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using a drone to practise intonation

Discussion in 'Orchestral Technique [DB]' started by Les Fret, Oct 2, 2009.

  1. Les Fret

    Les Fret

    Sep 9, 2009
    I have an Indian tampura machine which I use to practise my intonation.

    If a piece is written in C major I set the machine to generate a C pitch. When there are a lot of modulations I don't use it.
    This way you don't have to use the open strings as a pitch reference. So you know that you are playing in tune (or not!) and that you don't shift the whole pitch somewhat. A lot of times you shift the pitch a little without really noticing. At least I do sometimes.

    I don't practise like this all the time. Especially when playing in the thumb position it can be helpful I think.

    What do you think of this practise method?
  2. Mr.Phil


    Apr 9, 2005
    Upstate NY
    It can be a valuable tool, but try not to become dependent on it. It can become quite a crutch. You should, over time, develop your ability to hear the notes without its help. For example, listen to the pitch and warm up in the key the piece is in. Internalize... Now, turn the drone off and play some. Occasionally stop and turn it on to see how you're doing. This is all my opinion, of course, so take it with a grain of salt.
  3. Ten Four One

    Ten Four One

    Dec 5, 2006
    Using a drone is immensely powerful for practicing intonation.

    Don't just play along with it, sing along with it.
  4. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    A sax player I play with uses this thing called the "Tuning CD", available on iTunes. It plays a drone with multiple notes using the overtone series? 151 in a high pitch. You tend to nail the correct intonation really fast. If you have a keyboard, you can make your own drone tracks. Playing scales against a drone is a good way to build that relative pitch ability IMO.
  5. MDEbass


    Dec 15, 2008
    I find the drone especially helpful for practicing scales.
  6. bejoyous


    Oct 23, 2005
    London, Ontario
    I use my Yamaha PSR-640 to play drones. I have a stick of wood I use to hold the key down and select an pipe organ voice that has no vibrato.

    I often use the dominant of the scale of the piece I'm working on.

    Using the drone is especially useful when practicing leaping up to notes in thumb position
  7. Gornick


    Jun 23, 2006
    Bay Area, CA
    Somewhere on the forums is a thread discussing drones including a link to some mp3's of tambura drones that you could loop.

    My ear improved dramatically when I started scale work with drones, but I agree, you gotta mix it up, and work without the drone as well. One exercise I started doing is to go through the cycle of 5ths on the same drone so that you get all the intervals and modes in relation to that root. So with your drone on C and start with C major then F, Bb and so on. you could play all the way to Gb before you are playing a major scale that lacks the drone note. To continue you move the drone note to Gb and keep going around. Db major over a C drone is real nice.
  8. I do this as well - every day. I find it extremely helpful. Occasionally, i'll turn the volume off and play a few octaves of scales, then turn it back on to check how it's going.
  9. MDEbass


    Dec 15, 2008
    What's the advantage of having it on the dominant, as opposed to the root? I remember on Jason Heath's double bass blog, I read that he reccomends this too.
  10. I use RiyazStudio to generate tanpura and/or shruti box drone... it's a really neat little application. It has bunch of built-in tabla patterns too. And you can pick any key and tempo. And make micro-adjustments to pitch and speed.
  11. Jake


    Dec 11, 1999
    I use a Dr. Beat DB-90 for drones. Not as good as the old DB-88, but still works very well.
  12. mheintz


    Nov 18, 2004
    Can someone recommend a shruti box? I'd rather not use a software version that requires the computer to be turned on.
  13. bejoyous


    Oct 23, 2005
    London, Ontario
    The dominant is a common tone with the I and V chord.

    While it feels nice to sit on top of the tonic and feel the interval below what we're playing but in real life we usually don't tune to a note that is below us but rather the upper notes that everyone else is playing. (Yeah, I know they are supposed to listen and tune from us but they often don't. They sometimes don't even feel we should be there. Recently, I accepted a gig to play a Haydn mass. There is a separate rehearsal for the principal strings but guess who isn't invited even though I play exactly what the cellist plays!)
  14. On my MacBook, I used the $10 version of Finale, called NotePad, to make drones in all keys. For each drone, I made a NotePad chart consisting of a series of whole notes tied together, then saved it as a .midi file. Then opened it in QuickTime and saved it as a .mov file. The .mov file plays back great in Audiolobe, which allows me to slow down or speed up without changing the key. The sound quality is excellent--and much louder than the immediate playback in NotePad, which was low-volume for some reason.

    I tried a popular program that converts .midi files to .mp3 files, but the .mp3 files sounded terrible, with a lot of drop outs.
  15. bobknowsbass


    Jul 27, 2009
    Monrovia, CA
    On my Yamaha Clickstation I use drones to practice scales. I start on C3 and play C major, Ab major, and F. The drone acts as the root, third and fifth of each of these scales respectively. I then move the drone up chromatically repeating the R, 3, 5 process until I've done it in all 12 keys. Good warm-up!
  16. Les Fret

    Les Fret

    Sep 9, 2009
    I have a Raagini tampura machine which has a good sound and is tunable to every pitch. It is not cheap but I bought it in India. It is the best machine around. They also have a new version which is even better. The old one tends to go out of tune a little bit when it is not warmed up. This is the new one (3rd from above):

    Radel has also some nice machines (also on that site: Sarang meastro) but I prefer the Raagini.
  17. mheintz


    Nov 18, 2004
    Thank you, Les Fret.
  18. Aaron M

    Aaron M

    Oct 7, 2007
    I find working with drone tones to be very helpful tuning up scales, arpeggios, and passages with a strong tonal center. Fifteen years ago, I used my Korg AT-12 tuner. These days, my Dr. Beat DB-90 does the job. I've also used the Cello Drones CD.
  19. Sean Ormiston

    Sean Ormiston

    Feb 12, 2007
    Recommended: http://www.violinmasterclass.com/intonation_qt.php?video=int_def1&sctn=Definition

    My own summary is that when tuning to a drone you are tuning "harmonically." But this doesn't define intervals in a diatonic scale-derived sense.

    Having a sense of just intonation is vital for tuning chords created with fellow players, or double stops and such (in other words, for considering tuning "vertically"), but it's not so useful melodically. I didn't think I'd adopt this idea on the strength of that master class video alone, but check this:


    The article actually sucks; if you're interested in the history or math try this: http://www.music.sc.edu/fs/bain/atmi02/pst/index.html.

    It's the samples that got me thinking. Hear the sample of the Pythagorean tuned diatonic scale and contrast it with the Just derived diatonic scale. The Justly derived scale sounds unforgivably wonky, to me, anyway, by comparison.

    How to practice this sense of intonation? Well, probably listening to good music, and solfege. Major thirds and sixes that pop, minor thirds and sixes that squeeze, semitones that lead, etc....

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