A pedal point in music is a sustained or repeated note sounded against chord progressions and melodies. Pedal points are also called pedal tones and simply, pedals. The term originates from organ music where the player sustains a low tonic or dominant pitch with the foot pedals allowing them to easily play chords and melodies above this note on the keyboards.
Pedal points can add new chord tones to basic chord changes. This technique can help make a harmonically richer sound and musical texture. It can also create harmonic tension that increases a chord progression’s push back to the tonic, lending a sense of excitement to the music. Sometimes the pedalled notes are added to a chord’s shape; sometimes the pedals are played by other instruments. Bass players will often pedal the tonic or dominant pitch, or play a melodic figuration that supports a set of chord changes.
The pedal point technique is a signature feature of both U2 and Blink 182. Learn about some of their songs plus others in my guitar theory podcast episode 21.