Building Song Energy By Using a “Dominant Pedal”

A dominant pedal places the 5th note in the bass, creating energy in very subtle ways.

____________"From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro"

Purchase “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle TODAY, and claim your free eBook “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro”.

Diana Ross & The SupremesIn a band rehearsal, if you want to generate more energy from your performance, you’re quite likely to do one or more of the following:

  1. Play louder
  2. Play busier
  3. Play faster
  4. Play higher

As you see, all of those options refer to playing style. Back in the days of the classical composers, there was another technique that was commonly used to build energy that had nothing to do with playing style – the so-called dominant pedal. It’s a technique that works really well in pop music as well, and here’s how it works.

A dominant pedal simply means that regardless of the chord of the moment, the bass note will sit on the dominant pitch of the key. It generates momentum, expectation and energy by virtue of the fact that the dominant note, particularly when it occurs in the bass, makes it sound as though a move to the tonic note is imminent.

That sense of expectation increases energy. Classical composers used that technique all the time in sonatas, which you can hear demonstrated here in Mozart’s Symphony No. 41, 1st movement. In this excerpt, you hear a dominant pedal start at 7’49”, and stays in place as chords change above it, until 8’04.”

Tonic pedals work the same way: the bass playing the tonic note while chords change above it. A tonic pedal can also generate energy, but more often than not, it can create a calming effect as it serves as a constant reminder of “home”.

Pop music makes less use of  pedal point than Classical music, but some groups use pedal point more than others: Genesis, for example. From their album “A Trick of the Tail” (1976), the song “Squonk” demonstrates both a tonic and dominant pedal predominantly throughout.

Dominant pedals are most effective in a verse as it approaches a chorus, particularly if the verse ends on a V-chord, and the chorus begins on the I-chord. If that’s the case, try having the bass play the dominant note for at least four bars before the chorus, no matter what chords are being played. You’ll find that it’s a great energy builder.

Here’s an example of a verse progression that would work well with a dominant pedal:

C F C G C Am F G

Starting on the fifth chord (C), move the bass to G, and you’ll hear that it generates a strong sense of anticipation of the tonic that eventually arrives at the beginning of the chorus.

It’s possible to use a dominant pedal in an upper instrument. When that happens, it’s called an inverted pedal. You can hear the excitement that an inverted pedal generates in “You Keep Me Hangin’ On“, (Holland–Dozier–Holland, performed by The Supremes). The upper guitar note that prevails through much of the intro and verse is an inverted dominant pedal.


Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

Download “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle$83.75 $37.00 (and get a copy of “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro” FREE.)

Posted in Chord Progressions and tagged , , , , , .


  1. Pingback: Guitar News Weekly Roundup: April 19, 2013

  2. Also Titled Pedal Point. ” Sometimes When We Touch” Music by Barry Mann
    also employs this method and “By the Time I Get To Phoenix” written by Jimmy Webb are two examples of Top Composers using this method as well, Phoenix starts off with a C/D
    C over D bass for two whole bars, and resolves to the expected key of G via a Gmaj 7th

    Jimmy introduced this into his writing when the majority of Country music Composers, were stuck on only playing the tonic of the chord in the bass.

    I wish more Composers would use this method , even The Beatles used Bass Inversions
    one example is” Long And Winding Road.” Lennon and Mc Cartney.

    I enjoy your posts Gary it’s great to hear a Music Teacher and Author not stuck in the past ,

    Peter Jenkins P.J. Xanadu Music Publishing

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.