Back on January 11, I wrote a blog post demonstrating how a bass pedal point works. In its simplest terms, it means keeping the same bass note while the chords above it change, regardless of whether that bass note is actually a member of the chord or not.
I thought I’d mention its close relation, the inverted pedal point, because it also has a way of making chords sound fresh and innovative.
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An inverted pedal means keeping an upper note (any upper note that’s not the bass note) while the chords change. If you want to hear what this sounds like, listen to the opening of Sonny and Cher’s 1965 hit “I Got You Babe” (Sonny Bono). The chord progression is:
F Bb F Bb Eb C
and over the first three chords the melody sits on the note C. It works as expected with the F chords, but as you know, C is not a note in the Bb chord. So holding that C throughout the opening phrase amounts to what is called an inverted pedal point.
Genesis used a relentless inverted pedal in their song “Pigeons” (1977) from their EP “Spot the Pigeon.” Guitarist Steve Hackett plays a Bb (on a banjolele), using the same rhythmic pattern over and over through the entirety of the song.
Why would you use an inverted pedal. Probably for the same reasons you might use a bass pedal: it creates a nice sense of variety in the sound of the chords, and you certainly hear that effect in “Pigeons”.
It also acts as a kind of musical glue that can pull weird chords together into a more satisfying progression. For example, play the following progression while singing the note “C” on each chord. I think you’ll see its benefits right away:
F Eb Bb F Ab Bb C
How to Create and Use an Inverted Pedal
Probably the best way to create an inverted pedal is through improvisation. Once you’ve got a progression you like, do the following:
- Try to identify the key of your progression. This isn’t crucial, but it can help to speed your process up a bit.
- Sing the fifth note of the chord that represents your progression’s key. If your progression is in C major, for example, sing a G.
- Improvise rhythms on that note (G) using a syllable (la-la-la, etc.) while you play through your progression. If you’ve got an idea for the lyric, use words instead of the syllable.
By using that process, you’re adding the inverted pedal after the fact, and that, I think, is the best way to do this.
Be careful when using an inverted pedal, because it tends to give your music a very distinctive sound, so using it in several songs can be a bit too much. Also consider that you can use an inverted pedal sparingly within a song. Just as “I Got You Babe” only uses it for the first mini-phrase of the verse, it can work well when used in small doses.
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