This post will briefly examine a musical technique commonly known as the “drone.” It is not about the un-manned, robotic aircraft!

If you don’t know what “drone” is just think about the intro to “Paint it Black” by the Rolling Stones, or the intro to “Shine” by Collective Soul. The intro to “Paint it Black” is actually a sitar rather than a guitar, but the technique is the same for both instruments.

A drone can be defined as an extended melody over a single bass note or “pedal tone”. The drone technique usually involves playing a melody along a single string, while simultaneously and repeatedly playing a single bass note underneath that melody. Since you can use the entire length (or octave) of the scale this is also a great way to visualize scales or modes from end to end.

How to Experiment with Drones

Start by choosing a major or minor scale. For our example let’s choose the A minor scale. Play the open A string. Now, on the next higher string (D string) find all the notes of the A minor scale. These notes are: a,b,c,d,e,f,g (those are all the natural notes, with no sharps or flats. To create the drone effect, simply strum both strings (the A and D strings) at the same time while moving up and down the A minor scale on the D string. The A string remains open at all times. This is what creates the drone effect.

This technique is used often in Indian and Celtic music on instruments such as bagpipes or the Sitar. It can create an eerie, otherworldly sound that can be quite hypnotic. It is used quite often in ambient music for this very reason.

Be sure to be conscious of your rhythm. Are you playing in 4/4 time or 3/4 time? Are you using quarter notes, eighth notes, triplets? You will be surprised by some of the interesting moods you can create simply by experimenting with different rhythms.

Once you get the hang of it, try using the open sixth string (E) as your drone, and then play the E minor scale on the A string as you strum both strings. You might also try alternating the open string and the fretted string as you move up and down the scale instead of simply strumming both strings at the same time.

Experiment with different scales and modes while droning. Just remember to resolve your melodies to whichever note you have chosen as your drone tone. Playing octaves above the drone tone also works very well and fattens up the sound even more. Just add the note that is one octave above your scale tone. For example, if your droning tone is the sixth string, E, you can find the octave in relation to your scale tone by skipping one string and adding the notes 2 frets higher up (on the third string, G). If your droning tone is the open fifth string, A, or open 4th string, D, you will find the octave scale tone by skipping a string and choosing the note 3 frets higher up (on the second string B or on the first string E).

If you are not sure of your scales, don’t worry about what is musically “correct”. If you have a good ear you don’t need to have a scale in mind at all. Let your ear be your guide – whatever happens you are sure to have fun and to come up with some interesting sounds. You might want to break out the candles and incense too while your at it!

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Grow, Teach, Repeat: The Art of Learning & Teaching Guitar – by M.J Murphy at Amazon.com

Choosing Notes: Creativity, Ear Training & Literacy for All Musicians – by M.J Murphy at Amazon.com

Also available at Barnes & Noble website!

Grow, Teach, Repeat eBook at B&N.com
Choosing Notes eBook at B&N.com

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