It’s time to take a look at the sustain pedal! So many people have asked me if they really need one, and the answer is a resounding yes: the sustain pedal is a must if you want to play piano or keyboard. It’s pretty easy to use and has a big payoff. Everything just sounds better when you know how to use these things! 

Without further ado, let’s talk sustain pedals.

Which One is the Sustain Pedal? 

Take a look at your pedal or pedals. If you have only one, congrats: that’s the sustain pedal. If you have a digital or acoustic piano with multiple pedals, then skip the first two and check out the one that is farthest to the right. That is where the sustain pedal will always be for multiple pedal setups.

The Pedal I Recommend

What if you don’t have any pedal at all? Good news: in most countries you can easily purchase a universal pedal that works with most keyboards and digital pianos. Here’s my affiliate link to the one I recommend:

The kind of pedal I use is the more common kind that looks like a classic acoustic pedal. Some people prefer a different style that looks a bit like a plastic brick (at least I think it does!). Either one is fine, just choose a style that you prefer.

(Disclaimer: It’s up to you to verify whether your particular keyboard or digital piano can work with a sustain pedal. Always check the user manual or the manufacturer’s website to verify what pedals are compatible with your model.)

It’s Not Optional

Like I said before, a lot of people ask me if they can skip the sustain pedal. Let me say it again: the sustain pedal is NOT optional if you really want to play piano or keyboard. Why? Because it does exactly what it says. It sustains the sound for you as you play.

By extending and filling out the sound of the notes you play, the sustain pedal instantly upgrades your sound. It’s probably the fastest way to improve your playing with almost no additional skill-building!

What About the Other Pedals?

Before moving on: what about those other pedals? If you have a three-pedal setup… the leftmost pedal softens the volume of your playing. The middle pedal can have different functions depending on your model, from reducing volume further to a fancier option providing selective sustaining for certain keys only.

Only advanced pianists need to worry about those two other pedals, which is why I always focus on the sustain pedal here.

Pedal Storytime

Not long ago, a student of mine shared a progress video with me. On the one hand, it was great to see how far she had come and how much she had enjoyed my resources. On the other hand, something just wasn’t right. What was the problem?

She had never really used the sustain pedal correctly. Not understanding the pedal was a simple but important roadblock to improving her sound. That’s why I believe this is a non-negotiable skill that you’ll be very glad you learned!

PREVIEW: A Lesson Straight Out of my Online Piano Course

Here’s a preview of my Piano In 21 Days introduction to the sustain pedal. Watch and follow along (from 5:07 onwards)!:

Pedal Prerequisites

If you want to learn to incorporate the sustain pedal into your playing, you have to make sure you already able to play smooth chord progressions. That means you are not a complete beginner: you will already have learned the notes on your keyboard, the main chord types, and how to follow along with basic chord notation.

Sound like you? Perfect, let’s continue. (And if you’re not quite there yet, don’t worry. Work on building up your chord-based foundation and then come back here when you’re feeling more confident. You can start here.)

How to Integrate the Pedal

Simply put, you need to press the pedal every time you switch to a new chord, and release it as you play each new chord.

Let’s say you’re playing Cmajor and then Gmajor. Press the pedal down, play the first chord, then release the pedal. Press the pedal again to capture the sound of the next chord. Every time you change chords, you should release the pedal and then press again with the new set of notes (so that the first set isn’t still being sustained).  

In other words:

  • Play the chord
  • Release the pedal
  • Press the pedal
  • Release the chord

In case you can’t tell, that means that you will have the pedal pressed about 98% of the time. Don’t worry, all of this will feel very natural after some practice. 😉

Practicing Pedal Timing

If you understand when to press the pedal, that means it’s time to practice! Play the 4-chord song progression along with these backing tracks, including the pedal at each chord change.

Check out these suggested exercises from my video:

Wrapping Up

Long story short, the good ol’ sustain pedal is not an option or an accessory: it’s a super-important tool that all my students should have and learn to play. Everything just sounds better with a pedal. So much payoff for very little extra effort!

If you want to learn more about my chord-based piano approach and how to play this way with your pedal, the best place to start is my free 5-day workbook! Sign up here.