No, musical drones are not little flying machines with speakers! In music, a drone is a harmonic or monophonic effect or accompaniment where a note or a chord is continuously sounded throughout most or all of a piece. A drone effect can be achieved through a sustained sound or through repetition of a note. It most often establishes a tonality upon which the rest of the piece is built.
With a fiddle, a drone is an adjacent open string that is bowed at the same time the melody string is bowed. The open string harmonizes (creating a 2 note chord) with the fingered or open note being played on the melody string. Drones are one of the distinctive features found in Old Time Fiddle style music.
Here’s a good example of a fiddle drone. Laura Staples from VirtualSheetMusic.com plays Golden Slippers with and without a drone.
Drones to Help You Stay in Tune
Drones can also be used for ear training and pitch awareness and help the fiddler stay in tune. Playing with a drone background will actually help the beginner fiddler notice more quickly when he is drifting out of tune.
The basic process for drone tuning is listening to a drone, then playing along with a drone and adjusting the finger position until the note is in tune. Here’s a video by Fiddlehed showing how to play in tune with drone notes.
Fiddlehed has another video talking about how practicing with a drone can make practice more fun and productive when practicing scales, tunes, variations on tunes, and improvising.
So far, I have not started playing drones in any of the simple songs I have learned. Heck, just learning the melodies is hard enough right now! However, I have started using pre-recorded drone tracks during my practice and can immediately tell when I am close, but not perfectly fingering a note.
Fiddlehead, in his paid membership area, has pre-recorded drone tracks on the fiddle for his students. They are not as easy to find online. A lot of pre-recorded drone tracks online are either with a different instrument or those horrid midi tunes, which are so synthetic. I have found one website that uses cello drones so I am adding it here.
Drone Tone Tool
At Drone Tone each key is a natural cello reference tone. The upper right hand side also offers a metronome. This is a good site to bookmark.