Liven Up Your Guitar Sound With Pedal Points

Pedal Points is a simple technique that can be added to any style of guitar playing - after hearing it once, you'll know why Pedal Points have been used for centuries.

Ultimate Guitar
Have you been getting annoyed by playing the same solos you've heard time and time again? You've seen musicians who can always play something new and invigorating each time they pick up a guitar - yet you can't get out of your usual licks. Need something new? A fresh trick, outside of what you're used to playing?

Sometimes, the best way forward is actually to go back in time. In this article, we'll look at Pedal Points: a trick from the old days of music theory.

Learning to use Pedal Points is one of the biggest "secrets" of music theory. No, I don't believe there's actually a conspiracy afoot to keep it hidden from the public. Or so I hope - if you don't hear from me again after this article, let's just say you'll know why! But it's a fact that Pedal Points are usually taught just as an afterthought.

At least, every time I come across Pedal Points in a theory book, it's only noted in a few brief lines, and then they quickly move to the next technique. As such, many teachers don't really touch on the subject. Maybe it's because it's a simple concept, and many teachers think students will find it too "obvious".

I mean, really, Pedal Points are simply a note played on top of other harmonies that are only required to be consonant with the first. (Wait, is that even English?)

Okay, that was probably too fast. Let's start again. This is what Pedal Points really are: a note which rings longer than it should. It can be as simple as playing a single note on top of a phrase, or you can play the same note on top of many chords. When done right, using this technique sounds amazing, and is exactly why you'll hear it used everywhere from classical to pop music.

Below is a quick video I made to show you just how simple this technique really is to use in your playing. Watch it now:

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Now that you know what this is, I guarantee you'll be able to pick it out of many of your favorite artists. The technique produces a distinctive sound that is easy to recognize. Now that you see how Pedal Points are used, try adding them to some songs of your own!

About the Author:
Tommaso Zillio is a prog rock guitarist and teacher with a passion for Music Theory applied to Guitar.

18 comments sorted by best / new / date

    This is a great, highly underused technique for the vast majority of guitar players out there. Really powerful stuff. Great video and article as always Tommaso!
    Might seem like an oddly specific example but this reminds me of the bend at the 6:31 mark. He bends up to a C while the rhythm is playing a C chord and then holds it as the rhythm changes to an Em, so powerful.
    Great! Johnny Rzeznik uses this alot due to his strange tunnings, for example, in "Name - Goo Goo Dolls", which have an E4 (E from the first string) sounding through the whole song.
    Jere Toikka
    Thank you for this video The great thing about this concept is that it can be applied in so many different ways and easily in combination with other cool concepts, even while improvising! Fun!
    At the beginning of the War PIgs solo, when Iommi pays the low E, is that a pedal point? I've heard the term drone note.