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Home > Lead > Pedal Notes

Using Pedal Notes in Your Lead Guitar

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 action. What 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 playing, along 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 note G 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 pedal note.

Start by setting your metronome to around 70 beats per minute. We're 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):

Click: 1 2 3 4
Note: 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 ...

Simply alternate 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 two choices...

1) 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) or...

2) 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.

G String Fret Open (Pedal P.) 2 4 5 7 9 11 12 (octave)
Minor Scale Tone b3 4 5 b6 b7 1 (root) 2 b3
Note G A B C D E F# G

E Aeolian using open G string as pedal point

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 stroke...

Aeolian pedal note tab

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 playing.

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 exercises.

Single string pedal exercise

Let's start with one string, using the same sixteenth note timing from before.

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 and pull-offs (legato) instead of alternate picking, but it's good to be able to do both.

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 co-ordination.

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.

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