Definition and background:
In piano music, this directive indicates that the soft pedal is to be used. The words " una corda " are shown under the bass staff where the soft pedal is to be depressed and the words " tre corde " (three strings) under the bass staff where the soft pedal is to be released. Una corda is the Italian term meaning "one string", and is used because depressing the soft pedal shifts the entire hammer mechanism to the left so the hammer only hits two of the three strings in the upper register of the piano and one string in the bass register. The effect is a softer sound since fewer strings are being struck. one string; i.e., in piano music, depress the soft pedal, altering, and reducing the volume of, the sound. In some pianos, this literally results in the hammer striking one string rather than two or three. (For most notes on modern instruments, in fact it results in striking two rather than three strings.) Its counterpart, tre corde (three strings; see in this list), is the opposite: the soft pedal is to be released.literally, one string. indication, in keyboard music, to depress the soft pedal
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Wikipedia - Glossary of Musical Terminology
Virginia Tech Multimedia Music Dictionary
ORB -- Medieval Music Glossary