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  • Writer's pictureTom

Practising Guitar To Drones

Updated: Jan 29

As with many things in life, context is everything....

Let's say you've been learning the modes of the major scale. You understand how and why they're constructed, but you don't have an intuitive sense of how they sound and feel. One possible exception to this is Mode 1, aka Ionian, aka The Major Scale. It's so ubiquitous that almost everyone will know it by ear.

So, for example, if you play E Phrygian for a while all over the neck, without any backing track or other context, it may well start to sound like C major, as they share the same notes. If you play A Lydian with no context, it may start to sound like E Major, for the same reason, and so on.

However, if we work on these scales in the context of a static root note or drone, then we will always be hearing the notes we're playing in relationship to that drone. It will give the scale the context we're looking for. In more musical terms, we will be able to hear the function of each note we play.

In our E Phrygian example, the drone would be an E, so that now when we hear that C (which, without context might have convinced our ears that it is the root note), we will hear it correctly as the ♭6.

Now that we can hear each note of the scale in relation to the root note, we can hear the colour, or flavour of the scale as a whole.

The most simple way to do this is to play the lowest string on the guitar (usually an E of course, but you may have an extended range instrument with more strings, or a different tuning), and use the remaining strings to play the scale. The obvious disadvantage of this is that you lose the opportunity to use the lowest string when playing the scale.

If you have access to a loop pedal, pick any note as your root note, loop the sustain of that note, and away you go YouTube, Spotify etc have many examples of drones, with different sonic textures and feels. I find cello drones quite fun to play to, but be aware that in some examples of these, I've found, that there is a 5th interval present as well as the root note. This is fine, as long as the scale you're working on doesn't contain a flat or sharp 5th.

Drones by their nature won't give you any rhythmic information, so this practice technique will allow you to concentrate on the pitch you're playing. However, I would always encourage people to try to keep a sense of time and rhythm, even in this circumstance, as it's such a foundationally important part of music.

In terms of guitar tone, you've got a lot of space to fill, so I like to dial in some compression to help the notes sustain, and a big dollop of reverb. Give it a try, it's lots of fun, as a bonus, because you're only playing along to a single note, there aren't too many notes that will sound bad, even if they're not the ones you meant to play!

If you would like to have a chat with one of our tutors about drones or anything else, book a free trial guitar lesson today!

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