Pedal notes (often referred to as pedal point or pedal tones) are
predominantly used in a lead guitar context
(e.g. during a solo or lead intro).
The musical definition of pedal
point is actually quite
broad, but most often it refers to a stationary or fixed root/bass note
interchanged with a sequence of other (usually higher) notes.
The easiest way to understand what pedal notes are, is to hear them in
better example, in the context of lead guitar, than the opening to
AC/DC's Thunderstruck. Listen to
how Angus Young alternates quickly between the open B string
(the pedal tone) and a sequence of notes
up and down the fretboard.
Now, I remember hearing that when I'd just started learning guitar and
thinking how difficult it must be to play. It's not easy as such - you
need a good sense of timing and pick attack - but it's one of those
wonderful techniques that is easier
to play than it sounds!
This lesson will provide you with some essential pedal tone exercises
to get you up to speed and sharpen your pick attack and timing so
you'll be able to inject this technique seamlessly into your lead
with bends, hammer-ons, double stops etc.
Open string pedal notes
If your solo or lead phrase happens to use a scale or key that makes
use of any of the open string notes (E A D G or B in standard tuning),
then you can use these open strings as your pedal note.
This is the bass (lowest) note of your pedal lick but it doesn't
necessarily have to be the root note of the scale you're playing. For
example, if we were playing a solo using the E natural minor scale, the
would be the minor 3rd tone of that scale. Therefore we could use the open G string as our
minor 3rd pedal tone.
The pedal tone
First, we need to have the physical ability to execute these pedal
point sequences at a reasonable speed.
Let's stick with the open G string as the example. This is our bass
Start by setting your metronome to around 70 beats per minute.
going to be playing sixteenth
notes. If you've been through the lead
guitar section, you'll know that sixteenth notes equate to 4 picked
notes per click (or beat):
pick the open G string like this. Slow down the metronome if
you can't keep time. It's important to start at a comfortable tempo and
work your way up gradually.
You should be able to alternate pick like this in steady sixteenth
notes (click to hear).
Once you're comfortable with sixteenth notes at around 70bpm, you have
Increase the metronome speed until you can play open string sixteenth
notes at a speed you're happy with (140bpm is a good tempo to aim for)
If you're already confident with basic alternate picking in sixteenths,
stay at 70bpm and start adding in other notes on top of this open
string pedal tone - read on for this...
The other notes
As mentioned before, the notes you use away from that bass pedal note
is down to which scale and/or key you're playing. However, because each
note will only last a very short duration, you can often use tones that
lie outside a diatonic scale or key (i.e. dissonant tones) and they
won't sound out of place.
In this example, I'm using the E natural minor example mentioned before. So
the open G string was our minor 3rd pedal note and all the other notes
of E Aeolian will lie somewhere on that string up to the 12th fret
octave of our b3 pedal point.
Open (Pedal P.)
Minor Scale Tone
Here's an example of a lick using some of the above scale and positions
(pedal note in blue,
click tab to hear). Remember, it's exactly the same alternate picking
as before, we're just adding in these other notes every other pick
Note: you don't have to start on the pedal note!
The great thing about open string pedal point is that you don't even
need to pick the other notes. You can simply use hammer-ons and/or
pull-offs to sound the notes around the pedal tone. More on this
another time, but if you're confident with legato playing (see the lead
section on this site) you'll naturally incorporate it into this type of
These pedal point licks will most commonly only play a small part in
your solos (and don't fall into the trap of overplaying them just
because they sound cool!). Therefore, you'll have think of ways to connect them to
the other parts of your solo (click to hear example).
If your knowledge of the scale the pedal lick is part of is good (the
scales section on this site will help you with that), then you
shouldn't have a problem with linking it up like this.
Trying different pedal patterns
Make sure you spend time experimenting with different rhythms and
timings. For example, I could alternate between one and two picks on
the pedal tone as follows (click tab to hear)...
And, as shown in that example, it's fine to play two non-pedal notes
together. Variation is the key here.
2 and 3 string pedal note exercises
This is where it gets a bit trickier. Sometimes you'll want to play a
pedal sequence using a bass note not accomodated by an open string or
when you're playing higher up the fretboard and want a higher sounding
bass pedal note.
This means you'll have to fret the pedal note as well as the notes
around it requiring more finger co-ordination. It also means you'll
often be using two, three even four
strings in your pedal sequence. Below are some example exercises to get
all your fingers involved, but do try and come up with your own
Single string pedal exercise
Let's start with one string, using the same sixteenth note timing from
This exercise is based on the G Lydian scale, with the major
3rd tone (B)
being the bass pedal tone at the 12th fret. You should choose your own
pattern based on the finger positions below, but the tab (click to
hear) gives you an example...
In that example, as we're just on one string, we could use hammer-ons
pull-offs (legato) instead of alternate picking, but it's good to be
able to do
2 string pedal exercise
This is where your technique needs to change slightly. As we're
alternating across 2 strings, we can no longer use hammer-ons and
pull-offs, which is for changing note on the same string without
picking. We'll therefore need to pick every note. I just use
alternate picking as usual.
We'll also need to mute the pedal note as soon as we move to the next
note so we can get a clean separation of notes. The easiest way to do
this is to lift off the pedal
note ever so slightly, as soon as you've fretted the next
note. As long as your finger is still touching (but not pressing) the
string, it won't make a sound.
Note that, as shown in the diagram, the 2nd and 3rd fingers are used in
two places for this lick. Unfortunately, once the index finger is taken
up with the pedal note, we only have 3 fingers available for the rest
of the lick! The aim is to use them as economically as possible.
3 string pedal exercise
Adding a 3rd string means we'll be using a technique called string
skipping (where you jump over a string from one note to the next). As
always, start slow using a metronome and speed up gradually.
As we're using 3 strings, we can reach higher notes in a more confined
space, so it actually involves less of stretch for your fingers...
Try and come up with your own open, single string, 2 string and 3
string pedal point licks. You can use the scale patterns you learn to
work out a position and go from there.
These types of lick are also great warmup exercises, as they get all
your fingers involved and help to sharpen up your timing and pick
Remember though, don't overuse this technique. It often works best when
you keep it short and sweet, as part of a larger soloing phrase. Using
several lead techniques (bends, legato, pedal, slides...) will give
your solos the variation and dynamicism they need.
Although many guitarists put emphasis on how fast they can play, and
speed should be worked on, good timing and variation are far more
important elements for wowing the audience when you take the limelight.