drone (music)

In music, a drone is a harmonic or monophonic effect or accompaniment where a note or chord is continuously sounded throughout much or all of a piece, sustained or repeated, and most often establishing a tonality upon which the rest of the piece is built. The systematic (not occasional) use of drones originated in Ancient Southwest Asia and spread north and west to Europe, east to India, and south to Africa (van der Merwe 1989, p.11). It is used in Indian music and is played by the tambura.

Musical instruments

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An example of a drone instrument, the Moonlander, an 18-string drone guitar
Similarly, a drone is the name of the part of a musical instrument intended to produce such a sustained pitch, generally without the ongoing attention of the player. A sitar features three or four resonating drone strings and Indian sargam is practiced to a drone. Bagpipes (like the Great Highland Bagpipe and the Uilleann pipes) feature a number of drone pipes, giving the instruments their characteristic sounds. A hurdy-gurdy has one or more drone strings. The fifth string on a five-string banjo is a drone string with a separate tuning peg that places the end of the string five frets down the neck of the instrument; this string is usually tuned to the same note as that which the first string produces when played at the fifth fret, and the drone string is seldom fretted. The bass strings of the Slovenian drone zither also freely resonate as a drone. Experimental luthier Yuri Landman built an electric biheaded drone guitar for Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth called the Moonlander.

Musical compositions

Composers of classical music occasionally used a drone (especially one on open fifths) to evoke a rustic or archaic atmosphere, perhaps echoing that of Scottish or other early or folk music. Examples include: However, drones are less often used in common practice classical music because the longer and more central a drone the less functional it is and because equal temperament causes slight mistunings which become more apparent over a drone, especially when also sustained. On the other hand, drones may be purposely dissonant, as often found in the music of Phill Niblock. The best known drone piece in the concert repertory is the Prelude to Wagner's Rheingold (1854) wherein the bass instruments sustain an Eb throughout the entire movement (Erickson 1975, p.94). Later drone pieces include Loren Rush's Hard Music (1970), Folke Rabe's Was?? (1968), and Robert Erickson's Down at Piraeus.

Contemporary classical musicians who make prominent use of drones, often with just or other non-equal tempered tunings, include La Monte Young and many of his students, David First, the band Coil, Pauline Oliveros and Stuart Dempster, Alvin Lucier (Music On A Long Thin Wire), Ellen Fullman, and Arnold Dreyblatt. The music of Italian composer Giacinto Scelsi is essentially drone-based. Shorter drones or the general concept of a continuous element are often used by many other composers.

A drone differs from a pedal tone or point in degree or quality. A pedal point may be a form of nonchord tone and thus required to resolve unlike a drone, or a pedal point may simply be considered a shorter drone, a drone being a longer pedal point.

See also

  • Dronology or "drone music" or "drone": a post-classical popular music genre with heavy emphasis on the drone harmonic effect.
  • Drone doom is a form of heavy metal music with basic song structures focusing almost entirely on droning, heavily downtuned electric guitar and bass guitar, often lacking vocals or drums. Songs often reach or greatly exceed ten minutes in length.


  • Erickson, Robert (1975). Sound Structure in Music. University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-02376-5.
  • van der Merwe, Peter (1989). Origins of the Popular Style: The Antecedents of Twentieth-Century Popular Music. Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN 0-19-316121-4.
harmony is the use and study of pitch simultaneity, and therefore chords, actual or implied, in music. The study of harmony may often refer to the study of harmonic progressions, the movement from one pitch simultaneity to another, and the structural principles that govern such
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In music, monophony is the simplest of textures, consisting of melody without accompanying harmony. This may be realized as just one note at a time, or with the same note duplicated at the octave (such as often when men and women sing together).
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accompaniment is the art of playing along with a soloist or ensemble, often known as the lead, in a supporting manner as well as the music thus played. An accompaniment figure is a gesture used repeatedly in an accompaniment, such as:

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note has two primary meanings: 1) a sign used in music to represent the relative duration and pitch of a sound; and 2) a pitched sound itself. Notes are the "atoms" of much Western music: discretizations of musical phenomena that facilitate performance, comprehension, and analysis
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chord (from Greek χορδή: gut, string) is three or more different notes that sound simultaneously. Most often, in European-influenced music, chords are tertian sonorities that can be constructed as stacks of thirds relative to some underlying scale.
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Sustain is a parameter of musical sound in time. As its name implies, it denotes the period of time during which the sound is sustained before it becomes inaudible.
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Repetition may refer to:
  • Repetition (rhetorical device), a rhetorical device
  • Repetition (music), the use of repetition in musical compositions
  • Repetition (Kierkegaard) a book by the 19th century Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard published in 1843

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Tonality is a system of music in which certain hierarchical pitch relationships are based on a key "center" or tonic. The term tonalité originated with Alexandre Choron (1810) and was borrowed by François-Joseph Fétis in 1840 (Reti, 1958; Simms 1975, 119; Judd, 1998;
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The terms ancient Near East or ancient Orient encompass the early civilizations predating classical antiquity in the region roughly corresponding to that described by the modern term Middle East (Egypt, Iraq, Turkey), during the time roughly spanning the Bronze Age
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This article or section needs copy editing for grammar, style, cohesion, tone and/or spelling.
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This article has been tagged since January 2007.
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A musical instrument is a device constructed or modified with the purpose of making music. In principle anything that, produces sound, and can somehow be controlled by a person playing it, can serve as a musical instrument.
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Pitch is the perceived fundamental frequency of a sound. While the actual fundamental frequency can be precisely determined through physical measurement, it may differ from the perceived pitch because of overtones, or partials, in the sound.
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The bass sitar (Hindi/Sanskrit: सितार्, Urdu/ ستار) is a plucked stringed instrument. It uses sympathetic strings along with a lond rod and a gourd resonating chamber to produce a very harsh sound.
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The notes, or swaras, of Indian music are Shadjam, Rishabham, Gandharam, Madhyamam, Panchamam, Dhaivatam and Nishadam. Collectively these notes are known as the sargam.
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The Great Highland Bagpipe (Gaelic : A' Phìob Mhòr) is probably the best-known variety of bagpipe. Abbreviated GHB, and commonly referred to simply as "the pipes", they have historically taken numerous forms in both Ireland, England and Scotland.
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Uilleann pipes (IPA: /ˈɪlən/) are the characteristic national bagpipe of Ireland. The Uilleann pipes bag is inflated by means of a small set of bellows strapped around the waist and the right arm.
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hurdy gurdy (also known as a "wheel fiddle") is a stringed musical instrument in which the strings are sounded by means of a rosined wheel which the strings of the instrument pass over.
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For other uses, see Banjo (disambiguation)

The banjo is a stringed instrument developed by enslaved Africans in the United States, adapted from several African instruments.
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7th stanza of Zdravljica
"A Toast"

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Drone zither (in Slovenian bordunske citre, pl.) is a Slovenian type of zither. In different dialects, it is also known as švrkovnce, pleče, špile, drskalce, drsovnca, and by other names.
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luthier (IPA: /ˈljuːtiɚ/) is someone who makes or repairs stringed instruments. The word luthier comes from the French word for lute, "luth".
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Yuri Landman (born February 1, 1973) is a Dutch experimental luthier[1], but also active as a comic artist, musician, singer.

Comic books

Yuri Landman made his debut in the comics field in 1997 with 'Je Mag Alles Met Me Doen' (in Dutch).
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Lee M. Ranaldo (born February 3 1956) is an American singer, guitarist, writer and record producer, best known as a co-founder of the rock band Sonic Youth.


Ranaldo was born in Glen Cove, Long Island, New York, and graduated from Binghamton University.
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Moonlander is a biheaded electric guitar with 18 strings, 6 normal strings and 12 sympathetic strings. The guitar is a custom-made instrument, built in 2007 by Yuri Landman for Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth[1].
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Classical music is a broad term that usually refers to music produced in, or rooted in the traditions of, Western art, ecclesiastical and concert music, encompassing a broad period from roughly the 9th century to the 21st century.
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History of European art music
Medieval (476 – 1400)
Renaissance (1400 – 1600)
Common practice
Baroque (1600 – 1760)
Classical (1730 – 1820)
Romantic (1815 – 1910)
Modern and contemporary
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Folk music can have a number of different meanings, including:
  • Traditional music: The original meaning of the term "folk music" was synonymous with the term "Traditional music", also often including World Music and Roots music; the term "Traditional music" was given

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Franz Joseph Haydn[1][2] (March 31 1732 – May 31 1809) was one of the most prominent composers of the classical period, and is called by some the "Father of the Symphony" and "Father of the String Quartet".
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The Symphony No. 104 in D major (Hoboken 1/104) is Joseph Haydn's final symphony. It is the last of the twelve so-called London Symphonies, and is known (somewhat arbitrarily, given the existence of eleven others) as the London Symphony.
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Ludwig van Beethoven (English IPA: /ˈlʊdvɪg væn ˈbeɪtoʊvən/; German IPA:
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