Pedal point

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Pedal tone example. The repeated d in the first measure is the pedal point.
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Pedal tone example. The repeated d in the first measure is the pedal point. Loudspeaker.svg Play  

In music, a pedal point (also pedal note, organ point, pedal tone, or pedal) is a sustained tone, typically in the bass, during which at least one foreign (i.e. dissonant) harmony is sounded in the other parts. A pedal point sometimes functions as a "non-chord tone", placing it in the categories alongside suspensions, retardations, and passing tones. However, the pedal point is unique among non-chord tones, "in that it begins on a consonance, sustains (or repeats) through another chord as a dissonance until the harmony", not the non-chord tone, "resolves back to a consonance." [2]

Sustain parameter of musical sound over time

In music, sustain is a parameter of musical sound over time. It denotes the period of time during which the sound remains before it becomes inaudible, or silent.

Musical note Sign used in musical notation, a pitched sound

In music, a note is the pitch and duration of a sound, and also its representation in musical notation. A note can also represent a pitch class. Notes are the building blocks of much written music: discretizations of musical phenomena that facilitate performance, comprehension, and analysis.

Bass note the lowest note of a chord

In music theory, the bass note of a chord or sonority is the lowest note played or notated. If there are multiple voices it is the note played or notated in the lowest voice


Pedal point example.
Play (help*info) Pedalpoint.gif
Pedal point example. Loudspeaker.svg Play  

Pedal points "have a strong tonal effect, 'pulling' the harmony back to its root." [2] When a pedal point occurs in a voice other than the bass, it is usually referred to as an inverted pedal point [3] (see inversion). Pedal points are usually on either the tonic or the dominant (fifth note of the scale) tones. The pedal tone is considered a chord tone in the original harmony, then a nonchord tone during the intervening dissonant harmonies, and then a chord tone again when the harmony resolves. A dissonant pedal point may go against all harmonies present during its duration, being almost more like an added tone than a nonchord tone, or pedal points may serve as atonal pitch centers.

Root (chord) note after which a chord is named

In music theory, the concept of root is the idea that a chord can be represented and named by one of its notes. It is linked to harmonic thinking— the idea that vertical aggregates of notes can form a single unit, a chord. It is in this sense that one speaks of a "C chord" or a "chord on C"—a chord built from "C" and of which the note "C" is the root. When a chord is referred to in Classical music or popular music without a reference to what type of chord it is, it is assumed a major triad, which for C contains the notes C, E and G. The root need not be the bass note, the lowest note of the chord: the concept of root is linked to that of the inversion of chords, which is derived from the notion of invertible counterpoint. In this concept, chords can be inverted while still retaining their root.

In music theory, the word inversion has distinct, but related, meanings when applied to intervals, chords, voices, and melodies. The concept of inversion also plays an important role in musical set theory.

In music, the tonic is the first scale degree of a diatonic scale and the tonal center or final resolution tone that is commonly used in the final cadence in tonal classical music, popular music, and traditional music. In the movable do solfège system, the tonic note is sung as do. More generally, the tonic is the note upon which all other notes of a piece are hierarchically referenced. Scales are named after their tonics: for instance, the tonic of the C major scale is the note C.

The term comes from the organ for its ability to sustain a note indefinitely and the tendency for such notes to be played on an organ's pedal keyboard. The pedal keyboard on an organ is played by the feet; as such, the organist can hold down a pedal point for lengthy periods while both hands perform higher-register music on the manual keyboards.

Organ (music) musical keyboard instrument

In music, the organ is a keyboard instrument of one or more pipe divisions or other means for producing tones, each played with its own keyboard, played either with the hands on a keyboard or with the feet using pedals. The organ is a relatively old musical instrument, dating from the time of Ctesibius of Alexandria, who invented the water organ. It was played throughout the Ancient Greek and Ancient Roman world, particularly during races and games. During the early medieval period it spread from the Byzantine Empire, where it continued to be used in secular (non-religious) and imperial court music, to Western Europe, where it gradually assumed a prominent place in the liturgy of the Catholic Church. Subsequently it re-emerged as a secular and recital instrument in the Classical music tradition.

Pedal keyboard keyboard played with the feet that is usually used to produce the low-pitched bass line of a piece of music

A pedalboard is a keyboard played with the feet that is usually used to produce the low-pitched bass line of a piece of music. A pedalboard has long, narrow lever-style keys laid out in the same semitone scalar pattern as a manual keyboard, with longer keys for C, D, E, F, G, A and B, and shorter, higher keys for C, D, F, G and A. Training in pedal technique is part of standard organ pedagogy in church music and art music.


A double pedal is two pedal tones played simultaneously. An inverted pedal is a pedal that is not in the bass (and often is the highest part.) Mozart included numerous inverted pedals in his works, particularly in the solo parts of his concertos. An internal pedal is a pedal that is similar to the inverted pedal, except that it is played in the middle register between the bass and the upper voices.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Austrian composer of the Classical period

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, baptised as Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart, was a prolific and influential composer of the classical era.

Concerto musical composition usually in three parts

A concerto is a musical composition generally composed of three movements, in which, usually, one solo instrument is accompanied by an orchestra or concert band. Its characteristics and definition have changed over time. In the 17th century, sacred works for voices and orchestra were typically called concertos, as reflected by J. S. Bach's usage of the title "concerto" for many of the works that we know as cantatas.

A drone differs from a pedal point in degree or quality. A pedal point may be a nonchord tone and thus required to resolve, unlike a drone, or a pedal point may simply be a shorter drone, a drone being a longer pedal point.

In music, a drone is a harmonic or monophonic effect or accompaniment where a note or chord is continuously sounded throughout most or all of a piece. The word drone is also any part of a musical instrument that is used to produce such an effect, as is the archaic term burden such as a "drone [pipe] of a bagpipe", the pedal point in an organ, or the lowest course of a lute. Α burden is also part of a song that is repeated at the end of each stanza, such as the chorus or refrain.

A nonchord tone (NCT), nonharmonic tone, or embellishing tone is a note in a piece of music or song that is not part of the implied or expressed chord set out by the harmonic framework. In contrast, a chord tone is a note that is a part of the functional chord. Nonchord tones are most often discussed in the context of the common practice period of classical music, but they can be used in the analysis of other types of tonal music as well, such as Western popular music.

Resolution (music) in music theory, change from dissonance to consonance

Resolution in western tonal music theory is the move of a note or chord from dissonance to a consonance.

Use in classical music

There are numerous examples of pedal points in European classical music. Pedal points often appear in early baroque music "alla battaglia", notably prolonged in Heinrich Schütz's Es steh Gott auf (SWV 356) and Claudio Monteverdi's Altri canti di Marte. [4]

Heinrich Schütz German composer and organist

Heinrich Schütz was a German composer and organist, generally regarded as the most important German composer before Johann Sebastian Bach, as well as one of the most important composers of the 17th century. He is credited with bringing the Italian style to Germany and continuing its evolution from the Renaissance into the Early Baroque. Most of his music we have today was written for the Lutheran church, primarily for the Electoral Chapel in Dresden. He wrote what is traditionally considered to be the first German opera, Dafne, performed at Torgau in 1627, the music of which has since been lost, along with nearly all of his ceremonial and theatrical scores.

Claudio Monteverdi 16th and 17th-century Italian composer

Claudio Giovanni Antonio Monteverdi was an Italian composer, string player and choirmaster. A composer of both secular and sacred music, and a pioneer in the development of opera, he is considered a crucial transitional figure between the Renaissance and the Baroque periods of music history.

In Henry Purcell's "Fantasia upon One Note" for a consort of viols, a tenor viol sustains a C throughout, while the other viols weave increasingly elaborate counter-melodies around it:

Purcell Fantazia upon One Note
Purcell Fantazia upon One Note, opening bars. Purcell Fantazia upon One Note.png
Purcell Fantazia upon One Note, opening bars.

Pedal points are often found near the end of fugues " reestablish the tonality of the composition after it has become clouded by the numerous modulations and digressions along the way within the middle entries of the subject and answer and in the connecting episodes." [5] Fugues often conclude with figures written over a bass pedal point: [6]

J.S.Bach, concluding bars of the Fugue in C major from The Well Tempered Clavier, Book I, BWV 846
J.S.Bach, concluding bars of the Fugue in C major from The Well Tempered Clavier, Book I, BWV 846. Bach Fugue C closing bars.png
J.S.Bach, concluding bars of the Fugue in C major from The Well Tempered Clavier, Book I, BWV 846.

Pedal points are also used in other polyphonic compositions to strengthen a final cadence, signal important structural points in the composition, and for their dramatic effect.

Pedal tone in Bach's Prelude no. 6 in D Minor, BWV 851, from The Well Tempered Clavier, Book I, m.1-2
Pedal tone in Bach's Prelude no. 6 in D Minor, BWV 851, from The Well Tempered Clavier, Book I, m.1-2. All pedal tone notes are consonant except for the last three of the first measure. Pedal tone Bach - BWV 851, m.1-2.png
Pedal tone in Bach's Prelude no. 6 in D Minor, BWV 851, from The Well Tempered Clavier, Book I, m.1-2. All pedal tone notes are consonant except for the last three of the first measure.

Pedal points are somewhat problematic on the harpsichord, which has only a limited sustain capability. Often the pedal note is simply repeated at intervals. A pedal tone can also be realized with a trill; this is particularly common with inverted pedals. Another method of producing a pedal point on the harpsichord is to repeat the pedal point note (or its octave) on every beat. The rarely seen pedal harpsichord, a harpsichord with a pedal keyboard, makes it easier to perform repeated bass notes on the harpsichord, since both hands are still free to play on the upper manual keyboards.

With the development of the piano, composers began exploring the potential of a pedal-point in creating mood and atmosphere. An example is the inverted pedal that pervades the right hand part of the piano accompaniment in Schubert’s song The Erl King:

Schubert, Erl King, piano introduction
Schubert, Erl King, piano introduction Schubert, Erl King, piano introduction 02.png
Schubert, Erl King, piano introduction

According to Eugene Narmour (1987, p. 101) "There is no instrument on which a pedal point sounds better than the piano (with its ready-made damper mechanism), and, safe to say, no composer more fond of harmonic pedals than Chopin." [7] An example is the Prelude in D, Op. 28, No. 15, (the "Raindrop Prelude") which, like the Purcell, features one repeated note throughout. The piece is in ternary form, with its serene outer "A" sections contrasting the brooding middle "B" section:

Chopin, Prelude in D Major, Op. 28, No. 15, bars 24-31
Chopin, Prelude in D Major, Op. 28, No. 15, bars 24-31. Chopin Raindrop Prelude.png
Chopin, Prelude in D Major, Op. 28, No. 15, bars 24-31.

In this prelude, the repeated bass A that pervades the outer section becomes, through an enharmonic change, a G in the minor key middle section, where it moves from the bass to the top part. There are other examples of piano music where a single note pervades almost the entire piece: a persistent B features in both Debussy’s piano prelude "Voiles" and "Le Gibet" from Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit .

The term "pedal point" is also used to describe a bass note that is held for a long period in orchestral music, as in the symphonies of Jean Sibelius. Pedal points for orchestral music are often performed by the double basses with the bow, which creates a sustained, organ-like bass tone underneath the changing harmonies in the upper voices. The closing section of the third movement of Johannes Brahms's Ein Deutsches Requiem, "Herr, lehre doch mich" (bars 173-208), features a sustained timpani roll on D natural for over two minutes until resolving in the final chord: Brahms, Requiem, 3rd movement, beginning of the closing section.

Link to passage Brahms requiem 3, bars173-4.png
Link to passage

Ernest Newman (1947, p.iii) wrote of the "mixed reception" given to the Requiem, particularly this movement, which "was greeted with many expressions of disapproval; the continual pedal point - intensified by the too vigorous work of the drummer." [8]

Use in opera

The openings of the first two operas of Wagner's cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen ("The Ring of the Nibelung") feature pedal notes. The prelude to Das Rheingold features an E pedal tone in the bass for 162 bars:

Wagner, opening of the Prelude to Das Rheingold. Listen Wagner, opening of the Prelude to Das Rheingold.png
Wagner, opening of the Prelude to Das Rheingold. Listen

Robert Donington (1963, p. 35) [9] says: "The Ring opens quietly, but with an effect which in the context of harmonized music is apparently unique. For a very long passage there is not only no modulation but no change of chord. A chord of E major builds up: first the tonic sounds in the abysmal depths; next a fifth is added; then an arpeggio movement on the complete triad, calm but swelling, an embryonic motive…But still the chord does not change…A sense of timelessness sets in."

By contrast, the stormy prelude to Die Walküre features an inverted pedal: the sustained tremolos in the upper strings offset the melodic and rhythmic activity in the 'cellos and basses:

Wagner, opening of the Prelude to Die Walkure. Listen Walkure opening.png
Wagner, opening of the Prelude to Die Walkure. Listen

Alban Berg’s expressionist opera Wozzeck makes subtle use of a pedal tone in Act 3, scene 2, when the jealous, put-upon soldier Wozzeck murders his unfaithful wife, Marie. Douglas Jarman (1989, p38) describes the powerful dramatic effect of this episode: [10] "Marie and Wozzeck are walking through the wood. Anxious, Marie tries to hurry on but Wozzeck detains her. A disjointed, sinister conversation follows until, as the moon rises, blood-red, Wozzeck draws a knife. A long crescendo begins as the note B natural, which has been present as a subdued pedal point throughout the scene, is now taken up by the kettledrums. Wozzeck plunges the knife into Marie’s throat."

Examples of jazz tunes which include pedal points include Duke Ellington's "Satin Doll"" (intro), Stevie Wonder's "Too High" (intro), Miles Davis's "On Green Dolphin Street", Bill Evans's "34 Skidoo", Herbie Hancock's ""Dolphin Dance" from his Maiden Voyage album, Pat Metheny's "Lakes" and "Half Life of Absolution", and John Coltrane's "Naima". [11] The latter, from the album Giant Steps , has the notation "E pedal" to instruct the bass player to play a sustained pedal. Jazz musicians also use pedal points to add tension to the bridge or solo sections of a tune. In an ii-V-I progression, some jazz musicians play a V pedal note under all three chords, or under the first two chords.

Rock guitarists have used pedal points in their solos. The progressive rock band Genesis often used a "pedal-point groove", in which the "bass remains static on the tonic as chords move above the bass at varying speeds", with the Genesis songs "Cinema Show" and "Apocalypse in 9/8"[ verification needed ] being examples of this. [12] "By the late 1970s and early 1980s, pedal-point grooves such as this had become a well-worn cliché of progressive rock as they had of funk (James Brown’s "Sex Machine"), and were already making frequent appearances in more commercial styles such as stadium rock (Van Halen’s 'Jump') and synth-pop (Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s 'Relax')." [12]

Film composers use pedal points to add tension to thrillers and horror films. In the Hitchcock thriller film North by Northwest , Bernard Herrmann "uses the pedal point and ostinato as techniques to achieve tension", resulting in a dissonant, dramatic effect. In one scene, "The Phone Booth", Herrmann "uses the timpani playing a low pedal B-flat to create a sense of impending doom", as one character is arranging for another character's murder. [13]

In small combo jazz or jazz fusion groups, the double bass player or Hammond organist may also introduce a pedal point (usually on the tonic or the dominant) in a tune that does not explicitly request a pedal point, to add tension and interest. Thrash metal in particular makes abundant use a muted low E string (or lower, if other tunings are used) as a pedal point.

Other examples include The Supremes' "You Keep Me Hangin' On" (chorus: octave E's against A, G, and F major chords) and John Denver's "The Eagle And The Hawk" (intro: top two guitar strings, B & E, against B, A, G, F, and E major chords). [14] Also, Tom Petty's "Free Falling" and Goo Goo Dolls' "Name". [15]

See also

Related Research Articles

Fugue musical form

In music, a fugue is a contrapuntal compositional technique in two or more voices, built on a subject that is introduced at the beginning in imitation and which recurs frequently in the course of the composition. It is not to be confused with a fuguing tune, which is a style of song popularized by and mostly limited to early American music and West Gallery music. A fugue usually has three main sections: an exposition, a development and a final entry that contains the return of the subject in the fugue's tonic key. Some fugues have a recapitulation.

This is an alphabetical index of articles related to music.

Chord (music) harmonic set of three or more notes

A chord, in music, is any harmonic set of pitches consisting of multiple notes that are heard as if sounding simultaneously. For many practical and theoretical purposes, arpeggios and broken chords, or sequences of chord tones, may also be considered as chords.


A bassline is the term used in many styles of music, such as jazz, blues, funk, dub and electronic, traditional music, or classical music for the low-pitched instrumental part or line played by a rhythm section instrument such as the electric bass, double bass, cello, tuba or keyboard. In unaccompanied solo performance, basslines may simply be played in the lower register of any instrument such as guitar or piano while melody and/or further accompaniment is provided in the middle or upper register. In solo music for piano and pipe organ, these instruments have an excellent lower register that can be used to play a deep bassline. On organs, the bass line is typically played using the pedal keyboard and massive 16' and 32' bass pipes.

Extended chord

In music, extended chords are tertian chords or triads with notes extended, or added, beyond the seventh. Ninth, eleventh, and thirteenth chords are extended chords. The thirteenth is the farthest extension diatonically possible as, by that point, all seven tonal degrees are represented within the chord. In practice however, extended chords do not typically use all the chord members; when it is not altered, the fifth is often omitted, as are notes between the seventh and the highest note, unless they are altered to give a special texture. See chord alteration.


Pandiatonicism is a musical technique of using the diatonic scale without the limitations of functional tonality. Music using this technique is pandiatonic. The term "pandiatonicism" was coined by Nicolas Slonimsky in the second edition of Music since 1900 to describe chord formations of any number up to all seven degrees of the diatonic scale, "used freely in democratic equality". Triads with added notes such as the sixth, seventh, or second are the most common, while the, "most elementary form," is a nonharmonic bass. According to Slonimsky's definition,

Pan-diatonicism sanctions the simultaneous use of any or all seven tones of the diatonic scale, with the bass determining the harmony. The chord-building remains tertian, with the seventh, ninth, or thirteenth chords being treated as consonances functionally equivalent to the fundamental triad. Pan-diatonicism, as consolidation of tonality, is the favorite technique of NEO-CLASSICISM [sic].

Rhythm section group of musicians within a music ensemble or band who provide the underlying rhythm, harmony and beat for the rest of the band

A rhythm section is a group of musicians within a music ensemble or band who provide the underlying rhythm, harmony and pulse of the accompaniment, providing a rhythmic and harmonic reference and "beat" for the rest of the band.

The Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel, Op. 24, is a work for solo piano written by Johannes Brahms in 1861. It consists of a set of twenty-five variations and a concluding fugue, all based on a theme from George Frideric Handel's Harpsichord Suite No. 1 in B major, HWV 434.

Musical improvisation spontaneous musical composition technique

Musical improvisation is the creative activity of immediate musical composition, which combines performance with communication of emotions and instrumental technique as well as spontaneous response to other musicians. Sometimes musical ideas in improvisation are spontaneous, but may be based on chord changes in classical music and many other kinds of music. One definition is a "performance given extempore without planning or preparation." Another definition is to "play or sing (music) extemporaneously, by inventing variations on a melody or creating new melodies, rhythms and harmonies." Encyclopædia Britannica defines it as "the extemporaneous composition or free performance of a musical passage, usually in a manner conforming to certain stylistic norms but unfettered by the prescriptive features of a specific musical text. Improvisation is often done within a pre-existing harmonic framework or chord progression. Improvisation is a major part of some types of 20th-century music, such as blues, jazz, and jazz fusion, in which instrumental performers improvise solos, melody lines and accompaniment parts.

Prelude and Fugue in A minor, BWV 543 is a piece of organ music written by Johann Sebastian Bach sometime around his years as court organist to the Duke of Saxe-Weimar (1708–1717).

Prelude in C minor, BWV 999 musical composition by Johann Sebastian Bach

Prelude in C Minor, BWV 999, also termed The "Little" Prelude in C Minor, is a piece written by Johann Sebastian Bach sometime between 1717 and 1723. Though originally composed for Lute-Harpsichord (Lautenwerck) it has since been adapted for various instruments, including lute, piano and guitar. It is a pedagogical work much in the spirit of The Well-Tempered Clavier, with which it shares musical characteristics. The piece's true authorship fell into question for decades before being proven to be Bach's by publication of Hans Neemann’s J. S. Bach Lautenkompositionen (1931).

This is a list of jazz and popular music terms that are likely to be encountered in printed popular music songbooks, fake books and vocal scores, big band scores, jazz, and rock concert reviews, and album liner notes. This glossary includes terms for musical instruments, playing or singing techniques, amplifiers, effects units, sound reinforcement equipment, and recording gear and techniques which are widely used in jazz and popular music. Most of the terms are in English, but in some cases, terms from other languages are encountered.

Prelude and Fugue in D major, BWV 532

Johann Sebastian Bach's Prelude and Fugue in D major is a prelude and fugue written for the organ c. 1710, and has an approximate duration of ​11 12 minutes.

Passing chord

In music, a passing chord is a chord that connects, or passes between, the notes of two diatonic chords. "Any chord that moves between one diatonic chord and another one nearby may be loosely termed a passing chord. A diatonic passing chord may be inserted into a pre-existing progression that moves by a major or minor third in order to create more movement." "'Inbetween chords' that help you get from one chord to another are called passing chords."

Prelude and Fugue in G minor, BWV 861, is No. 16 in Johann Sebastian Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier Book I, keyboard music consisting of 24 preludes and fugues in every major and minor key.

Prelude and Fugue in C major, BWV 870, is a keyboard composition written by Johann Sebastian Bach. It is the first prelude and fugue in the second book of The Well-Tempered Clavier, a series of 48 preludes and fugues in every major and minor key.

Organ concerto (Bach) group of arrangements and compositions by Johann Sebastian Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach's output include two types of organ concertos:


  1. Zinn, David (1981). The Structure & Analysis of the Modern Improvised Line, p.118. ISBN   978-0-935016-03-1.
  2. 1 2 Frank, Robert J. (2000). "Non-Chord Tones" Archived 2007-07-03 at the Wayback Machine , Theory on the Web, Southern Methodist University.
  3. 1 2 3 Benward & Saker (2003). Music: In Theory and Practice, Vol. I, p.99. Seventh Edition. ISBN   978-0-07-294262-0.
  4. Gerald Drebes: "Schütz, Monteverdi und die „Vollkommenheit der Musik“ – „Es steh Gott auf“ aus den „Symphoniae sacrae“ II (1647)". In: "Schütz-Jahrbuch", Jg. 14, 1992, p. 25-55, h. 37-40, online: "Archived copy" (in German). Archived from the original on 2016-03-03. Retrieved 2017-07-30.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  5. "The Fugue", an outline of the substantials of a fugue based on Hugo Norden's Foundation Studies in Fugue
  6. Smith, Timothy A. (1996). "Anatomy of a Fugue", .
  7. Narmour, E. (1987) "Melodic structuring of harmonic dissonance" in Samson, J. (ed.) Chopin Studies. Cambridge University Press.
  8. Newman, E. (1947) preface to the vocal score of Brahms Ein Deutsches Requiem, reprinted in the 1999 edition. London, Novello and Co. Ltd.
  9. Donington, R. (1963) Wagner's "Ring" and its Symbols. London, Faber.
  10. Jarman, D (1989) Alban Berg Wozzeck. Cambridge University Press.
  11. Rawlins, Robert (2005). Jazzology: The Encyclopedia of Jazz Theory for All Musicians, p.132. ISBN   0-634-08678-2.
  12. 1 2 "Composition And Experimentation In British Rock 1967–1976", Philomusica on-line.
  13. "A Case Study of the Bernard Herrmann Style", p.2, Hitchcock.TV.
  14. Stephenson, Ken (2002). What to Listen for in Rock: A Stylistic Analysis, p.77. ISBN   978-0-300-09239-4.
  15. Stephenson (2002), p.81.