Pedal point makes strange progressions easier to understand.
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Pedal point simply means that you keep the same note in the bass throughout the progression, even if that bass note doesn’t actually fit the chord above it. The most common pedal points to experiment with are tonic pedals (in which the tonic note is held in the bass), and dominant pedals (in which the 5th note of your chosen key is held.)
Pedal points work because they add a strong dimension of predictability that works well in progressions that lack predictability. Take, for example, this progression:
C Eb Ab F Db G C (LISTEN) (Opens in a new browser window or tab)
There are several spots in this progression that jump out as being unpredictable, especially F to Db and then to G. Unpredictable is not necessarily bad. But let’s say that you don’t want to startle your listeners quite that much, while at the same time you like the odd flavour of that progression.
There are two solutions to try: 1) place the note ‘C’ in the bass throughout the entire progression, which gives you a tonic pedal (LISTEN) ; or 2) place the note ‘G’ in the bass for a dominant pedal (LISTEN).
So before you toss a progression that seems to be just a bit too odd, try experimenting with pedal point first.
-Gary Ewer (follow Gary on Twitter)
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