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LESSON XXXII
The Pedal, or Organ-Point
Glancing back into musical history, we see that before harmony arose there was melody alone. Before the 'chord' was discovered, there were attempts at combining two voices sounding different tunes. The most primitive and simple way in which this could be done was to cause one voice to give a single continuous note while the other held the tune. This primitive device, at first made necessary by the structure of certain instruments, became in time so firmly established as to be accepted as a pleasing and necessary musical effect, and is to-day in constant use by all manner of composers. It is of interest to notice that there are some primitive instruments still in use which compel the sounding of continuous tones, as the bagpipes and the hurdy-gurdy, the latter an instrument of the violin class, played by a revolving wheel, while one string is stopped by means of keys. The name 'organ-point' obviously refers to organ playing, and reminds us that the early organs were such unwieldy structures that the difficulty of manipulating them led to the custom of holding a single note in the pedal department whenever possible. The term 'pedal' refers to the fact that with the limited number of pedal keys at first in use there was little chance of doing more than sound a continuous note.
So much for the names. This device, at first a neces­sity, became in course of time a valued accessory, and is in steady and constant use to-day.
The organ-point was originally the lowest part. It may now be used in any voice—the lowest, the highest, or the middle.
Originally used as a continuous sound, it is now varied by simple repetitions, syncopation, octave repetition, trills, and other devices.
Its length may vary from a single beat to a whole movement.
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E-Book - An Annotated Compendium of Old Time American Songs by James Alverson III