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How to Add Harmony with Pedal Point on the Guitar

On the guitar, a pedal point (also known as a pedal tone or just a pedal) in music is a sustained or repeated note that’s sounded against chord progressions and melodies. The term originates from organ music where the player sustains a low tonic or dominant pitch with the foot pedals, allowing him to easily play chords and melodies above this note on the keyboard.

The use of pedal point often creates harmony that includes added chord tones and extensions, especially when you place the pedal in an upper register. This particular technique is sometimes called an inverted pedal tone. Here, you see a simple I-vi-IV-V progression in G: G-Em-C-D, with the note G, 3rd fret of the 1st string, held on top of each chord.

[Credit: Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna]
Credit: Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna

Because G, Em, and C already have the G note in them, their names don’t have to change here. The D chord, however, becomes Dsus4 with the added G on the 1st string.

Here is another example based on the same chords, this time sustaining both a G and a D above the chords. This technique is sometimes called a double pedal tone. Notice how Em and C are renamed to reflect the added chord tones. Adding D to Em makes Em7 and adding D to C makes Cadd9.

[Credit: Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna]
Credit: Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna

Two good examples of songs that use pedal tones like this are “Wonderwall” by Oasis and “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd.

Take note that chords with added chord tones and complicated names are often the result of the pedal tone technique. The chords to “Wonderwall” are written as Em7-G-Dsus4-A7sus4. Fortunately, though, these chords are much easier to play than they look. In fact, many composers don’t even have these chord names in mind when they put the simple chord fingerings together.

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