Everyone from Coltrane to Coldplay uses repetition to create tension and interest. Here are a few tricks to get you started.

Chops: Intermediate
Theory: Intermediate
Lesson Overview:
• Learn how to use repetition to accompany a melody.
• Understand the origins of the pedal point.
• Create ostinatos in various registers. Click here to download a printable PDF of this lesson's notation.

The art of playing phrases made of repeated notes is a subtle one. Many composers are known for using this compositional device, and it appears in the classical, jazz, pop, blues, folk, and rock repertoire. There are many different technical terms to define such repetition. In this lesson, we’ll focus on two types: ostinatos and pedal points.

A pedal point is a note sustained through harmonic changes, and it is typically the lowest note in a passage. The term originated from pipe organs, which are equipped with a set of footpedals to play low, sustaining notes while the organist fingers melodies and harmonies on standard keyboards. This hands-and-feet approach creates a unique harmonic effect. The root and the fifth degrees of a given key are the most common notes of choice to create this sound. In Ex.1, you can see how to play a pedal point using the root and descending diatonic triads in the key of D major.

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