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Topic: Fractional (half) pedalling on an upright piano  (Read 404 times)

Offline sebbysteiny

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Fractional (half) pedalling on an upright piano
on: November 20, 2023, 08:53:31 PM
All

I watched a fascinating video about one of my favourite pieces that I learnt to play decades ago, suggesting I was playing it all wrong, Beethoven's Piano Sonata No 14 in C#.

I particular, I was playing the lovely clean cords with clean cord changes each harmony, which kinda mimics the undulations of a lake lit on the moonlight. This is why a poet who never knew Beethoven called it the "moonlight" sonata.

However, Beethoven's score actually clearly instructs us to keep the damper pedal down for the whole piece so that the harmonies blend into one giving a misty aura, haunting regular and relentless triplets and a funeral march main motiv that when all combined turns it into, as Beethoven's student once said, ghostly music.

But I read that in a modern piano, simply pushing the damper piano all the time makes this into a mess. The solution is half pedalling.

Excited to try, I gave it a go on my (I believe) good quality upright. But instead of the base harmony notes sticking during the half pedal and the high melody notes fading quickly, I got the other way around.

I asked my piano tuner, who just so happened to come that day, and he said this was common with almost all upright pianos and that the professional fractional pedalling effect I wanted can only be achieved in a grand piano.

My question is, does anybody have different experiences, and if the full professional fractional pedalling cannot be achieved on an upright, what is the best way to use this pedal to achieve a similarish effect?

[I looked this particular problem up on the internet and I couldn't find anything on this topic].

Many thanks for any assistance you can provide.

Offline lelle

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Re: Fractional (half) pedalling on an upright piano
Reply #1 on: November 21, 2023, 01:08:13 AM
I don't think you can do it as sensitively on an upright as on a grand, but surely it should be doable. The issue might be that the upright lifts the dampers from the strings "unevenly", i e more in the upper register compared to the lower? Maybe you can open your piano and watch how the dampers behave and find the sweet spot where you get the fractional pedalling effect in all registers?

Offline sebbysteiny

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Re: Fractional (half) pedalling on an upright piano
Reply #2 on: November 21, 2023, 11:13:35 AM
Lelle

Thanks so much for your reply.

I've been experimenting a fair bit on this and I have found if I push the pedals to the sweetspot where the base sticks "fractionally", the higher notes then seem to be on full pedal, and if I get the higher notes on half pedal, there seems to be no pedal at all for the base.

The result is I'm trying to use a variety of "coping mechanisms", such as varying the pedal depending on where I am playing (am I playing high or low) (which seems to add a lot of complexity in order to get a sub standard effect), trying to hold the base notes in the hand a little bit longer to give them the appearance of being more sustained, giving the base notes a semi-stochato accenty bouncy so they feel a bit heavier, and of course simply living with the annoying over-pedalled high notes to get a semi-decent effect in the base harmonies. But doing all this does seem to make the whole thing much more complicated. And I'm wondering if even attempting fractional pedalling on an upright is even worth it.

Am I going in the right direction?

Offline lelle

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Re: Fractional (half) pedalling on an upright piano
Reply #3 on: November 30, 2023, 06:55:18 PM
Am I going in the right direction?

Sounds like it. Ultimately your issue seems to be that you have to work with an inferior instrument, and then you simply can't expect to be able to get the same effects and sensitivity as you'd get on, say, a grand piano in decent shape.

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The result is I'm trying to use a variety of "coping mechanisms", such as varying the pedal depending on where I am playing (am I playing high or low) (which seems to add a lot of complexity in order to get a sub standard effect)

Sounds fine to me, ultimately you pedal with your ear and not according to hard rules on exactly how much or little you are allowed to pedal at any given moment. Use your ear to guide your foot so you get the effect you want and worry less about the "how". You'll always pedal differently depending on what instrument and location you are at anyways.

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, trying to hold the base notes in the hand a little bit longer to give them the appearance of being more sustained, giving the base notes a semi-stochato accenty bouncy so they feel a bit heavier,

Not sure I understand you correctly but ideally you'd hold the base notes down to their full value regardless of how much or little you pedal. Holding notes with the pedal rather than the fingers is certainly an effect used particularly from the Romantics onwards but it's not needed here. In fact, it limits your options for what you can do with the pedal in this case.

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But doing all this does seem to make the whole thing much more complicated. And I'm wondering if even attempting fractional pedalling on an upright is even worth it.

Pedal with your ear and it wont be complicated :) And I'd say it's worth it if seems valuable to you to practice techniques that you can keep in your musicians' toolbox.

Personally I don't even do half pedalling with no changes, due to the resonant nature of the modern pedal. I do change a bit occasionally, especially when things get too messy without doing so. But I often make "dirty" changes to give the illusion that I am not changing, while I still sift away some of the mess. And wherever there are long stretches of harmony that can handle a full dose of pedal I just keep the pedal down. Example: I hold the pedal down without changes bar 1-2, but make a small change on the first beat of bar 3 to not have too much dirt in the sound. Hope that helps!
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