Drones and pedals

November 18, 2009

This week in Music History, Culture, and Creativity, our students must compose, record, convert to mp3 and upload their compositions to the class website. Their compositions are to feature a drone (a sustained bass note throughout a section or an entire piece of music), or pedal (as in when an organ holds down a PEDAL, a low note, while other music happens on top) with a melody. It may be for any instrumentation and in any style.

For inspiration I played several music videos from YouTube illustrating a wide variety of musics that use drones or pedals.


In Stevie Wonder’s “Too High” both the opening tonic vamp and the dominant pedal are short drones.


Influenced by Ravi Shankar and Indian ragas, the Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows” lays down a complicated drone thoughout.

The Habanera from Bizet’s Carmen has a bass line ostinato that changes chords throughout, but the bass line refuses go anywhere.

“Scotland the Brave” is a perfect example of a memorable melody over a drone. But, to paraphrase Stravinsky, the monster never breathes.

Some of you may remember Moondog. I saw him both performing in the streets of Manhattan, but he came to the UW Madison School of Music and had an all-day residency. He wrote a round called “N-O-S-I-D-A-M” which is Madison backwards. I still remember the tune if anyone needs it. I may have a copy somewhere as well. But this is an example of an invention with one note, played by several instruments.

Here, John Coltrane tells the bass player in “Giant Steps” to sustain an E flat pedal. I don’t get it but this video/transcription is maddeningly brilliant.

Here Seal whoops up the audience over his drone song “Crazy.”

These songs represent a wildly diverse range of music inspired by drones and pedals.

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