Thursday, October 11, 2007

Pedal Pointers

I'm not generally interested in music written to demonstrate technical principles, but a recent assignment to compose a piece making use of "pedal points" has been a lot of fun. There's a good, long explanation of pedals (sometimes also known as pivot tones) at Wiki, but a more rough definition might just be "a note held over from one chord to another." If we were to switch from a C-chord (C-E-G) to a G chord (G-B-D), say, the note G would be our pivot (or the only note that shows up in both chords).

When pedals are used frequently, they give music a sort of droning, static quality, and make transitions between chords fluid. (Power chords, used frequently by novice guitarists, can sound choppy because they don't make use of pedals. See "Iron Man.")

In any event, rather than bore you with theory, I figured I'd give you a few favorite examples. The first is "Everything in Its Right Place," from Radiohead's Kid A, released in 2000. You can hear the pedal in the keyboard introduction: it's the highest note repeated in each of the three-chord series.

The second piece is by Chopin: Prelude no. 15 from 1839. It's been nicknamed the "Raindrop" prelude because of a series of steadily repeated eighth notes, supposedly inspired by rain beating on the roof of the composer's home (with George Sand) in Majorca. It's these "raindrops" - gentle, then stormy, then gentle again - which are the pedal points here. Try to ignore the guy's facial expressions; they're pretty raunch.

Finally, there's "French Disko," a Stereolab single from 1993. The pedal here chimes out from the guitar during the step-wise moving chords of the verse. The back-up singer (the lovely Mary Hanson, who died in a bicycle accident in 2002) also reinforces it.

Hope that was reasonably clear. If not, just enjoy the music!


alice said...

whoa, people in 1993 were kerazee.
second two songs, very good examples. song one, i got too distracted with all the clapping and the radioheadradioheadradiohead pummeling we've been getting from you.
wondering, do you have an example with someone just using a guitar, like nick drake or something?

jav said...

i think i fell asleep the day we discussed pedal points in theory class ... from what i do remember,
this nick drake song is a pretty good example (i think he used pedal points in much of his early music).

the first and third movements of beethoven's moonlight sonata are pretty good and recognizeable examples, as is the beginning of the final movement of his fifth symphony.
(gotta love the all-male, all-white orchestras!)

this piece is interesting on so many levels, technically, including the rhythmic pattern, dit-dit-dit-dot*, that appears in each movement by a variety of instruments, from the double bass to the piccolo, among others. The passage between the third and final movements is ushered in with this motif in soft drum taps heard over an eerie pedal point played by the violins.

*dit-dit-dit-dot = the letter V in morse code, which is why the opening of this symphony was used by the allies during World War II to represent "V for Victory".

see, i guess music theory can be fun ...

Karen said...

sorry, but I don't know who's playing the Chopin....

Karen said...

is a pivot the same as a pedal point?

chuck davis said...

di di di dah = V?