As your piano tuner Wilmington DE, I am often asked what the piano middle pedal does.  There are several functions that a middle pedal may serve, depending on the maker of your piano.  On a grand piano, the most common function is to act as a “sostenuto”.  This article will explain the function of a sostenuto pedal, and our next article will discuss all of the possible other functions of a middle pedal.

A sostenuto piano pedal is designed to sustain whatever piano keys are depressed at the time the pedal is engaged, and to not sustain any other notes on the piano.  In contrast, the right pedal or “sustain” pedal sustains all the keys on the piano.  The most common use of a sostenuto pedal is to sustain a bass note or bass octave, so that the note or notes do not need to be held by the left hand.  The left hand, then is freed up so both hands can be used to play as the bass notes are sustained.  This allows for much more clarity of sound than if the right or “sustain” pedal were used for the same passage.

Generally, Theodore Steinway is credited with inventing the sostenuto pedal and its mechanism in the 1870’s.  The Steinway grand pianos all were fitted with this feature.  To compete, other makers were forced to copy the function with a similar, but not identical mechanism, since the mechanism was patented.  Recently, scholars have found evidence that the sostenuto pedal function was used in some other brands of pianos before Steinway’s invention, but his use of the feature in every Steinway grand piano caused it to gain more widespread use.

There are only a few pieces of music that call for use of the sostenuto pedal, so it is common for pianists not to know the function of the pedal.  Also, it is not something you need to worry about until you are preparing to play quite advanced piano music.  The sostenuto function cannot be added to a piano after manufacture, so if you or your child are planning on playing advanced music, it’s best to purchase a piano that has a proper sostenuto.

If you would like to consult with Kenneth Keith Piano Services regarding purchasing a piano, we can help to ensure that you purchase a piano with this feature.  The majority of grand pianos have the sostenuto feature, but only a few of the largest upright pianos have this.  Most vertical pianos have a middle piano that functions in a different way.  We will discuss the other middle pedal functions in our next article. Whenever you need a piano tuning Delaware, Philadelphia PA, Southern NJ or Eastern Shore MD, please feel free to give us a call or email us and we’ll be glad to help you out.