Using Drones to "Fine Tune" Your Intonation
A musical drone does not play a melody of its own. Instead, its continuous note or chord serves as a support and focus for both the melody and harmony produced by another instrument or singer. This note or chord is typically based on the tonic note (1st scale degree of a particular key), also called the tonal center.
There are an infinite number of things you can practice over drones! In this article, let’s focus on using the drone as a tool for developing more accurate intonation (pitch control) in your singing practice. With regular practice with a drone, pitch becomes more solid.
There are many different types of drone instruments, including bagpipes, didgeridoo, stringed instruments, and more. One example is the tamboura, a beautiful long-necked plucked string instrument originating from India. I have experienced the tranquil sounds of the tamboura, while playing it as an accompaniment while singing kirtans (a call and response style of singing).
Another stringed instrument drone are cello drones, introduced to me by my son, Benjamin who plays cello.
Here are a couple of great cello drone online resources to use in your singing practice: Cello Drones for Tuning and Improvisation or Drone Tone Tool
Use a drone that matches the key of the song you’re singing. For example, if the song you’re singing is in the key of Ab major, you would use an Ab drone. The single note of the drone helps you develop an overall sonic awareness of the relationship between the melody notes, the underlying tonic note played by the drone, and the overall harmony of the song.
Practice as follows (and record and listen back to check your pitch accuracy):
- Start by replacing the lyrics of your song with “GEE”, vocalizing the song phrase by phrase, one section at a time. Move slowly from note to note, attuning your ear to the drone as you sing the song’s melody.
- Then go back and sing the section slowly.
- Then sing at the regular tempo.
Experiment a little each day in your singing practice session using drones. I’ve been having a blast singing with it. In my next blog installment, I’ll share some additional creative and helpful ways to practice your singing using drones.