Using Drones in Modal Music | Hub Guitar

Using Drones in Modal Music

A drone has two basic features:

  • It is almost always the tonic pitch, or the fifth
  • It is a constant, long pitch that continues on and on

Drone can either be created through a long, sustained note, or through the use of repeating the same note over and over. Since the guitar doesn’t have a very long sustain, guitar drones would probably by the repeated note variety. Drone music occurs quite naturally for some instruments:

  • Bagpipes play a long, almost eternal tonic drone. This is the reason why the bagpipe is so often modal.
  • Banjo often makes use of the drone, but in the form of repeated open strings.
  • Sitar makes use of the drone as well, but by means of an instrument design which causes the drone note to be heard no matter what other note is played.
  • Organ music often uses the drone

Drones in Modal Music

It is sometimes difficult to write modal music because of the tendency for any chords built in a mode to gravitate towards the stable relative major or relative minor key. For instance, if the mode E Phrygian contains the same notes as C major and A minor. Unless the E note is constantly reinforced as the tonic pitch, the ear will start to hear the notes of E Phrygian as belonging either to C major or A minor.

Drones in Exotic, Melodic, Microtonal music

Drones are fairly common in Indian classical music, as instruments like the sitar reinforce the drone handily. This has lead the Indian music to focus not so much on harmony, but on melody. Although Indian music is built on the same 7 notes as modern music, there is lots of room for microtoneA difference between two tones consisting of less than the minimum difference between two notes in the musical scale. For instance, in 12-TET the distance from any note to its neighbor is 100 cents. A microtone is when a note’s pitch is changed by less than that amount, often around 20-80 cents.s because the constant reinforcement of the root and the low emphasis on harmony gives more freedom to the melody.

Application for Guitar Players

Probably the most common way for guitar players to use drones is to play an open string repeatedly, and use that as the basis or drone to reinforce the tonal center. For instance, you can repeatedly play the low “A” string, and then play A Mixolydian on the upper strings. The drone note will help reinforce the tonal center, which will help to preserve a modal sound.

As the creator of Hub Guitar, Grey has compiled hundreds of guitar lessons, written several books, and filmed hundreds of video lessons. He teaches private lessons in his Boston studio, as well as via video chat through TakeLessons.

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