One of the piano’s great assets is the sustain pedal, allowing you to let go of keys without the notes being cut off. Other, older keyboard instruments, such as pipe organs and harpsichords, had no way of doing this (nor are they touch sensitive, another thing that sets the piano apart!)
In traditional pianos, depressing the pedal moves all the dampers (labelled number 15 in the image above) away from the strings (16), allowing them to keep vibrating. Releasing the pedal drops the dampers back onto the strings, deadening the sound. In keyboards, this effect is produced digitally.
Typically you want the pedal ‘on’ most of the time, releasing it only briefly to get rid of old, unwanted notes before catching new ones. In order to do this, your foot should not come up before the new note is sounded. Instead release the pedal just after it sounds and depress it again immediately to catch the new note, holding it down until the next new note sounds.
Here’s a simple exercise to get you started:
The pedal is represented by the long line below the stave, with the little peaks showing where your foot should come up and down. Note that the up-down marks are after the note, not before or at the same time. It may be worth repeating NOTE – UP – DOWN – NOTE – UP – DOWN, as you practice this, until you get used to the action.
To help you with this, I’ve put together a free, single-page PDF with four pedalling exercises (including the one above). Take these as slowly as you need – the aim is to get used to correct pedalling, not simply to get to the end of the exercises! Repeat them as many times and as often as necessary.
Here’s the file: Piano Pedal Exercises.pdf