Drones 2005-2007 P.Missin - Details


Drones are notes which are sustained behind a melody. They are often called pedal points or simply pedals, a term derived from organ playing, where the organ's pedals would be used to sustain a low note under a melody. Drones are typically played in a lower register, although they are occasionally played in higher ranges. Usually the tonic of the piece is used as the drone note, although other notes may sometimes be used. Quite often the drone consists of the root and the fifth played together, sometimes with one or more of the notes repeated in higher octaves. The drone may be sustained for just a few notes, or sometimes for an entire piece of music. The latter usage is a common feature of Indian classical music, as well as folk musics of many other cultures. Many instruments are designed to provide their own drone accompaniment, such as the sitar, hulusi or bagpipes.

Obviously, the harmonica can be used to provide a drone in an ensemble setting, simply by holding one note as the other instruments play. Circular breathing can be useful for sustaining the drone, or you can use the "fake" circular breathing mentioned on my page about using 3 blow. However, the harmonica's capacity for polyphony means that you can simultaneously play melodies with a drone accompaniment, such as this bit of a well known folk song:

Here, I am playing it on a C diatonic, but I guess if you have a big enough mouth, you could play it on a chromatic!

Obviously, there are limits - you can only play draw notes against draw notes, or blow notes against blow notes. However, this is where hole 3 blow comes in very handy indeed. On most standard diatonics, 2 draw and 3 blow give the same note. Combine this feature with some tongue blocking and you can play a constant drone under melodic notes in the middle and upper octaves:

It takes a little bit of practice to be able to reach as far as I do in the above example, but it is not as hard as you might believe. Here is a version of the mixolydian mode hymn "In Christ There is No East or West", with a drone on the tonic note provided by 2 draw and 3 blow:

The natural minor and harmonic minor tunings also have the same note on both 2 draw and 3 blow, so this opens up possibilities for playing drones against melodies based on different scales.

The drone doesn't always have to be the tonic of the piece. Here's "Scarborough Fair" again, this time I'm using a Lee Oskar natural minor harp in Dm played in first position, which puts the tune in the dorian mode rooted on G, with 2 draw and 3 blow giving a drone on the fifth of the scale:

The standard chromatic is a little more limited than the diatonic in this respect, but by treating the B# as being the same note as C, it is possible to play the notes C, Eb, E, F#, G and Bb against a C drone. Also, as suggested to me by Bill Barrett, you could push the slide halfway in whilst playing a C, allowing the C# to sound simultaneously, allowing you to play C, C#, Eb, E, F#, G and Bb against a low C drone. You can also do the same thing whilst playing a B, to let the C (B#) sound, allowing you to play the notes C, Eb, E, F#, G, Bb and B against a high C drone.

Here is a droney blues piece using this method, played on a (slightly out of tune!) C chromatic, with the drone being in the same register as the melody:

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