Should You Practice the Piano Without Pedal?

By July 25, 2021News

Beginner pianists, and especially children, are often attracted to the pedals. They feel like an advanced part of the piano, make you feel more “legit” when you use them, and they make your music sound better. What’s not to like?

The issue is that using the pedal as a “crutch” can hamper your playing in the long run, but why exactly is that the case? Should you avoid the pedal altogether, or should you use it sparingly even when you are just starting out on the piano?

We’ve included our thoughts below. And as always, if you’d like to take piano lessons in Cleveland or Aurora, please let us know!

Should Beginners Use the Pedal on the Piano?

The short answer is no, beginners should not spend time using the pedal, at least for several months. This isn’t an issue for young children, as their feet rarely reach the pedals, but adults can easily fall into the trap of relying on the pedal.

In your early days at the keyboard, focus on connecting notes smoothly using finger legato techniques and wrist rotation – you will accomplish this by practicing scales and arpeggios carefully under your teacher’s guidance. In fact, you probably don’t need to use the pedal until you are playing with your hands together, and to take it one step further, when you are playing chords in at least one hand.

Using the Pedal Can Build Bad Habits

If your teacher has assigned you a piece of music with a melody line, you can make that melody sound smooth by pedaling in between notes. You may even think you sound like an advanced pianist. But what happens when you remove the pedal? The notes can be choppy, uneven, and riddled with oddly placed accents (when one finger falls on the key with more force than the next).

You must be able to play scalar and arpeggiated passages smoothly using finger legato technique, and not with the help of the pedal. Only after you’ve mastered this technique should you use the pedal.

Great Pianists Use the Pedal Sparingly

Watch this video of the great Vladimir Horowitz playing the Schumann Arabesque Op. 18 – he uses the pedal so sparingly, picking it up almost every beat. If you listen to other world class pianists, like Sokolov for instance, you will notice the same thing. The same applies even to difficult and “busy” music too, like Ravel.

That’s because great pianists have the technique to connect notes with their technique, and they don’t have to rely on the pedal to cover up for their deficiencies.

View the Pedal as an Enhancement, Not a Necessity

With rare exceptions, if you have to use the pedal to make a piece of piano music sound decent, your technique is probably lacking. The pedal should be used to sustain harmonies across multiple measures, connect leaps when necessary, and change the mood of a piece if appropriate. In short, it should be a tool that you use to color your music, not a crutch.

Other Musicians Don’t Have the Luxury of a Pedal

What do singers do to sing smoothly? In their voice lessons, they learn to sing with legato technique, connecting one note to the other with a consistent air flow. They don’t have a “cheat code” like pianists do. The same applies to brass musicians, who must learn lip legato techniques, and guitar students, who may have a tougher task altogether.

Don’t Cheat By Using the Pedal on the Piano

In summary, if you must use the pedal to connect scalar or arpeggiated notes, you need to revisit the basics. Structure your practice diligently to become less reliant on the pedal, and contact one of our highly qualified piano teachers today if you would like to take your playing to the next level.

We offer a free 30 minute trial lesson to new students, and we will work with you to find an acceptable time.