Explanation of the Pedal Marks on a Piano

The pedals of the piano each create a different effect when utilized. Composers tend to favor the sustain pedal, as it is the pedal that gives the piano the strongest reverberation between the notes. Pedals are not always depressed entirely; you can depress a pedal at differing degrees to create a stronger or weaker effect. It is mainly up to the pianist to use his judgment on how far to depress a pedal.

Pedal Notation

There are two ways to indicate a pianist should use pedal. The written method will place the word "pedal" at the point to depress the pedal. In most cases, this command abbreviates as "Ped." An asterisk (*) signifies the pedal release. Another method of indicating pedal notation is with lines. A horizontal line that extends beneath the music indicates to depress the pedal. Steep diagonal lines that go up and down indicate to quickly release and re-engage the pedal. Vertical lines indicate to release the pedal entirely. Some special pedal techniques will also include a written indicator.

Una Corda

The una corda pedal is the pedal on the far left. The una corda pedal uses the left foot. Sometimes, pianists call this pedal the soft pedal, as it dampens the sound and creates a muted sound. This pedal will only enhance softly played notes. The second movement of Beethoven's "Piano Sonata No. 14 in C# minor," more commonly known as "Moonlight Sonata," uses the una corda pedal. It is indicated in the score by writing "una corda" under the section to be used and "tre corda" to release the pedal.


The sostenuto pedal is the pedal in the middle and uses the right foot to play. Only American grand pianos have this pedal, but it provides a very useful technique for composers. The notes held down immediately before depressing the pedal will continue to sustain, while any new notes will decay at the normal, quicker rate. This makes it possible to play chords with a melody on top without blending the sound of the melody notes. To mark this in the score, composers will write "sost. ped." below the sustained notes.


The sustain pedal appears on all pianos. It allows the notes to sustain and play in a connected legato style. The resonating of the notes creates an echo effect that sustains as long as the pedal is depressed. The pedal is on the far right, and the right foot is used to play it. This is the most commonly used pedal, and when no other indication is given, the pianist will use this pedal to enhance the notes.


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