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Topic: Use of the mute pedal  (Read 9258 times)

Offline hamtaro

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Use of the mute pedal
on: August 16, 2002, 01:46:28 AM
Hi, everyone.. I'm new to the forums.  My name is nick and I've been playing piano for a little less than a year now, it seems.  I took a year or two of piano lessons when I was in 2nd grade, so I was already familiar with the basics.

Right now I'm playing some Beethoven sonatas.. the easier movements of the easiest sonatas, of course, all of them are adagios, I think.  I'm playing the adagio from the third sonata right now, and I was need some advice on the use of the mute pedal on my piano.

I find it hard to control how hard I play, especially since a lot of the piece is played in piano, and parts in pianissimo.  Would it be a bad habit of me to use the mute pedal for these parts, and then take it off for the fortissimo parts? (almost half of the movement is played very loudly)

If I shouldn't do this, can you guys give me some tips on how to play quietly for these sections?  I find that when I keep my hands playing 'lightly' on the piano for the quieter sections, I occasionally miss a note because it is too light.  On the mute pedal, however, I can play with fairly good precision because the mute doesn't allow it to play too loudly.

Thanks in advance.

Offline Binko_Binobo

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Re: Use of the mute pedal
Reply #1 on: August 16, 2002, 11:27:12 AM
Mute pedal? Which one is that? Are you talking the middle pedal some uprights have which can be locked, aka a practice pedal. Or the una corda pedal, which (most, if not all) uprights have an imitation version of, in which the hammers get moved closer to the string, instead of being shifted over?

Anyhow, in my opinion (and there are far more accomplished pianists on this board to heed), I would stay away from using these pedals and learn to play softly. Yes, it is quite a skill and takes a hell of a lot of practice to keep all those notes even and quiet. In fact, it's one of the signs of virtuosity that you can play ppp passages evenly and quietly. So don't sweat it. It's a tough skill.

Do you have a teacher? I find that playing real quiet passages evenly requires a different sort of touch or approach to the piano. I can't explain it, and a teacher would be best in sorting that out.

Offline robert_henry

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Re: Use of the mute pedal
Reply #2 on: August 16, 2002, 11:39:03 AM
It will take years to develop this skill, but a good place to start would be staying with the key during its descent.  The tip of your finger should be gripping the key the whole way down (yes, a little tension is appropriate).  If at any point a note doesn't sound, it is probably due to your not staying with the key.  I think of it as "feeling the action", meaning that I imagine all the action of the piano (all the wood, metal, and felt inside the piano) as I play each key.  

Robert Henry

Offline ludwig

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Re: Use of the mute pedal
Reply #3 on: August 16, 2002, 02:22:35 PM
Yes, these are good advices. Playing soft is much more difficult in my opinion than playing loud, that also applies to playing slowly. But playing soft do require a concerntration and a certain touch. Robert has said that staying with the key is important, I also share that view, playing soft requires you to not only control the down movement of the key, but also the handling of the whole movement, that includes the up movement of the keys, as if your finger has little spikes that grips the key to control it better. Practice playing soft slowly, concerntrating on each key and hand movement, give every note a controlled touch. I'd stay away from "unnecessary" help from the soft pedal, also known as the una corda Binko mentioned. You''ll be right.
"Classical music snobs are some of the snobbiest snobs of all. Often their snobbery masquerades as helpfulnes... unaware that they are making you feel small in order to make themselves feel big..."ÜÜÜ

Offline Colette

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Re: Use of the mute pedal
Reply #4 on: August 17, 2002, 09:28:31 PM
Anyone can play softy, but of course it takes time and alot of good listening to master the correct touch and tone you strive for. For starters, it helps to play p passages very slowly, one hand at a time and listen carefully to the sound you are producing. Keep your fingers and wrists loose. If you press a key down lightly you will feel a bump before its depressed completely. My teacher advises me to play "before the bump" so you should imagine playing so lightly that the key sounds but never actaully "hits" the bump. This, of course, is not to say that you shouldn't press the key down all the way; it more visual than literal, but is good advice, especially with fast repeated notes in pp. As others have said, it also helps to keep your fingers very close and connected to the keys, which will work equally well for soft stacatto or legato passages. Some have a tendency to lift their fingers high to achieve accuracy and eveness, but so many teachers have told me that this approach actually diminishes the quality of sound and produces tension in the hand. However, I've found that objectively listening to yourself  is often better than simply applying specific technical adivice. Good ears can be trainied to pick up a wrong pp sound, for instance, but only with a lot of experimenting and patience...and a great Steinway never hurts!
If you use the una corda to "hide" the problem areas, it really won't help you out at all. If you are playing p passages incorrectly from the start and put on the u c, yes it will make your playing sound superficially softer, but the piano will be doing the work, not you. You should only consider using this pedal for tonal effect, not as a technical tool. Once you achieve the pianissimo sound and touch you want (and you will) then if you wish, you can use the u c for a change of sonority.

Offline rachfan

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Re: Use of the mute pedal
Reply #5 on: January 10, 2003, 04:54:02 AM
I don't believe in wholesale use of the "soft" (una corda) pedal.  However, achieving a proper dynamic in pianissimo passages is certainly a legitimate use of that pedal.  Note that when using it, the timbre or character of the sound changes along with the volume.  For passages marked p rather than pp or ppp, try instead  leaning backward a bit on the bench such that your arms achieve a "floating sensation".  You'll find it easier to play more quietly using that technique.  Incidently, many people become frustrated trying to keep repetitive chords quiet.  A fine example of this is Chopin's Prelude No. 4 in e.  The trick is to play those left hand chords "inside the keys", not from above.  A parting note.  A dynamic is not absolute, it is relative.  The same p indication might be played at different levels in two different pieces.  It depends on the prevailing levels of volume in the particular piece.  I hope this helps you.  
Interpreting music means exploring the promise of the potential of possibilities.

Offline jeff

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Re: Use of the mute pedal
Reply #6 on: February 02, 2003, 10:54:09 AM
I started with a new teacher a few months ago, and he got me to work on developing a firmer touch. After a short while, I had more strength in my fingers and I used my arm weight more, so I was able to get a bigger sound with less effort. This helped me obtain much greater control over my soft playing, too. I suddenly realised that I was able to play very softly, and still make every note sound, whereas, before, when I played quietly, sometimes a note wouldn't sound.

Offline rachfan

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Re: Use of the mute pedal
Reply #7 on: February 02, 2003, 10:55:27 PM
Yes, controlled arm weight is indispensible to piano playing, and enables a wider range of dynamics during tone production. (One caveat is that less arm weight is employed in the faster tempi.)  One of my teachers had studied with several distinguished artist/teachers, one of whom was Albion Metcalf.  He in turn had been a student of Tobias Matthay who conceived and taught the principles of arm weight.  To this day I feel fortunate having received that tradition so directly in my own training.
Interpreting music means exploring the promise of the potential of possibilities.

Offline amee

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Re: Use of the mute pedal
Reply #8 on: May 02, 2003, 09:07:34 AM
Playing pianissimo is an indispensible skill and is much harder than playing loudly.  Personally, I do not recommend using the una corda pedal too much.  I've heard somewhere it shifts the tone of the piano slightly when depressed, thus altering the entire mood.

Having said that, the una corda pedal can of course be used where necessary.  However, you must still be able to play very softly without the help of the soft pedal.  
"Simplicity is the highest goal, achievable when you have overcome all difficulties." - Frederic Chopin

Offline chopinetta

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Re: Use of the mute pedal
Reply #9 on: May 02, 2003, 09:40:19 AM
Oohh I cheated! i used the mute pedal in playing my waltz 7 by chopin. there were a lot of pianississimos!!!
"If I do not believe anymore in tears, it is because I see you cry." -Chopin to George Sand
"How repulsive this George Sand is! is she really a woman? I'm ready to doubt it."-Chopin on George Sand

Offline amp

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Re: Use of the mute pedal
Reply #10 on: May 02, 2003, 10:06:56 PM
Remember that using the "soft" pedal is not a bad thing, in appropriate passages. I think the point some are trying to make is don't abuse it. For example, in Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata Mv 1, it calls for the soft pedal to be pushed down the whole time. So, in some places it is useful and neccesary.

Don't be afraid of the soft pedal :-)
amp

Offline Rach3

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Re: Use of the mute pedal
Reply #11 on: May 04, 2003, 04:46:30 AM
The soft pedal is used (I think) not for quieter dynamics but for the softer, more "muted" color that is obtained when playing on only one string (una corda), as opposed to the "richer" sound of two and three strings usually associated with the piano. Most music can and should be played without it; I myself do not recall having needed it recently.

Good advice all, thanks.
"Never look at the trombones, it only encourages them."
--Richard Wagner
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