Piano Player World

Sustain Pedal Marks

pedal markNormally, 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 near it.

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.

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marks for sustainingThe 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.

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