As stated in the previous chapter, it is not the absolute duration of a note that makes it a pedal/drone. It refers to its interaction with the other musical elements in the piece. In one situation, a long note is just a note, in another situation, the same note will be perceived as a drone, yet in another as a harmonic pedal. The ‘situation’ itself is also formed by all the musical events, including the long note.

Social theorist Bruno Latour has introduced the concept of actor-network, a network of relations, associations, and interaction of several actors of diverse sorts. The details are out of the scope of the current discussion, I will only outline some of the ideas that have inspired my work. In an assemblage, as Latour writes, heterogeneous actors as well as their associations undergo a process of metamorphosis. Through interaction their identity changes which implies that their (new) identity is created through interaction.  The idea important for a musical analogy is that a complex organization (such as a musical piece or a fragment) is not a set of fixed elements that are interacting with each other, but is defined by all the relations and associations between its heterogeneous parts. In music too, the interplay of various sorts of actors is at work. The actors are a heterogeneous group: all different properties of notes (pitch, timbre, etc.) and rests, the forces that will group them in listeners’ ears, the patterns that are already a result of such interaction, the listener’s prior musical experiences that will (in relation to sound) incite expectations, the listeners’ knowledge that will try to give meaning to both actors and their interactions. The musical actors thus define the context. This context can be of diverse sorts, such as musical style, harmonic progression, formal function, musical piece.

Related to the topic of the current research, the context will influence the perception of a long note as a pedal or as a drone. For example, without harmonic context there could be no harmonic pedal. On the other hand, the pedal itself is very active in creating the harmonic context. It is the interaction between all the musical parameters, that create both the context and the ‘too long’ notes. It is also interaction between a pedal/drone and the other musical events, that color both pedal/drone and those other events. In this way, a static long note in the score could become a dynamic and exciting element in the musical piece.

Meyer (1956: 34). writes: “[Things] become meaningful only in so far as they point to, indicate, or imply something beyond themselves.” But, the listener herself has a crucial role here, for the “perception of a relationship can only arise as the result of some individual’s mental behavior” According to Meyer, meaning arises out of the relation between 1) the stimulus, 2) that to which the stimulus points, and 3) the conscious observer. “A musical stimulus or a series of stimuli indicate and point to […] other musical events which are about to happen.” (p.35) Obviously, Meyer’s view to music is not far from the idea of network, actors and relations, although his theory tries to define the relations in the form of fixed actors, rather than seeing them as dynamic, open. One thing is certainly common: notes and patterns get meaning only through their relations among themselves or with other ‘things’.

The model of music perception defined by David Lewin (1986) shows the rich interdependency of event, context, expectations, and theoretical language in constituting musical perceptions. Musical stimuli (events) are always (musically) understood in a certain context. Any musical event could be seen in a variety of contexts. Applying this to the current research, a long note could be interpreted in the context of the harmonic progression, in the context of the musical piece, in the context of rhythmic movement defined by the other preceding events, or in any other context that can be formed in the listener’s musical mind. Hearing only a pedal-process, outside of the context created by the previous events, could result in a whole different experience than hearing the same notes in the context of the composition. But also, hearing the harmonic progression above a harmonic pedal in the context of the pedal tone could be a different experience than hearing the pedal tone in the context of the harmonic progression (change of focus).

Next parameter in Lewin’s model refers to the perceived relations between the event in focus and other events in a particular context. One of the events in the context is the expected event. The event in focus is thus also in relation to the event that is expected as the continuation. In the same way, the event in focus is related to the expectations created by the previous events: the event in focus can be the confirmation of the previous expectations, or be the denial of the expectations.

Evenly important is the last parameter, ‘the language’. ‘The language’ enables the listener to recognize events (and their relations) as being instances of some concept that she is familiar with. ‘The language’ helps in forming the context in which an event is perceived. For example, hearing the second inversion of C-major triad in the context of C major could be perceived as a variant of the tonic triad.[1] Invoking the theoretical context of the cadence, this chord could become a cadential (dominant) 6/4 chord. A long note on the 5th degree in the bass could become a dominant pedal. How do we perceive a long note on the 2nd degree in the bass? Probably not as a ‘supertonic pedal’. It seems that our theoretical language is not able to form a convenient context in which this long note would get a status comparable to a dominant pedal.

‘The language’ puts the listener in a particular perspective. For example, if the listener invokes the theoretical context of western functional harmony while listening to a folk song of a non-western tradition, she could happen to be surprised by a ‘non-logical’ chord progression. A participant in singing could have a different ‘language’ to perceive the same musical events, resulting in different perceptions.

Musical actors, as already said, are a heterogeneous collection. Many actors are simultaneously present, but some interactions are more prominent and with more effect than the others. ‘The language’ involved in perception (I refer here to Lewin’s model), puts particular musical parameters more in focus than the others, and so their interactions could be perceived as more important than the others. The word ‘interaction’ implies mutual influence of two or more actors. Perhaps the simplest example of interaction in unfolding of a musical piece is the interaction between its different ‘lines’, such as melodic lines in polyphonic music. Each line sounds differently when sung or played together with other lines. Similar sort of interaction is that of melody and harmony (although this relation is not equal, as the identity of melody is very dependent on harmony, while the same harmonic pattern can bare many different melodies). Another sort of interaction is that between the melody and the instrument that plays it. Yet another is between the heard pattern and the structure (structural position influences the musical meaning that we assign to a pattern, e.g. when a cadential pattern opens the phrase the listener would understand that it is not a cadence). Interaction of our musical experience with any new music that we hear will result in specific patterning, and style-related understanding of the relations of these patterns. Experience of any musical piece is based on all the relations between actual sounds and also relations with the extra-musical factors, that are formed in the mind of the listener. When these relations are not seen as fixed elements, but rather as dynamic forces that act while a person is listening to music, a musical piece becomes a kind of actor-network. 

Long notes, as actors, are interacting with other notes, together creating the harmony, the texture, the meter, the rhythm, the tone collection, the modal center, the melody. At the same time, the long notes are interacting with all these created contexts. Sometimes all the individual dynamics contribute to the same goal, as, for example, in the final cadence (rhythmic, melodic, harmonic, dynamic events all suggest ending). At other times, their working could be in conflict, as, for example, in a deceptive cadence (the melody is felt to be in conflict with harmony). The conflict, of course, takes place in the listener’s perception. In case of a deceptive cadence, the strongest felt conflict is that of the listener’s expectation and the actual sounding events, the denial of the resolution.

Sociology textbooks define five types of social interaction: exchange, competition, conflict, cooperation, and accommodation.[2] I propose observing forming of a pedal/drone from the perspective of the five categories of social interaction. Aside from the first one, exchange, which is typical of humans, the other four categories could be applied rather directly. Let us examine them in turn.

“Cooperation occurs when two or more persons or groups work together to achieve a goal that will benefit many people”.[3] In music, the cooperation can lead to both tension and relaxation. For example, melodic culmination is often paired with rhythmic and dynamic activity that emphasize it; the harmonic resolution in the cadence is often paired with melodic resolution, etc. Sustained tones could be harmonically cooperating with the (implied) harmony created by the other voices. The goal does not necessarily have to be the result of the composer’s tendencies; it could simply be the resulting effect on the listener. When various interactions lead to forming of a particular context or interpretation, these interactions are felt as cooperative toward that projected goal.

“Competition occurs when two or more persons or groups oppose each other to achieve a goal that only one can attain.”[4] This is directly applicable to all the musical parameters concerning organization on a higher level where only one result is possible. For example, when two simultaneous melodies are originally in different keys, the result of their interaction could be that we perceive one of the two keys, and that the other key is neutralized through the dominance of the first one.[5] Other results of such interaction are also possible: for example, if the tones of the two melodies become so interwoven that we do not really hear either of them, and the resulting tone collection does not promote any particular modus above the rest.


In harmony, too, when simultaneous appearance of two different chords occur, their interaction could lead to: 1) perception of a new, defined sonority, 2) perception of one of the chords as dominating, and the other defined in relation to the first one, and 3) an undefined sonority. In tonal music, harmony means harmonic function. Because of great importance of harmony in perceiving melody and form in tonal music, the ear strives at defining, understanding the harmonic function at each moment. Because of the urge to assign harmonic meaning to any sonority, the ear will choose any of the possibilities above the ambiguousness. In the case two concurring harmonic functions are suggested, the ear will choose one.


[1] All the information in this sentence is mediated by the language of tonal harmony.

[2] Course notes published on Nutley Schools, Nutley, N.J. official website.

[3] idem

[4] idem

[5] Bartok is often mentioned in the context of bi-tonality. He himself writes the following: “[…] when one deals with so-called polytonal music. Here, polytonality exists only for the eye when one looks at such music. But our mental hearing again will select one key as a fundamental key, and will project the tones of the other keys in relation to the one selected.” (Bartok (Suchoff, ed.) 1992: 365-366)  

Instead of two different chords, the concurrent elements could be the bass line and the chord progression above. This situation is exactly the one we recognize as harmonic pedal. In case of dominant pedal, for example, choosing the dominant harmony above the others will result in interpreting harmonic progression as dominant prolongation, with passing and neighboring chords above. Choosing the other progression will somewhat neutralize the power of the pedal, which, in some rare cases, can result in hearing the pedal as a sound rather than harmonic function. This can happen when a profiled harmonic progression modulates or goes (harmonically) too far from the pedal.

“Conflict is the deliberate attempt to control by force, oppose, harm, or resist the will of another person or persons.”[6] The word ‘deliberate’ could, in context of music, be related to the composer. The composer could deliberately create the conflict between two parameters. In the context of the present research the conflict could occur between the bass line and the harmonic progression. We come again to harmonic pedal. The conflict can also occur between the static form of the sustained tone and the dynamic development felt in other voices. When a dominant pedal expands a phrase, there is also a conflict between (desired) structural proportions and harmonic progression.

“Accommodation is a state of balance between cooperation and conflict.” (p.81) Related to sustained notes, it is possible to recognize this interaction related to drone. In case of tonic drone (most common type), its static identity (as seen in the score) is conflicting with the dynamics of the melody (or changes in the harmony) above/under it. At the same time, it provides the anchor for the melody; it gives the melody a firm base so that it can move ‘safely’. The changes in other voices color the drone, and the drone stabilizes the melody. The resulting experience could be the balance between the dynamicity and the stability.

Competitive and conflicting interactions related to pedals and drones could seem to be reducible to the same. However, including the listener as an actor as well, it is possible to differentiate between the two. Now conflicting interactions could be felt as ‘dissonances’ of various kinds. Competitive interactions might need a mediator - the listener - to be realized. It is only in the perception of the listener that two distinct actors (properties) compete for the role in creating or defining meaning. The listener will (consciously or unconsciously) choose one of the two and the other will be subdued or ignored. Competitive interactions do not necessarily imply dissonances. A dissonance can exist only within a particular context. In case two actors do not belong to the same context (as perceived at a particular moment), then they are not dissonant, but rather non-compatible. Competitive interaction regarding pedals and drones is a projection of interaction of non-compatible actors in the listener’s mind. A pedal can come into existence through both competitive and conflicting interactions (including various groups of actors) at the same time.

However, naturally, the things are more complex than this simple scheme. The analogies with pedal/drone in music that I have made so far were in first place related to harmonic context. It should be clear though that harmonic context is perhaps the most obvious, but certainly not the only one (think of formal, melodic, dynamic and other layers). All of the interactions explained here do imply a certain goal that all the actors pursue, or different goals, which could cause conflict or lead to pragmatic solutions. This goal or goals do not need to relate to a pre-determined formal scheme (including harmonic progressions, types of structure, etc.). It can also be related to a gesture that will either be perceived as such or not. A pedal point, as a musical process that can be recognized when it starts, can itself interact with other musical elements. In this way the hierarchy of interactions is at work: those that form the pedal, and those that are formed by the pedal (and other elements). To complicate things even more, instead of an already formed pedal that interacts, the actual actor can be an expected pedal: the one that exists through the projection of the listener’s expectation onto the sounding events. Any kind of musical expectation is a musical actor. It acts in two temporal directions: influencing the projected meaning of the coming events, as well as influencing the already accepted meaning of the past ones.

To illustrate the interaction between the formal elements, harmonic gestures, sounding notes, and expectations, I will focus now to Haydn’s Minuet from the symphony no. 83 (La Poule). The rather curious pedal at the beginning of the reprise is a noticeable musical event, and incites surprise due to the interaction of form and structural expectations with the harmonic property of pedal tone. A possible listener’s experience could be described in following words. Upon recognizing classical minuet form, the listener is following the contrasting section while knowing (expecting) that the opening theme will resound. The reprise will probably be different from the opening theme, but not in the first bars: the first bars will probably be the same. The contrasting part will probably close on the dominant (which could be the local tonic, at the moment). It is possible that, in one or another way, the end of the contrasting section announces the return of the opening theme (with dominant pedal, for example). Knowing all this, the listener follows the unfolding of the contrasting section. When it ends with a clear cadence, and thus does not suggest that any integration of parts will take place (such as elision), the listener expects the opening bars in their original form. And indeed, they come. But, the horn player forgot to terminate its resolving tone?! How will this end? No, this is probably a false reprise, the real reprise is yet to come. The listener experiences the surprise-tension (see the previous chapter). She waits to see what will happen. The tone has gradually vanished. Like a reminiscent of another section. For sure it has also colored the theme harmonically - although this was not the strongest impression. Without the surprising effect of its peculiar structural position, the pedal would certainly make different effect on the same theme.


In the score of the discussed Minuet we see that the reprise opens above a dominant pedal.[7] It could trigger several different thoughts, such as: 1) Disregarding everything else, informed only by the score, the analyst might expect that the returning theme will be empowered by this pedal, that the conflict between its firm tonic harmony and the dominant of the pedal will cause tension: this is the way dominant pedals usually work. 2) The analyst might report that the position of this pedal is deviating from a norm: usually it is placed before the reprise, for gathering all the attention for the theme. If the theme itself should ‘get’ a pedal, then it should be a tonic pedal, not a dominant one. 3) There is something about harmonic identity of this pedal: it was born as the tonic, but the return of the theme has made it a dominant. Since it didn’t have a proper beginning as a dominant pedal (a pedal usually starts and ends under its own harmony, thus a dominant pedal begins as the root of a dominant chord), it failed to establish itself as such, and is felt to be rather integrated in both harmonies.

All three theoretical thoughts are missing to report and explain the effect of surprise that I consider very salient, and as such important for the analysis.[8]

Before proceeding to the analytical chapters, let me summarize the foregoing discussion. I have outlined two concepts that will be important for the analysis: the concept of expectation and the concept of interaction. I believe that both concepts are integrated in musical perceptions. The listener always has expectations when she is listening to music of a familiar style. Expectations will in most cases incite tension (directly or indirectly). This essay will deal with three types of tension: surprise-tension, denial-tension, and expectation-tension (as defined by Margulis). Expectations are products of perceived processes in music, and relations between musical events. At the same time, expected musical events are involved in various relations, like ‘real’ musical events. Thereby, they are co-creators of the context, in which the musical meaning is formed. A relation, or an interaction between musical events can be seen in the light of their ‘effect’: it can be cooperative, competitive, conflicting, or accommodating. A long note becomes a pedal tone or a drone through interactions with the events that are present in the same context (that the listener perceives as belonging to the same context).

The language of music theory directs the analysis and the perception. There are not many statements in this language about pedals and drones, which reflects on the way these concepts are treated in music analysis. So far, I have outlined the distinction between harmonic pedal on one side, and sonorous drone on the other. The first is something that happens; it is a rounded harmonic process that can also be perceived as a musical gesture (like a cadence, a sequence, etc.). The second is a long textural layer that is perceived as sound with its sonorous properties. The first is associated with conflicting interactions; it incites expectations and arouses tension. The second is associated with accommodating and cooperative interactions; the tension that it may arouse is primarily the effect of its acoustic qualities. It can be involved in textural processes, which do not incite strong concrete expectations.

In the following part of this theses I will present twelve types of pedals and drones, starting with harmonic pedal on the dominant, and ending with the textural drones. These models are the result of the combination of my experiential and theoretical research. The outlined theoretical background has provided the frame for aural analysis. Through attempts to interpret my aural experience, I came to discern a number of types: pedal/drone models.



[6] Course notes published on Nutley Schools, Nutley, N.J. official website (p.80).

[7] Schenker (1954 [1968], pp.137-8) explains the working of the pedal in the middle of a composition and takes, as the example, Chopin’s Prelude op.26, no.1. The tonic in the bass, with which the first phrase ends, is sustained to sound under the beginning of the second phrase. The second phrase opens on the dominant harmony, which makes this prolonged (actually repeated) tone a pedal. According to Schenker, the composer used this pedal in order to link the two parts, and prevent them from falling apart and wrecking the unity of the composition.

[8] The return of the theme occurs simultaneously with the retransition to the home key. The ‘clean’ version of the (first two bars of the) theme occurs again in the coda, as if to compensate for the missed recapitulation, due to the pedal-surprise. 

Haydn, Symphony no.83, Minuet