Lesson Series: “0 To 60, An Introduction to Alternate Picking” - Lesson 5

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LESSON #5 - Pedal Point/Tone

In this lesson, we are going to use something called a "Pedal Point" or "Pedal Tone". This is basically using one note as the base in a shape or scale and coming back to it again and again. Before we get to far ahead of ourselves, read the following. It's an explanation of "Pedal Point" from Wikipedia:

"In tonal music, a pedal point (also pedal tone, pedal note, organ point, 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 is a "non-chord tone", which puts it in the same musical categories as suspensions, retardations, and passing tones. However, the pedal point is unique among non-chord tones "in that 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."

Pedal points "have a strong tonal effect, 'pulling' the harmony back to its root." [1] When a pedal point occurs in a voice other than the bass, it is usually referred to as an inverted pedal point[2] (see inversion (music)). 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.

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.

Rock guitarists have used pedal points in their solos, especially neoclassical guitarists such as Yngwie Malmsteen. Other rock guitarists that use pedal points in solos are Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Eric Johnson, John Petrucci, Jason Becker, Paul Gilbert, John Sykes and Vinnie Moore. Pedal points can be heard on records such as Vinnie Moore's "Time Odyssey" and "Mind's Eye"'; Yngwie Malmsteen's "Rising Force"; Jason Becker's "Perpetual Burn"; and Richie Kotzen's "Fever Dream". Thrash metal in particular makes abundant use a muted low E string (or lower, if other tunings are used) as a pedal point. Examples of thrash metal bands that make use of a muted low E string pedal point include: Slayer, Metallica, Megadeth and Anthrax. 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."