A Pedal Point Adds Glue to a Wacky Chord Progression

Written by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website.
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There are many ways to add a bit of variety to your chord choices. The problem is, the more you stray from the tried and true, the more confusing it can be to the listener. A pedal point is a great way to help the listener better understand a complicated progression.

multi-guitA pedal point is a note, most often in the bass, that stays constant while the chords above it change.

In a sense, a pedal point acts like glue. As progressions become complex, that pedal point gives the ear a landmark, of sorts, to latch on to. So even if the progression takes the listener far afield, the pedal point will give a sense of cohesion. Notice, for example, progression #3 below: without the C pedal, that progression is a bit forced. But the C pedal makes better sense.

So if you’ve written a chord progression that you worry might be a bit too outside the norm, try adding a pedal point. It works best if that bass pedal point actually is the root of one of the chords in your progression (usually the first, or the last; but notice #5 below, where the G of the pedal never forms the root of a chord), but it can work with other chords, so try experimenting. And notice that for most of the chords in your progression, the pedal point won’t even exist in the chord; that’s OK. Experiment until you find something that works.

Here are some examples (the note after the slash is the bass note):

1) C F/C G/C C
2) C/G F/G G C/G
3) C Ab/C Db/C G/C C
4) Am Em/A Am Dm/A Am
5) F/G Eb/G F/G Db/G Eb/G F/G

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