Mastery is not about perfection. It’s about a process, a journey. The master is the one who stays on the path day after day, year after year. The master is the one who is willing to try, and fail, and try again, for as long as he or she lives.
- George Leonard, author of Mastery
The right pedal in grand pianos, is always the damper or sustaining pedal. When depressed, it lifts all dampers away from the strings.
The left pedal is the soft pedal, used to decrease the brilliance of sound and to somewhat decrease its volume. On most grands, this effect is achieved by shifting the entire keyboard and action to the side, causing a change in the alignment of hammers to strings. the amount of shifting is adjusted so that each hammer either misses one string in bi-chords and tri-chords, or strikes the strings with the soft areas of its top surface.
The shift pedal is also called the una corda pedal. In cheap older grands, this pedal simply lifts the hammer rest rail, which in turn pushes all hammers closer to the strings. this reduces the sound volume, because the hammers reach the strings at a lower speed, but it also introduces free play, which impedes repetition and makes the action difficult to control.
The middle pedal, optional on many pianos, is the sostenuto pedal. It permits holding over the sounds of selected notes without keeping their keys depressed, while playing other notes without holding them over. This effect is used extensively in the music of the Impressionist Era to keep a certain note or chord sounding while playing other notes staccato. In some pianos, the middle pedal lifts only the bass dampers.
As in the grands, the right pedal is the damper pedal and the left pedal softens the sound. The left pedal however instead of moving the keyboard and action sideways, as in most grands, lifts the hammer rail and pushes the hammers closer to the strings. This ‘half-blow’ pedal diminishes the volume of sound by reducing the hammers’ speed.
The middle pedal in most verticals operates the moderator mechanism rather than the sostenuto. The moderator is a rail with a wide strip of thin felt that drops between the hammers and strings to muffle the sound. This pedal is often called the ‘practice pedal.’ A true sostenuto mechanism is found only in the most expensive studio uprights.