SOPP263: Do I have this right? Pedal point, as the vertical column of numbers below the chords, which can be 3s, 5s, 4s, 6s, 9s., flat whatevers to the root?
Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 263 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Ron.
Do I have this right? Pedal point, as the vertical column of numbers below the chords, which can be 3s, 5s, 4s, 6s, 9s., flat whatevers to the root? Also, more than one, even two, three, four pedals held down at a time, sustained over the chords or measures? So, a 4 below a 6 in CM would be the F and A pedals, held down? A 5 and a flat 9 (flat 2nd an octave lower) would be G and D flat, maybe held down under some other dissonant chord like fourth degree (F) chord? Is my terminology correct?
V: Let’s talk a little bit about pedal point and what they mean and how they are constructed. First of all, he is right; pedal points are vertical compositional device when a composer wants to hold one note or a few notes over a longer period of time, right? I think Ron over-complicates things here a little bit.
A: Yes, actually I haven’t understood his question. Maybe you could help me understand what he wants because I could not understand what all those fifths, thirds, fifths, all those numbers are.
V: Intervals probably above the pedal.
A: Why? If you have a pedal point it’s a pedal point. It’s written in the pedal and that’s it.
V: You have separate harmonies in the hands then.
A: Well, OK. So what does that have to do with this all thing?
V: I guess we have to help him understand that pedal points need to be regarded in addition to anything else that is happening in the hands. So for example, if the piece is written in C Major and you have a long sustained pedal C note which means a tonic pedal point in the hands you can have anything you want, right? In C Major. Most of the time you can have G Major chords, F Major chords, C Major chords, it will sound nice because it’s a tonic pedal point or not. Am I thinking…
A: Well not exactly. I don’t think that for example the dominant chord will be so nice sounding if you will have C in the pedal.
V: It depends on the style of course. If you are using classical style you will need to use harmonies in the hands which would work with the note C.
A: Yes and with the sub-dominant or tonic.
V: Because C Major chord has three notes, C, E, G. So C in the pedals would work with C Major and F Major chord as Ausra says sub-dominant, F, A, C, has also three notes and has a common note, C with the pedal point so it will also work. Those two functions, tonic and sub-dominant, they usually are used in the classical style tonic pedal point, right?
V: What about dominant pedal point, Ausra, what happens there?
A: Then you would have to have dominant chords in the hand.
V: Which is in C Major…
A: G, B, D, or G, B, D, F, if it is a 4th note chord.
V: And a G in the pedal.
A: That’s right.
V: Anything else in the hands too?
A: Well you could have also A in the hands too. It would be a dominant 9th chord. G, B, D, F, A.
V: Is there another chord in C Major which also has G in the contents.
A: Yeah, of course.
V: Which one.
A: Well, it would be the third scale degree chord.
V: What about tonic?
A: Tonic too.
V: So dominant, tonic, third scale degree would work for dominant pedal point, right?
A: Well, not so much tonic.
V: Why not?
A: Because it has C as the bass.
V: G in the bass would be right.
V: And that would be tonic 6-4 chord.
A: That’s right so it wouldn’t have the same function as the tonic chord.
V: It would be probably sub-dominant 6-4 chord of G Major.
A: Well yes and it would be G, C, E. It would be a Cadential 6-4 chord if it’s like a final pedal point and you are going close to the resolution.
V: Ausra do know the expression EAIF in English. EAIF.
A: No, I know expression TGIF.
V: No, that’s not it. EAIF means “explain as I am five.” Imagine I am five years old and explain me that I could understand.
A: What, exactly?
V: What you just said before. Pretend I’m your nephew or grandson.
A: Well, if you are my grandson, then go wash the dishes! So, if you are in the key of C Major and you have G note in the pedal, you can not have a tonic chord in the root position because you have G in the bass. In order to have tonic chord in the root position you will have to have a C note in the bass because basically bass dictates what kind of inversion of the chord you have. And if you are in the key of C Major and you have G in the pedal you can have dominant root position or you could have dominant 7th chord or you could have dominant ninth chord or you could have tonic 6-4 chord but not a tonic chord.
V: Well that’s confusing for a five year old. (Laughs)
A: Well just wait for a few years then. Until then keep washing the dishes... hahaha!
V: What if I’m old but don’t understand what you’re saying. What if I’m 42, like now.
A: Then you have to take a harmony course then.
V: Which one? Do you have something to offer? Of course we do. Guys if you’re interested in knowing more about harmony and music theory we recommend checking out either Basic Chord Workshop to start and then later Harmony for Organists Level 1. Ausra has a few harmony lessons that she also offering so you could check out in simplified terms. They’re very simple to understand. But I think people need to understand harmony, right? And Ron’s question about pedal point is right on point.
V: Because if you just play what you see on the sheet of music but don’t understand what is there you miss a lot of interest there. You just know that it sounds nice but you don’t know how and why.
A: That’s right. Knowledge never hurt anybody.
V: All right. Please guys send us more of your questions, we love helping you grow and we hope that you can try to explore some harmonic progressions today. Simply mastering a cadence or two like for example dominant 6th chord and tonic chord in C Major would be B, D, G (dominant 6th) and tonic chord would be C, E, G, and play that with either one hand or both hands, up and down the octave, first of all without adding any accidentals. The first chord will be 6th chord, the second will be resolution root position chord. And you go up and up the keyboard until you reach one octave higher dominant 6th chord and C Major chord again. And then do the same backwards, the same motion. Is that a good way to start, Ausra, your harmonic journey?
A: Yes, that’s a good progression.
V: That’s how we all teach our students in ninth grade, right? The first lesson when they get from us about sequences, that’s usually this chord.
A: Yes, it’s often.
V: Why not root position dominant chord?
A: Because it resolves to the tonic 6-4 chord, not to the tonic root position chord and the 6 chord resolves to the tonic.
V: And it’s easier to find on the scale. 7th scale degree is easier to find that the 5th scale degree of the dominant.
A: That’s right.
V: OK guys, so try this experience and experiment never hurts. You can transpose to other keys, right? In flat keys, in sharp keys, in minor keys. What about minor? You should add probably 7th scale degree at least in the beginning and in the end. And remember when you practice…
A: Miracles happen.
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Imagine, jų press some note in the pedals and while holding it, play some suitable music with your hands. That's called a pedal point - one of the ways to create tention in the piece (dominant pedal point, if there is the 5th scale degree in the pedals) or a sense of stability (tonic pedal point, if there is the 1st scale degree in the pedals).
Today's sight-reading piece is Toccata Sexta from Partitura in cymbalo et organo, Op.2 Book 2 (1664) by Sebastian Anton Scherer (1631-1712), a South German Baroque composer and organist.
In this toccata, Scherer makes heavy use of pedal point and includes much imitative counterpoint as well as free writing.
The pedal points dominate this piece. In fact, the longest is towards the end, on C - 27 measures long! There are only 7 pedal points in the entire toccata: on F, C, G, A, D, F, and C.
Here is the score for printing (p. 89). Choose a slow comfortable tempo and use articulate legato touch, when you sight-read this toccata today. Play separate hand parts, if both hands together are too complex.
Tip: How about applying the same pedal point technique in improvisation? Choose 7 pitches and play something interesting (it doesn't have to be polyphonic) based on the key of that pitch.
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Drs. Vidas Pinkevicius and Ausra Motuzaite-Pinkeviciene
Organists of Vilnius University , creators of Secrets of Organ Playing.
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