Normally, piano notes decay fairly quickly after being played because dampers on
the strings in the piano absorb the vibrations. Pressing down on the sustain pedal causes the dampers to raise
off the strings, allowing the notes to ring much longer. Even with sustain pedal down, the strings eventually
are going to decay.
There are a couple different types sustain pedal marks used in music
notation. Usually, the convention for the pedal marks varies based on how the composer learned to write the
marks. Some composers may use both sets of marks.
The most stylized version of the pedal marks consist of two marking. The engage pedal mark consists of the
abbreviation “Ped.” in stylized letters. The “P” in this symbol looks a very similar to a cursive “L,” so some
people might think this symbol is “Led.” The pianist pressed down on the pedal on the note with the “Ped.” symbol
The release pedal mark is a stylized “*” placed underneath a note. The “*” is written very large compared to how
it is normally seen in text, so it looks somewhat like a flower. The pianist releases the sustain pedal when this
mark appears in the sheet music. These marks do not indicate gradual pressing or releasing of the pedal.
The variable sustain pedal mark is a line that is drawn underneath a series of notes. It can be used to show an
engage, release, gradual engage, gradual release or partial presses of the pedal. An engage, like the “Ped.” symbol
is shown by a line that goes straight down underneath a note.
The release, like the “*” symbol, is a line that goes straight up. Gradual
releases are shown by diagonal lines going up or down underneath a group of notes. In these instances, you
press or release the pedal evenly when playing these notes. In some instances, sections of the line may not be
quite as low as the engage pedal line, so you only press part way down the pedal.
In some cases, the composer might not write any sort of pedal mark or may not even have originally needed the
piano. The amount of sustain on pianos can vary a bit, so some pianos might require the use of the sustain pedal
for the note to run the full duration, even if the original piano the song was written for did not.
In this case, the burden of deciding how and when to use the pedal falls onto the player. Generally speaking,
you are only going to need to use the pedal for longer note where the note decays before the entire duration of the
note has occurred. It is a matter of discretion on your part to determine whether you really need the pedal.
Outside variable pedal marks, the sustain pedal marks do not go into great detail about how the pedal is used.
Whether this is because there is no real complications with the pedal or because the composer is assuming the
player already knows when to use the pedal varies. In most cases, even when pedal marks are present, you usually
have a lot of discretion as to how and when you actually use the pedal in piano playing.
The material in this site is intended to be of general informational use.
Although every attempt has been made to make information as accurate as possible, we are not responsible for
any errors that may appear.