The Dry Pedal – Finger-pedaling
Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.
~ Albert Einstein
Finger-pedaling is an aspect of talea and relates directly to pedaling but is complex and autonomous enough to stand on its own.
Art is never perfect – this troubled me a great deal as a young artist seeking for perfection. Everywhere you turn, there are compromises and tricks, incomplete thoughts and visions. And this is especially true of the piano. With only ten fingers and one sustaining pedal, the effects that can be achieved at any given moment are governed and limited by the choices you make. The pedal can only be at one degree of depression at any given time and this affects every string in the piano.
But the pedal is also the master of illusion, making you believe that the vision was perfect. And to become a real master of the pedal, you also need to become a master of the dry pedal, also known as finger-pedaling.
In my opinion, pedagogical thought about pedaling and finger-pedaling generally only touches the surface of the nature and relationship between them. The ways dry-pedaling and wet-pedaling can be contrasted and combined opens up the door to seldom-heard orchestral effects, as if there were two pianists at two pianos.
Try an exercise: take out a Mozart Sonata and play a couple phrases as you normally do, with pedal. Now take your foot off the pedal and begin again, this time trying to recreate the sound of the pedal as much as possible. Repeat several times, once with pedal, once without. Now, using your pedal-less version as the starting point, add touches of pedal here and there for color effects. See how lush and romantic the pedal sounds now? And what contrast and clarity!
There’s nothing essentially new to this approach – many practice early Classical and pre-Classical music in this way. What’s new is the extent to which you can take it. Finger-pedaling is generally carried out in a much more conservative way than normal pedaling. Even for the most restrained pianist, normal pedaling gently blurs harmonies and even passagework, such that even in Bach or Mozart, several notes of a scale passage might fall into a single pedal. Harmonies blend together not legato, but legatissimo. Use that same freedom in your finger-pedaling!
Next, experiment with a passage from Bach. See how wet and romantic you can make it sound without any pedal. Let the harmonies and the passagework blend as if in a subtly pedaled interpretation. The results may astonish you. At first it will seem like your fingers are working much too hard, but once you get used to it, provided you don’t push yourself into extreme yoga hand-poses, you’ll discover that it requires little extra physical or mental effort. Gradually it will become second-nature and completely effortless.
Having a strong conscious command of dry-pedaling will be essential when you enter more heavily pedaled repertoire. The number of orchestral effects you can achieve multiplies exponentially when you have two pedals to choose from and combine.