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Section 10.8 Pedal Point

A pedal point is a note that is held through changing harmonies, starting as a chord tone before becoming a non-chord tone. Pedal points are often in the bass voice (the term “pedal” relates to the foot pedals on an organ).

Figure 10.8.1. Bach, J.S., Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I, Prelude 1 in C major BWV 846 (1722)

Here is an example from the Romantic era.

Figure 10.8.2. Clara Schumann, Op. 13, No. 2, “Sie liebten sich beide” (1844)

The Clara Schumann example above also has a suspension (“3-2 sus.”); suspensions are discussed in the next section.

When a pedal point is in the bass, it is not necessary to specify the inversion of the chord because the bass pedal point obscures the inversion.

You might also encounter a pedal point in a higher voice, as well as a “double pedal point,” where two notes (often a fifth apart) act as pedal points.