Pedal Point Duets-Lesson Plan

The idea for this lesson plan came from Dr. Scott Watson’s book, Using Technology to Unlock Musical Creativity. The book is filled with excellent lesson plan ideas and other information that can help inspire you to better integrate technology into your music classroom.

While reading Dr. Watson’s book, one particular project grabbed my attention, the pedal point duet. This seemed like an excellent project for a couple of reasons: It’s simple and accesible enough for even young musicians, and it offers a great intro to composition in advance of the large group composition project undertaken by my jazz band every year.

To intro the project, I recorded a couple of examples with GarageBand and played them for the class. I demonstrated how the ‘pedal’ tone could change rhythm but not pitch, and how a simple melody could be an excellent compliment to the pedal. We then went over some basic parameters for the project, and I set the jazz band to work.

For this project to be a success, the teacher must be constantly working with the students, offering feedback, criticism and coaching. The students might also need some assistance with notating some of their rhythms, as well as some gentle reminders of the composition parameters. For a more detailed lesson plan, I urge you to check out Dr. Watson’s book.

Pedal Point Duet

Pedal point is a technique that has its roots in medieval organ music. Despite its age, composers still use it today because it yields a great sound. Pedal point involves a sustained tone (the ‘pedal’) in one instrument while the other musician performs a melody. You will use these techniques in writing your own duet, to be performed and recorded.


  1. Your target length for this duet is 16 measures. The pedal note MUST be the first note of the B-flat blues scale; the melody MUST begin AND end on the first note of the B-flat blues scale. Your pedal can be either a low note or a high note.
  2. You should only write music that you can perform yourselves.
  3. Using clapping, improvise a short rhythmic pattern. Share this rhythm with Mr. Guarr.
  4. The rhythm you composed in step 3 will become your pedal. Mr. Guarr can help you notate the rhythm if you need.
  5. Each partner will be responsible for writing 8 measures of melody and 8 measures of pedal. The pedal can change rhythm but not pitch.


  1. Keep it simple!
  2. Consider the relationships between rhythms in each parts. Do they make sense together? Are they easy to play together?
  3. Good writing uses repetition. Don’t be afraid to repeat a phrase! Good writing uses repetition. Don’t be afraid to repeat a phrase!
  4. Rests might help your piece “breathe” a little bit.
  5. Rhythmic call and response between pedal and melody might sound very cool.
  6. Play your piece frequently as it develops. Does it sound good? If you don’t like what you have, what can you do to change it?
  7. HAVE FUN!


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The Trombonist's Mouthpiece by Joe Guarr is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License