Drone Practise

Friday, 1 May 2020

Peter Leung - Yamaha Artist

For me practising with drones, sustained pitches, is an essential part of my routine as they not only help with tuning and intonation but also improve flexibility. Drones are easily found in places such as; Spotify, YouTube and various CD’s/albums (Richard Schwartz’s The Tuning C.D. is a particularly great resource). Most tuners also feature a tone/drone function as do some metronomes.

As part of my warm up I always include intonation practice with drones. The most simple approach involves pitch matching between the drone and yourself. It’s important to always listen out for the “beats” that occur between the two notes, as they indicate that the two pitches aren’t matching. When the beats disappear, it means the pitches have been successfully matched. I usually repeat this exercise on multiple notes, covering the whole range of my saxophone. One thing I personally focus on during this exercise is decreasing the time taken to match the pitches. Ultimately, the aim is to be able to hear the drone first and land your note at the same pitch right away.

Another useful exercise with drones is pitch bending. Being able to return quickly to the proper pitch is a vital skill to develop as a musician and to practise this I purposely bend my pitch out of tune against the drone, and attempt to return to the “correct” spot in as little time as possible. I like to gamify this exercise by seeing how far I can bend my tone away from the drone, increasing the distance with each repetition. This flexibility is important to develop, as throughout your playing you’ll need to adjust the pitch to account for many different reasons.

Drones can also be used very effectively in interval practise. I begin by working through the arpeggio, taking the drone as the tonic. It’s very important to focus on both the minor/major 3rd to make sure they are sitting properly. After this I slowly play scales, both major and minor, against the drone, focusing on each interval. This exercise not only helps intonation and flexibility, but develops your understanding of your instrument’s intonation.

By far the greatest benefit to practicing with drones is developing aural skills. By always listening, adjusting to the sound you hear, and matching the pitch and tone colour, players will begin to automatically adjust based on what they hear. By doing these exercises at the beginning of my practise sessions I “open” my ears up to the sounds of my instrument and the intervals, increasing my awareness of my own tone colour and pitch. Try it for just 5 minutes a day and you’ll see great progress!

Happy Practising!