In this article, I’d like to discuss the use of drones for improving intonation. A drone is a sustained reference pitch or pitches, such as a root/fifth combination. Drones can be generated on a synthesizer, and are available on several CDs including The Tuning CD and Tuning Tactics. Listening to a drone as you practice improves your ability to hear and control subtle variations in pitch. Every note you play forms part of an interval relative to a key center established by the drone. Pitch discrepancies are revealed with crystal clarity. Even absolute beginners will benefit from listening to the drone as they learn how to produce the first notes on the instrument or the mouthpiece. They hear the pitch they are striving for, a key factor in successful brass playing.
Tips For Working With Drones
• You don’t have to make time specifically to work on intonation. Simply integrate drones into your daily practice routine. The heightened mental focus trains your ear and increases the overall effectiveness of your practice session.
• If you are not sure where to place your note, tune it purposely flat, then bring the pitch up slowly until you feel you have gone past the optimum point. Go back and forth, zeroing-in on the spot where it sounds most in tune.
• When buzzing your mouthpiece, a drone keeps you on pitch and encourages accurate buzzing.
• When playing the horn, lower the volume of the drone to a subliminal level, so that it does not interfere with the connection between you and the instrument, yet still guides your ear. Focus on the tone quality and look for the resonant center (slot) for each note, then adjust pitch.
• Utilize slides or alternate fingerings to shift the pitch of the horn, rather than bending the note too far away from the resonant center.
• Listen to the drone while playing a lyrical etude. Place each interval as accurately as possible.
• Practice finger patterns with the drone playing in the background. As you concentrate on your fingers, your ear connects the digital patterns to a key center.