use it in your own compositions or in music that doesn't have any pedal markings in it.

Once you've mastered the Sustain Pedal you will really enjoy the new variety of sounds that you can make in your piano playing! Make sure you know where the Sustain Pedal is on your piano and let's go and practice through all of this together.