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Are Keyboard Pedals Necessary? (Explained)

Are Keyboard Pedals Necessary? (Explained)

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Written By Sarah Barlow

Chief Music Officer

Through this article, I look at keyboard pedals and the role they should play in our day-to-day playing. Topics covered include the basics of what they do, their advantages, how they impact beginners, and what styles of music they are well suited to.

What Are Keyboard Pedals And What Do They Do?

In pianos, pedals help to enhance and enrich the sound by allowing notes to last longer than usual or by emphasizing softer dynamics, thereby increasing the emotional impact of your music.

Some keyboards have only one pedal – the sustain pedal. But standard pianos and grand pianos come with three pedals arranged from left to right, and these are the soft pedal (or una corda), sostenuto pedal, and sustain (or damper) pedal.

The sustain pedal is the most common type, found on the right-most side. When you purchase a digital keyboard that already contains one pedal, it’s usually the sustain (damper) pedal. This has the most important function among the three mentioned, so if you ever decide to invest in a pedal, the sustain (damper) is something you should consider. It lifts the dampers off the strings, allowing the notes to ring out longer. 

The sostenuto pedal is found in the middle. When you press this, it only holds the notes that were “locked” by the fingers. Any notes played after that won’t resonate for as long. 

The una corda pedal, found on the left-most portion, produces a soft and fragile sound. Normally, when a key is pressed, a hammer strikes three strings within the instrument. When the una corda pedal is pressed, the entire mechanism shifts to the right, causing the hammer to only strike one string, thereby leading to a softer tone. 

Advantages Of Keyboard Pedals On Music Quality

Each pedal has different functions. With this, they also benefit an individual’s playing in varying ways. There is no doubt that pedals enhance and enrich one’s playing experience by extending the tonal possibilities beyond the piano, from subtle dynamic shifts to bold tone shifts. If you own a digital keyboard, investing in proper pedals might make it sound more like playing using a real acoustic piano. 

The sustain pedal creates an end effect with a tone that is significantly more resonant. To have beautiful, smooth flowing music, sustain pedals are highly useful. This produces a prolonged sound and somewhat echoing effect on the played note.

The sostenuto pedal can be used as a practice mute, resulting in a muffled sound, so you will be able to practice to your heart’s content without disturbing your neighbors.

The una corda pedal, which literally translates to “soft” pedal, produces an ethereal sound. The tone is usually quieter, as well as softer and warmer in timbre. So instead of thinking of it as a dynamic pedal, it should be utilized for tone contrast.

Although the sostenuto and una corda pedals are typically overshadowed by the sustain pedal, they are equally significant in their own ways and do enhance the sound and quality of your music. Their roles and functions should not be overlooked. 

Are Keyboard Pedals Important For Beginners?

People generally assume that pedals are not that important especially because many digital pianos and keyboards do not include pedals as standard equipment. Although some come with pedals, the majority merely have an input slot where you can install pedals if desired. But eventually, as you improve and move from one level to another in terms of expertise, you’re gonna have to start learning how to use a keyboard or piano pedals. 

However, for beginners, pedals are not going to be a focus when you first start playing the keyboard or digital piano. So, it’s safe to say that this shouldn’t be of utmost priority if you’re still learning to play simple notes and scales since the basics of piano don’t really call the need for pedals. 

The use of pedals is a skill that can be employed in the latter part of your learning, and having your hands in the appropriate position is far more crucial for beginners than introducing your feet into the picture right away.

Are Keyboard Pedals Needed For Certain Types Of Music?

The short answer is yes, certain types of music call the need for pedals. Although pedals are useful in enriching the tonal quality of the music, it is not needed all the time; it still depends on what type of music you are playing. Some composers specify where you should utilize the pedals in their composition, other times, it only really depends on your choice. 

The type of music affects the need for pedals. For instance, you would want to use the pedal a bit less if the music includes a lot of quick melodic changes. In contrast, you use the pedal more if the music contains long, sluggish sections with little changes in chords.  These slow melodic compositions sound best if the sustain pedal is used since it gives a more delicate, smooth-flowing rhythm, whereas more complex music can get muddled and confusing with too much sustain. 

The use of pedals will become more natural as you practice, and even if the music doesn’t specifically tell you to use one, you can still experiment and see what works best for you. You’ll be surprised that your feet automatically move for you without even realizing it.

How Much Do Pedals Cost?

In some pianos like the standard upright and grand pianos, pedals are already part of the package. Although in some stores, you might have the option to choose whether or not to include pedals before purchasing, depending of course if the model you intend to buy supports installation of pedals. This will also affect the price of the piano. 

If your keyboard or piano does already come with pedals, there might be instances where you need to have them maintained or occasionally adjusted in order to prevent it from malfunctioning. Depending on the store and on your location, the cost can be up to $25 per function.

If your digital keyboard does not come with a pedal, e-commerce platforms such as Amazon and Sweetwater sell these parts separately. 

Listed below is a basic price range for piano pedals, including the website for where they can be bought. The prices are approximate, so you might have to do in-depth research to get the most up-to-date price.

Sustain Pedal$11 – $25$9 – $136$19 – $99 
3 – Pedal Unit$69 – $283$34 – $175$80 – $399
Table indicating prices of keyboard pedals at multiple retailers.

Final Remarks

The extent of expertise in which you need pedals is based on personal preference. Beginners are not required to use keyboard pedals because some believe it is a source of distraction. Relying on the pedal rather than employing better techniques at playing can lead to undesirable habits. Learning how to properly operate a pedal has its own set of difficulties. You can always add a piano pedal after you’ve mastered the basics. 

For beginners, hand and feet coordination can be difficult, so just focus on one important aspect first – your hands. Once you mastered basic hand techniques, you will find it much easier to use pedals rather than trying to master both at the same time. 

There is no reason not to explore with pedals if your piano skills have progressed to the point where you’re comfortable with them. However, don’t be concerned with pedals and whether or not you require them. Pedals aren’t necessary for many musical pieces.