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Una Corda/Soft Pedal


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#1 Youngpianoteacher

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Posted 25 June 2012 - 18:22

Any thoughts on when/when not this should be used.

I have realised I was never really taught about it and have been asked by a pupil recently when they should use it. After some reading my understanding is the general convention would be if the music states "una corda" you can play until "tre corda" to play without.

Do people use it simply to play piano or pianissimo?

Any help and clarification here from fellows piano teachers would be great, thanks
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#2 jenny

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Posted 25 June 2012 - 19:49

I have a pupil playing Northern Lights in her grade 3 exam on Wednesday and I have suggested that she use the soft pedal during the last section, where the music is marked diminuendo to pp and has to 'fade away'. This has been most effective and she really enjoys playing it like this.
And yes, you're right in thinking that the marking would be tre corda to release the soft pedal.
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#3 linda.ff

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Posted 25 June 2012 - 19:55

QUOTE(jenny @ Jun 25 2012, 08:49 PM) View Post

I have a pupil playing Northern Lights in her grade 3 exam on Wednesday and I have suggested that she use the soft pedal during the last section, where the music is marked diminuendo to pp and has to 'fade away'. This has been most effective and she really enjoys playing it like this.
And yes, you're right in thinking that the marking would be tre corda to release the soft pedal.

I think the result is different on a grand and and upright piano, but I'll gladly remain open to correction.

On a grand piano it really will affect the tone becasue it does just what it says on the tin - the ha,,er hit one string instead of all three.

On an upright - OK, on my upright - what hapoens is that the hammers start off nearer to the strings. They will still, as I understand it, hit three strings. But since it's possible to put down the key so lightly that there's not enough momentum behind the hammer for it to finish its journey to the string, there's always the danger that the note won't sound at all, as many beginners with an over-zealousd approach to pinissimao have found. If the hammers start off nearer, the momentum needed won't be as great, so a lighter touch can still let the hammer reach the string at its slower speed and a true pianissimo can be achieved. So it seems to me that the soft pedal on my upright makes it possible to play softer that you could without it and still have the note sound.

Have I got this right?
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#4 ma non troppo

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Posted 25 June 2012 - 20:07

On a grand piano, I prefer to think of the una corda pedal as a "special effect" rather than a soft pedal. When depressed, the hammers actually strike two of the three strings on a modern grand piano, not one. It is actually possible to play pretty loudly whilst holding it down. I think its use doesn't merely depend on composers' directions, but sometimes on initiative. Sometimes, a quiet sound is needed, but to use una corda could be inappropriate in colour. In my opinion, anyway!
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#5 Scooby Doo

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Posted 25 June 2012 - 21:08

It isn't just about the dynamic level. The una corda gives a different tonal colour when playing a grand piano. The mechanism shifts so that the hammers strike the strings on a softer part of the felt that has not been. Ompacted as much by repeated use, hence the softer muted sound. Less noticeable effect on an upright as the hammers are tilted closer to the strings, so cannot move as far or as fast, hence merely quieter sound.

Argh, typing on phone and can't edit - that should say compacted!!
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#6 Guest: VH2_*

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Posted 26 June 2012 - 07:04

The previous posts have described the effect of the soft pedal and the how and why of its workings.

I'd just add that many books and old-school teachers manage to put over the idea that it is somehow wrong or sinful to use the left pedal, especially if it is partly to achieve a pp, as well as to change the tone colour, yet if you watch a good recitalist you will find that they use the left pedal a lot, sometimes (say in a small or echo-ey room) for an entire piece!
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#7 Beclarinet

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Posted 26 June 2012 - 09:09

I was never really taught to use the left pedal, but these days I find I frequently use it when accompanying (especially tiny grade 1 fluties!) and particularly on grand pianos.
It doesn't come up much in tutor books though does it?!
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#8 ma non troppo

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Posted 26 June 2012 - 10:20

QUOTE(Scooby Doo @ Jun 25 2012, 10:08 PM) View Post

It isn't just about the dynamic level. The una corda gives a different tonal colour when playing a grand piano. The mechanism shifts so that the hammers strike the strings on a softer part of the felt that has not been. Ompacted as much by repeated use, hence the softer muted sound. Less noticeable effect on an upright as the hammers are tilted closer to the strings, so cannot move as far or as fast, hence merely quieter sound.

Argh, typing on phone and can't edit - that should say compacted!!



My piano technician says that she has some clients who specifically want the side of the hammers used to play una corda shaped and voiced in a different way.
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#9 Hils

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Posted 26 June 2012 - 12:19

QUOTE(Beclarinet @ Jun 26 2012, 10:09 AM) View Post

It doesn't come up much in tutor books though does it?!


I think you'll find very few tutor books teach anything at all about pedal technique apart from your basic right foot legato pedalling. And actually as a teacher one is limited by not really knowing what sounds/colours effects a pupil is going to get at home on their own instrument, however successful they are in the lesson on one's own. I feel personally that this part of the mechanism is much more unique to an individual piano than the rest of it. Do others agree?
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#10 Youngpianoteacher

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Posted 26 June 2012 - 12:32

Well I'm glad to see I'm not the only one who finds this a confusing and not an exact science. For instance, I have an upright Kawai at home and I often use the soft pedal, simply so I am not drowning out my family in the next room watching TV. I remember going to another teacher friend and she commented on me using the soft pedal on her Yamaha upright rather suspiciously, which is why I was keen to hear from others here.

I accept that on a grand piano, the mechanics are different. I suppose the general consensus is then to use it as you see fit??? And probably as long as it is not through laziness of finger control/technique to play softer???
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#11 ma non troppo

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Posted 26 June 2012 - 12:44

QUOTE(Youngpianoteacher @ Jun 26 2012, 01:32 PM) View Post



I accept that on a grand piano, the mechanics are different. I suppose the general consensus is then to use it as you see fit??? And probably as long as it is not through laziness of finger control/technique to play softer???

I would agree with that. I have a grand piano and I often advise students to use it when it is not marked by the composer, but I also always say that the effect at home, if they have an upright, may be variable. And also, of course, if they are playing in a concert or exam, they may have to assess the piano and the acoustics of the room too, and be open-minded about its use (and of course the use of the sustaining pedal too).
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