Questions on using una corda

Is there a correct way to use the una corda pedal? I feel often it is an undiscussed topic on when it is appropriate to use it. Do you use it in bach? Mozart piano sonatas? 
 

I think only Frederick chiu’s masterclasses talked about the surgical shift pedalling.

 

often I have heard that it is used to create colours to the playing. But how does one use it? Do you step fully? Half pedal? Or a variation of it? Do you only use it on pianissimo passages? Will one use it on loud passages? What kind of colours are people referring to when it comes to una corda actually?  And is there a wrong way to use it?
 

hopefully someone can shed some light on this. 

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  • Great question! 

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  • I am looking forward to seeing answers.  Those are good questions. 

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  • One reason I fell in love with my 1885 Bechstein is that the una corda is an entirely different voice from the full set of strings.  It's not really (for me) a question of dynamics so much as color.  It's pretty nice in Scarlatti playing echo passages, not in the way Longo notes them, since the harpsichord didn't have MF and P dynamics like the piano, but the UC provides the equivalent of switching harpsichord registers, sort of.  

    Sometimes, I just like the voice for an entire movement, as in a Bach suite, or for a trio in a minuet movement.  

    It also worked very nicely for the final reprise of the theme in the Chopin "raindrop" Prelude Op28 n 15

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  • Fabulous question makes me wish we had film shots of “the greats” showing their feet instead of their hands while performing.

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  • I would say it depends upon the performer and the piano. I notice that Sokolov uses the UC quite a lot for both dynamic and timbral variation, but of course this is on a well prepared concert grand. In general, the difference between shifted and unshifted positions will become more pronounced as the hammers wear over time.

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    • marina
    • pianophile
    • marina
    • 2 mths ago
    • Reported - view

    Dominic’s teacher Fabio Bidini talked a bit about this in one of the early videos - perhaps he could be invited to present on it? Or Frederic Chiu. I think you would need a very well prepared fine grand piano to reliably achieve the subtleties - the effect will depend on how deeply and consistently grooved the hammers are and how finely the pedal is adjusted. I suspect  not many of us have access to such a quality instrument. But I have the same questions! 

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    • Angelo B.
    • Angelo_B
    • 2 mths ago
    • Reported - view

    There is no one proper way to use the una corda/soft pedal that is agreed upon by professionals. The opinions on this vary greatly. As you mentioned, Frederic Chiu's surgical pedaling technique is one way, and many consider his method as a more liberal use of the soft pedal compared to more conventional approaches. There are those who believe that it should only be used as indicated, and others (like Horowitz, if I'm not mistaken) who use the pedal even on lengthy fortissimo passages. If you're looking for a conclusive answer, you really won't find one. I myself use the una corda quite regularly in different types of repertoire, and here are some of the things I try to consider when deciding if I want to use it:

     

    1) The instrument - Every instrument will produce a different sound with its una corda/soft pedal. Some demonstrate a stark difference in tone while others produce almost none. Try to understand what your instrument's soft pedal does. If you're on a well-maintained Grand, the effect is usually much more pronounced in terms of color and dynamics. However, on an Upright, the hammers usually only move closer to the string to reduce the impact rather than shift to use less strings, so the effect and weight of the keys becomes entirely different. Experiment! 

     

    2) Desired effect - What exactly are you trying to achieve? Can you justify your decision to use the pedal? Does the context call for it? (Do you even care about context? This one's kind of a joke, but also something to ask yourself). Are you trying to use it to distinguish melody from accompaniment? Do you dislike the bright tone of your piano in favor of a more muted sound? Is a half-press enough or should I go all the way down? I could go on and on, but again, I think it depends on what you're trying to achieve, what you and your instrument are capable of doing, and lastly...

     

    3) Context - Some say that using the una corda is entirely a stylistic choice, but I do believe due respect should be given to the composer's writing and the style in which it was really intended to be played. Of course, we can never be 100% sure of any of this, but there are at least some guideposts in the score. Does the score call for the use of the soft pedal (Liszt calls for it quite often.)? If you decide to use it on a loud passage, would it take away the passage's intrinsic brilliance and bravura? 

     

    As for your question of whether there is a wrong way to use it, I think the notion that the una corda/soft pedal can simply "make up" for the pianist's inability to produce a soft sound is incorrect. This isn't to insult anybody who uses it for that purpose. By all means, if you can't go softer on your own and you really just need a little more depth, then go ahead. My point is just that there should be great effort put into finding the limit of your color and ability to play softly before going down the route of just pushing the pedal. The rewards are great if you know those limits. 

     

    Anyway, I'm sorry. I realized I may have just answered your questions with more questions, but I hope this at least sheds some light on things to consider and really just the complexity of this topic altogether. Would love to hear others' takes too! 

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      • Herman
      • Herman
      • 2 mths ago
      • Reported - view

      Angelo B. Thank you for your response! Really appreciate your thoughts.. 

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  • [Moderator Edit: moved to General Discussion, as the AMA thread is for our monthly guests 😊]

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    • Michael
    • Michael.17
    • 11 days ago
    • Reported - view

    Dominic Cheli I’d love if you could do a session on your use of the una corda pedal. You’ve mentioned a couple of times that it is underused. I suspect many piano teachers have told students “Don’t use the soft pedal to play more quietly, it’s for something different” instilling early childhood trauma, and of course, never teaching what they think the pedal is for.

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    • Michael This is a great idea. I am planning on a stream regarding this for the end of December. Stay Tuned!

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      • Michael
      • Michael.17
      • 6 days ago
      • Reported - view

      Dominic Cheli That’s great! I’m really looking forward to it.

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