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Forum Q&A | How do you teach legato pedaling?

Last week, we discussed standardized testing – the advantages and disadvantages, do you require it, and why, etc..  Click here to read the comments that were left!  As always, it’s never too late to add your thoughts so feel free to jump into the conversation.

This week, we are going to talk about pedaling.  Pedaling is such an important part of learning the piano, but arguably one of the most challenging things to learn for some students. The timing for pedaling must be just right: it can’t be too early, else you’ll have a break in the sound; but it can’t be too late otherwise the previous harmonies with intermingle with the current ones.

So, here’s the question:

How do YOU teach pedaling?  Do you have any tips, analogies, or exercises you use with your students in order to teach proper legato pedaling (also sometimes called syncopated pedaling)?  How did your piano teacher you how to pedal when you were a first learning?

Share your thoughts below!  I am anxious to learn some new tips for better ways to teach pedaling!

Photo Credit: House of Sims | CC 2.0

6 thoughts on “Forum Q&A | How do you teach legato pedaling?”

  1. One idea that seems to work for my students is that the hands and foot move *towards* each other when the pedal is changed. As the fingers go down to press the notes, the foot comes up to release the pedal, then quickly back down to reengage the pedal. (As opposed to the typical idea that they both move *down* at the same time, which results in a collision of harmonies.)

    Practicing that idea of contrary motion is easiest to do on a song that they already know well – preferably something slow. Even easier than that – have them practice cross-hand arpeggiated chords. It sounds impressive, and it’s easy on the brain.

    I’m all ears for more tips on teaching pedal technique!

  2. None of my students have progressed to the point of using pedal extensively. One just was oriented to the damper pedal in the Alfred Premier book today.

    I remember being told to just pedal where the marks where on the…and to re-pedal before the harmonies started to blur. I will have to do some remembering as to how I was taught!

    I just found your site today, by the way. This is my first year as a private teacher (singing and piano), and I am happy for all the info here!

  3. The first thing I do with my students when teaching about pedaling is to clarify exactly WHEN pedaling occurs: after the beat, not before! The pedal markings on sheet music is deceiving and makes it look like pedaling is supposed to occur ON the beat, at the same time that you are playing the chord. I like to rewrite the pedal marking as occurring JUST AFTER the beat. I explain that you must wait until your fingers are holding down the chord before you can lift the pedal to clear the sound and depress it once again. We try this a few times slowly together until the student gets that hang of it.

    Once the student has it, I will often assign an exercise for them to try practicing over the next week. It involves playing major triads starting at C and moving up chromatically (C#M, DM, EbM, etc.). If they pedal to early, they will hear the break in sound. If they pedal too late, they will surely hear the muddy dissonance created by the overlapping C major harmony and the C# major harmony! With younger students, I have them play triads ascending up the C major scale instead of chromatically to make things simpler for them.

    @Sara K.: I love, love your description of the hands and feet moving towards each other (hands down, foot up)! What a great way to describe pedaling.

  4. Legato pedaling is a challenge, and I won’t try to sound like I’ve figured out an explanation that makes sense to every student. This is one of those areas where you have to think like the individual student. And while one explanation works for one student, it may not make any sense at all to the next student. But here are some things I use consistently with teaching the actual act of pedaling, in general.

    I’m big on teaching the students that their entire body has to work together in playing the piano. So, posture and balance on the bench are critical. When pedaling, it is very important to always keep the heel on the floor. Pumping the whole leg up and down is not acceptable, because it used muscles all the way through the torso and effects the position of the arms, etc. I instruct them to use their ankle like a hinge, and just lift the front of the foot up and down. I also insist that they always wear shoes to practice once they begin with the pedal. Without shoes, the tendency is to curl the toes to pedal, which is a completely different movement. (I actually developed tendonitis in the arch of my foot from practicing barefoot too much several years ago.)

    If I have a very small student who does not have a pedal extender at home, I tend to avoid pedaling until they can actually reach the pedal well enough to pedal properly. It’s much more difficult to unteach bad habits later than it is to teach good habits from the beginning. And very few students will invest in a pedal extender. I do have a 6-yr-old asian student who is advancing very quickly, though. She has been in lessons for a year-and-a-half, and is learning almost faster than her tiny body wants to allow. Knowing that she will be small for many more years (her mom isn’t even 5ft tall), her mom bought a pedal extender. It has made all the difference in the world.

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