Understanding The Una-Corda Pedal:  Tips To Improve Piano Pedalling

Understanding The Una-Corda Pedal: Tips To Improve Piano Pedalling

Often misunderstood as ‘the quiet pedal’, the una corda pedal is perhaps one of the most interesting tools at a pianist’s disposal but is often either overlooked, misused or perhaps greatly oversimplified in what it can do.

Today we aim to explore this glorious pedal, why it is so interesting and the ways that you can use it to bring an entirely new dynamic and feel to your piano playing. Perhaps you’ve never used the una corda pedal or have only been using it as a soft pedal for so long, we hope that changes today!

Learn more about piano playing and how to improve your expression here.

Where Is The Una Corda Pedal?

The una corda pedal is located to the far left on a grand piano and likewise is often the left pedal on an upright. Una corda literally means ‘one string’ and by depressing the Una corda fully, the whole action and keyboard shifts to the right (on a grand piano), allowing the hammers to strike one string fewer than usual, therefore reducing the sound and resonance. On an upright piano, the left pedal moves the hammers closer to the strings (as opposed to shifting them), shortening the distance from the hammers to the strings and reducing the sound but not really changing the timbre.

This is significant as whilst the use of this pedal does reduce the sound on both upright and grand instruments, it does do significantly different things based on the type and quality of the instrument regarding the effect of this pedal.

Something that is often overlooked by many at first is that rather like the sustaining pedal, the una corda is multi-layered, meaning that it is possible create differing effects and tone based on how far down the pedal has been pressed, giving the pianist a multi-faceted array of tone to play with. Whilst to the untrained ear these effects may seem small, with further experimentation and exploration, a pianist is able to create some truly wonderful effects with a well timed una corda.

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When To Use The Una Corda Pedal?

Una corda is often marked on scores as UC, when this is the case, depress the left pedal, lifting it when you see the marking, some pianists do also use it in sections of delicate pianissmo (pp or ppp) however most believe that this effect should be achieved by the fingers instead of the use of a pedal.

However, that doesn’t stop a pianist from using the pedal if they prefer. One fun exercise is to experiment by using the left pedal on a few scales by playing around with the strength of the pedalling. Start by putting your heel firmly on the floor with your body weight behind it and the ball of your foot on the pedal. As you begin to play normally, steadily depress and lift the pedal to observe just how little movement is necessary for the sound to change, usually from a distinctive, brilliant tone to a gradually softer, more muted one.

Which Styles Of Music Suit The Una Corda Pedal?

As mentioned, many pianists believe that the una corda pedal should not be used as a replacement for pianissimo playing and that pianists should be able to achieve pp with fingers alone. Una corda should be used more for special effects especially on a grand piano where the voice of the instrument is changed dramatically. On grand pianos, the una corda is able to give a much more ethereal sound so should be used for tone contrast rather than thinking of it purely in terms of a dynamic pedal. 

Certain pieces such as Beethoven, Debussy and Ravel are all known for featuring a lot of use of the damper/una chorda to create a 'blended' sound within a dynamic. 

One particular way to ‘feel’ this use of pedalling is to not always put the pedal fully down at the exact moment the note is played. Sometimes the best use of una corda is to use it as a slight delay that just 'catches’ the sound and not necessarily making the piano sound inherently softer throughout the movement.

So there you have it! A brief insight into the una corda pedal, what it is, why to use it and the composers who feature the pedal most. We personally believe this incredible little pedal is a real unique tool for any pianist to have their hands (or feet) on and should be experimented with as much as possible!

Want to learn more about pianos that feature the una corda, or perhaps you are looking to upgrade your current piano to one that has one? Contact our experts or visit our showrooms today to learn more!

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