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Piano Foot Pedals: An Illustrated Walk-Through

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Sustain Pedal
Sustain pedal marks on piano sheet music.

The damper pedal is lifted at the large asterisk.

Image © Brandy Kraemer

Position of the Sustain Pedal:

Right pedal

The Sustain Pedal is Played With:

Right foot

Also Called:

Damper pedal, forte pedal, loud pedal

Effects of the Sustain Pedal:

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 creates a legato effect, forcing all of the notes to echo and overlap.

History of the Sustain Pedal:

The sustain pedal was originally operated by hand, and an assistant was required to operate it until the knee lever was created. The creators of the sustain foot pedal are unknown, but it is believed to have been invented around the mid-1700s.

Use of the sustain was uncommon until the Romantic Period, but is now the most commonly used piano pedal.

How the Sustain Pedal Works:

The sustain pedal lifts the dampers off of the strings, allowing them to vibrate until the pedal is released.

Sustain Pedal Marks:

In piano notation, use of the sustain pedal begins with Ped., and ends with a large asterisk.

Variable pedal marks, seen as __/\_/\__, are placed under notes, and define the precise pattern in which the sustain pedal is depressed and released.

  • Horizontal lines show when the sustain pedal is depressed.

  • Diagonal lines indicate a quick, temporary release of the sustain pedal.

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