Practicing With Drones

Another one that comes via David Valdez at his Casa Valdez Studios blog, Drone Exercises.

Practicing with drones offers a nice way to work on a number of different things at once.  Valdez lists three different exercises that you can do: practicing long tones, pitch bending, and improvising.  While his pitch bending exercises are more specific for saxophonists or other woodwinds, the long tone exercises will be good for any brass or woodwind instrument and improvisation good for any musician.

I also like to practice scales, chord arpeggios, and other patterns with drones.  They really force you to lock into the pitch on each tone and help develop your ear for the color of each different scale/chord tone has.

Be sure to go to Casa Valdez Studio and get the downloadable drone files that he has made available.  I usually use a simple tone generator that produces a sine wave (very hard to tune against), but Valdez’s drones are a little more organic (they sound like they come from an electronic surpeti).  You can put these files into iTunes, or whatever MP3 playback software/device you like to use, and shuffle them to force yourself to practice in different keys.

Richard Hanks

Dave, my friend is currently working on his DMA in brass pedagogy as well as a Master’s in Kinesiology at Indiana. He has done some research into drones and metronomes and come to some interesting conclusions which have led him to develop drone and metronome recordings that might be more beneficial as a practice aid than typical drones which are continuous. Here is a link to his website. I would love to hear what you think of this!

Rich Hanks


Hi, Rich.

Those are very interesting looking ideas from Jason. I haven’t downloaded any of his albums yet, but they look interesting enough to explore further. Thanks for the link!


Richard Hanks

You’re welcome, Dave. I haven’t started using them yet but I do plan to soon. Let me know what you think! I would be very interested to know.


Paul T.

Very interesting stuff!

The drone concept makes sense to me. Although I have to say that I also find working with a tuner useful in developing confidence in more chromatic contexts.

If you play a lot of music that is not based on conventional harmony and consonance, it can sometimes be useful to learn to play equally-tempered intervals (e.g. to play in tune with a piano or keyboard) as opposed to “true” intervals (which are better placed by ear).

Jason Sulliman

I’m really honored that you are exploring my page and ideas. I think it’s great that we are having these conversations, and trying to find new and better ways to master our craft.
I do agree, contemporary harmonies require intonation that is equally-tempered and practicing with drones develops mastery of pure harmonic intervals. I am developing some software to address this. I’ll keep you posted! In the meantime, tuners can be helpful in this capacity
Additionally, I wanted to throw in this concept as a suggestion: With my drones (that cut in and cut out) it helps you develop a habit of focusing on pitch. Every time you play into the silence and the drone comes back, it attracts your attention over to pitch. The more times you do this, the more you develop the habit to listen more carefully than you usually do. This concept of careful attention will help immensely for anyone, regardless of the system of tuning you are using. At the end of the day, you need to be in tune with yourself. I hope this helps!


I just started with trombone as an adult. I have more piano and reed background, and started using a combination of piano tonic and metronome drone. I find that working out embouchure and intonation together is confusing and prone to setbacks and I think the drone concept helps me see which tone problem is at fault at any given time. I think the temperament issue will take care of itself once I am more frequently practicing in a group.

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