Drones and Ostinatos

Drones - Ostinatos

By Mattie O'Boyle

What's the difference between hearing a melody played on a flute and hearing it on a bagpipe?

The drones, of course!

And you can hear drones in so many different styles of music from around the globe. I would venture to say, from their geographic ubiquity, that drones form a part of the human music experience. You can hear them in blues from the United States, ragas from India, bordons across the African Continent’s musical sound-scape, etc…

But have you ever stopped to think about what the drones are actually bringing to the music or how they can help you learn to play music?

Let’s dive in.

Drones, also called ostinatos and bordons, usually consist of a fixed pitch (or several pitches) that sound consistently while the melody is also being played or sung. The bagpipe is a well know example of an instrument with a drone incorported into it. Bagpipers play the melody on a flute like holed instrument, while, simultaneously, one or more “tubes” sound a pitch that provides a consistent harmonic reference for that melody. In other words, drones provide an additional layer of complexity, framing the melody in an harmonic environment. Drones awaken our sense of harmony, and its principal comments consonance and dissonance. Think of a painting. Now think of that same painting in a frame. Wouldn’t the frame change how your perceive the painting?

Give it a try. Use a drone the next time you are practicing and see where it leads your ear? How does it change your perception of the melody, or even of chords?

If you are a member of Reel Ear, then you already have the drone built into the ear training apps. We just use the term Ostinato. Check out the screen cast below to see how use set up ear training dictations with the an ostinato; I think you´ll go further, faster if you do!

Drones and Ostinatos

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