- Dr. Guy Whatley
The Una Corda
Have you ever wondered what the left pedal on the piano does? Have you ever wondered why all the keys move to the side when you press this pedal? This pedal is the “Una Corda” which is sometimes called the soft pedal, and it is one of the most useful tools pianists have.
Occasionally upright pianos don’t have an Una Corda, if the keys of your piano don’t move when you press the left pedal something else is going on. But most often this left pedal is a true Una Corda.
The notes of the piano are mostly played with a hammer hitting three strings at once. This gives the piano a rich and resonant sound. When we press the Una Corda pedal, the keys and hammers move to the side just enough so that the hammer only hits one of these strings, making a much softer sound. The name Una Corda means one string in Italian.
This pedal is so useful in piano playing. No matter how soft you are able to play without it, once you press it you will be able to get much softer. It also changes the timbre of the piano and makes it more hollow and gentle which is useful for so many piano pieces. It is a great way to get suddenly soft after a loud passage, and it is a great tool to use when playing with other musicians to help get the right balance.
It takes some coordination to work the left pedal and the right pedal at the same time, but it's so worth it. Your piano playing will become exponentially more expressive, and your dynamic range will get so much broader. If you don’t use this pedal you should start now, and just listen carefully to what you are doing to make sure you are getting the sounds you want.