Drone Tones

Day 092 Week 14 Q2 Monday, April 01, 2024

Drone tones play a fascinating role in music, providing a steady, continuous sound that serves as an always-present tuning reference and foundational backdrop for other musical elements. In various cultures and musical traditions worldwide, drones have been utilized for centuries to create mesmerizing textures, evoke specific moods, and enhance the overall sonic landscape of compositions.

The power of the drone transcends geographical and cultural boundaries. Similar to the sustained notes found in Hindustani and Carnatic classical music of India, traditions from across the globe incorporate drones to create a unique sonic tapestry. Scottish Pibroch Piping features a sustained drone as a backdrop for its elaborately varied themes. The Australian didgeridoo produces a continuous drone upon which rhythmic patterns and melodies are layered. In Japanese Gagaku, court music steeped in history, sustained tones create a drone-like effect. Byzantine Chant, known for its “ison” or drone-singing, utilizes a constant note to support its melodies. Even European Medieval Organum, where the historical presence of a drone is debated, involves a plainchant melody with additional voices that can create a drone effect. Despite their diverse origins and uses, these musical styles all share the unifying element of the drone. This constant tonal foundation provides a framework upon which the rest of the music unfolds, shaping the texture and character of each tradition.

In Western music, drones are often associated with genres such as folk, blues, country, and ambient music, among others. While drones can be produced using various instruments and techniques, one notable example is the use of open strings on guitars to achieve similar effects.

In conventional guitar playing, open strings refer to strings that are played without fretting any notes. When a guitarist strums or plucks an open string, it produces a sustained tone that can serve as a drone. By incorporating open strings into chord progressions or melodies, guitarists can create rich harmonic textures and add depth to their compositions. There are many ways in which conventional guitar playing utilizes open strings to achieve drone-like effects:

Beyond their basic function as starting notes, open strings become powerful tools in the hands of a skilled guitarist. They can provide a foundation for sophisticated techniques, adding depth and character to a player’s sound. Pedal tones, where open strings act as a constant anchor while other notes change, create a sense of tension and release. In modal playing, open strings highlight specific scales or create modal drones, enriching the harmonic tapestry. Fingerstyle guitarists weave open strings into picking patterns and basslines, resulting in a resonant, full sound. Finally, slide guitar takes full advantage of open tunings and open strings to create smooth, sustained tones reminiscent of drones, a hallmark of the genre.

Overall, the use of open strings in conventional guitar playing allows guitarists to explore a wide range of harmonic possibilities and sonic textures, from subtle drones to rich, resonant chordal voicings. Whether used as pedal tones, modal drones, or in fingerstyle arrangements, open strings contribute to the guitar’s expressive palette and enhance its versatility as a musical instrument.

Drone Piano. When playing the piano, three pedals modify the sound. The leftmost makes the sound softer by having the hammers strike two instead of the traditional strings for treble notes. The rightmost is a sustain pedal lifting the dampers so the notes ring out for longer. The middle pedal is called a sostenuto pedal, which is the path to something resembling a drone on a piano.

 The sostenuto pedal on a piano operates differently from the sustain pedal, which is commonly used to sustain all the notes played on the piano. Instead, the sostenuto pedal selectively sustains certain notes while allowing others to decay naturally. This pedal is often utilized to create specific sonic effects and textures, but it functions differently from the continuous drone produced by drones in other instruments like guitars or in electronic music.

While the sostenuto pedal can sustain selected notes, it does not produce a continuous drone in the same way that a drone instrument or effect would. However, skilled pianists can use the sostenuto pedal creatively to create sustained or resonant textures in certain passages of music. By selectively applying the sostenuto pedal to sustain specific notes or chords while allowing others to decay, pianists can create unique harmonic colors and textures that enhance the overall musical expression.

In summary, while the sostenuto pedal on a piano can be used to sustain specific notes or chords, it does not produce a continuous drone in the same manner as other instruments or effects. However, it remains a valuable tool for pianists to explore and experiment with different sonic possibilities and textures in their performances.