Songwriting - bass guitar

Helping Chord Progressions Along with Pedal Point

Pedal point is an option for adding a kind of musical anchor to a complex chord progression.


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[Before reading this article, give this video a quick view. It will explain the basic concept of bass pedal point]:

In common usage, pedal point usually refers to the bass note, and the fact that it stays the same no matter what chord you’re playing above it. That so-called bass pedal has a way of making even the oddest, most complex chord progressions make sense. And here’s how it works.

A chord progression that is complicated, with lots of altered chords and other types that pull you considerably away from the original key, is a double-edged sword. On the positive side, such progressions are unique and creative, stimulating the imagination in fantastic ways. On the negative side, listeners can get confused and turned off. So it’s all about balance.

If you’ve got a progression that excites you because of its freshness and innovation, but you’re worried that it doesn’t hang together too well, try using a pedal tone. It often works best if the bass note of the first chord is then simply extended to last throughout the entire progression. But it’s worth experimenting with other pedal point bass notes.

As a quick example, here’s a chord progression that has several odd twists and turns. The first sound sample uses chords in root position (i.e., the bass plays the letter name of the chord), and the second sample uses a pedal point bass note sitting on the tonic (key) note.

SAMPLE 1 (C  F  Ab  E  D  Db  C) **Opens in a new browser window**

SAMPLE 2 (As above, with bass sitting on C)

As I say, try experimenting with different pedal basses for different effects. As you can hear in Sample 2, the C in the bass is a member of some of the chords, but not all, adding a delicious dissonance here and there. The bass moves around a bit in the sample, but keeps the C tonic note as its main bass note, at the change of each chord.

Because the bass note doesn’t move, it has a way of being dismissed by your musical brain, and that’s why, in spite of the dissonance, it still seems to work.

But because of that dissonance that’s created in some of the chords, you need to make a musical decision regarding whether or not your progression will benefit from the pedal point. Most of the time, it works because the bass adds a dose of predictability. As you hear in the second example above, the bass note acts like a kind of musical “glue”, always reminding you, in an aural sense, of where you are.


Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

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One Comment

  1. Pedal Point is a great way of adding to a chord progression, I’m surprised that most Country Writers, rarely stray from the premier tonic note of the chord they are playing.

    It’s very apt using it in a Breaking Up song, or Lost Love .
    I wish more would experiment with it.

    As you say it’s knowing how far to go with it, without it feeling Too Long a period in a song
    I would say Ten seconds would generally be long enough.

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