A “pedal” is a note which is repeated or held for some time, while the chords around it change. Pedals are normally found on either the tonic or dominant notes.

Typically, a pedal might be found in the bass, while the chords in the higher parts change:


Notice that sometimes the pedal note belongs to the current chord (e.g. it is part of chord I here), and at other times it is a non-chord note (e.g. it is not part of chords ii and V). A pedal point (section of music with a pedal note) will normally start and finish with the pedal note being a chord note, as it is here.

  • Standard pedals are placed in the bass part.
  • Pedals which are not in the bass part are “inverted” pedals.
  • Pedals which occur in a middle part (e.g. alto or tenor) are “inner” pedals.
  • A pedal on a held note (rather than a repeated one) is a “sustained” pedal.
  • Pedals can be double, triple etc., depending on how many notes are used as a pedal.

Pedals are often used in music to build up tension or suspense. They are often used towards the final section of a piece of music, or as a signal that the music is drawing to a close, but can be found at any point in the structure.

The third movement of Mozart’s Piano Sonata no.5, 3rd Movement, begins with a tonic pedal in the bass, and pedals feature a number of times throughout the whole movement.

Bars 1-8, with a repeated tonic pedal (key G major, pedal note G):

tonic pedal G

Bars 127-131, with an intermittent dominant pedal (key E minor, pedal note B):

dominant pedal

Bars 214-215, with a sustained double dominant pedal (bass and soprano) (key G major, pedal note D):

double dominant pedal