Pedal Points

Pedal points are very common in film music, meaning usually that you change chords over a sustaining bass note.

Even very dissonant chords in relation to the bass note work under such circumstances. Pedal points are great for buildups. In a busy sequence where there is lots of chord movement going on it feels like breathing in for a climax when you suddenly reach a pedal point over several bars. This is especially effective on a pedal point of a chord that could work as dominant. It works great as a build-up if you gradually raise the degree of tension of this “dominant function” before finally resolving to the tonic. Also, pedal points work great standing alone and help making simple cadences (IV-V-I) more interesting.

The concept of a pedal point can be extended even further. It doesn’t neccessarily need to be a “low” pedal point. High sustaining notes over chord movements or even sustaining notes in the middle register might work as well. Also, it doesn’t need to be only a static note. Small ostinato-like movements that “circle” around the pitch work great as well.

Essentially, pedal points are a great tool to bring variety into a harmonic progression and are devices that are musically very understandable and create very pleasing results.

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