pedal tones

A pedal tone is simply a sustained pitch that is usually the lowest pitch of the music being created at any given point in the music. As the name tends to imply, pedal tones are something that we originally did with our feet, using a pedal, as say on a church organ with bass pedals. In the modern day American styles, pedal tones are usually created by the bass, although it is not uncommon today to hear these cool lines created with the acoustic piano or programmed on a piano synthesizer. Rare in folk music, pedal tones are fairly common in all of the other American styles, especially in written out symphonic music, marching band music, concert band literature etc. Let's explore a couple of different types of pedal tones in common use today.

Tonic pedal. The term tonic pedal implies that the tonic pitch of the key of the music we are playing is used underneath all of the music. So in C major, the pitch C is the tonic pedal n'est pas? Example 1.

   C maj  F / C  G / C  C

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Didn't Van Halen use this type of pedal on one of their big hits titled "Jump?" So simple but so cool. Another cool rock tune using the tonic pedal is Carly Simon's "I Feel The Earth, Moon Under My Feet", so very effective in locking in the bottom.

Dominant pedal. Same idea as above, but the pedal tone is the dominant or 5th degree of the tonic key, which in this case is C major.

  C maj / G  F / G  G  C / G

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I love the dominant pedal, it's just so cool a feel in the swing thing for the jazz artist. An easy hang for the blues players is to use the dominant pedal over the first four bars of a regular 12 bar blues, then slide down into Four. Click here to check this action out.

Inverted pedal. Any guesses as to what an inverted pedal might be? Well, if a regular pedal tone is the lowest, might the inverted pedal be the highest? Bingo! Just kidding. We here the inverted pedal in the more advanced and worked out modern jazz music and sometimes in concert and band music. Mostly a jazz thing although blues players will on occasion grab hold of one pitch way up there and just hang on for dear life, often to the joy of the dancers and listeners alike. Here we invert a tonic pedal. Example 3.

  C maj  F G  C

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So, the inverted pedal can go over another melody? Yep. That is usually the case, say on the last chorus when playing the melody of the song, we add the inverted pedal for dramatic effect. Here we invert the dominant pedal. Example 4.

  C maj  F  G  C

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Have a preference of either tonic or dominant pedals?

Constant structure / pedal tones. Here we use a constant structure harmony over a pedal tone. Simply creating one chord voicing from the pitches of a mode and transposing it diatonically as our ears tell us. This can work extremely well when working with the modes. Here we stack fourths creating the quartile sounds and move them mostly stepwise over a tonic pedal, using the pitches of D Dorian. The melody is simply a four note descending sequence of Dorian colors. Example 5.

 i - 7   ii - 7  i - 7    VII i - 7   IV 7   III 7    ii - 7

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Cool sounds eh? An interesting combination of colors eh?

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