How To Play In Tune With Drone Notes
The basic process for drone tuning is listening to a drone, then playing along with a drone and adjusting your finger position until the note is in tune.
We use a specific drone for each note we want to tune. So for D1 we use an E drone, for D2 we use an F# (F sharp) drone.
How does this help a beginner to play in tune? The drone functions as a reference tone. If you play along with it and you’re out of tune, your ear will be able to hear the dissonance. Then, it’s just a matter of adjusting your left-hand fingers to the correct position. Practicing this way on a daily basis is called ear-training. Just like going to the gym to work out your muscles, you can practice with drones to work out your ear.
By the way, you can easily find drones for any note you want to practice in the Drone Central section of the course.
First, make sure your fiddle is in tune. Use an electronic tuner. Here is a lesson on how to tune your fiddle.
For any note that needs to be tuned, there is a detailed process that when practiced consistently over time will dramatically improve your tuning.
Drone tuning process:
- Listen to the specific drone for the note you want to tune (E drone for D1).
- Play the note on fiddle along with the drone. Add rhythmic variation if you like.
- Alternate between playing a single note and just listening to the drone.
- Stop the drone and practice the note some more. Then play along with the drone once more to check your tuning. Your ear is slowly learning how this note should sound.
- Practice exercises with two or more notes, keeping the original note as a focus as well as the same drone note.
Repeat for other notes as you see fit. I suggest doing it for every single note of a major scale. You don’t need to do each note every time you play, but try to go deep with every note at some point.
This is a meticulous process. But if you actually do it, you will succeed in playing better in tune. You are training both your ear and your fingers. Let’s work through the process to tune up D1, which is E on the D string.
Start by playing D0 with a D drone. We’ll just do this a little so you can hear what it’s like to play something in tune. This is like a calibration step.
Next, just listen to the E drone.
Next, play D1 along with the drone. Add rhythms if you like. Next, practice this without the drone. Then bring it back.
Now try some simple exercises with a focus on D1. Have the E drone playing as you practice the following exercises:
Practice these with variations:
- two bows
- fours bows
- hoedown (long-short-short)
- slur two
- quiet/medium/loud volume
- slower and faster tempos
Next let’s practice playing in tune with four-note exercises. Still use the E drone provided above because our focus note is still E (D1).
Practice these with the variations suggested above, or with your own. Here are more D1 (E) tuning exercises.
You can also practice your tuning with phrases from tunes you know. Here are phrases from tunes that are centered around D1:
You can repeat the entire process for D2 and for any other note that you need to practice. Here is an extensive library of Tuning Exercises.
This simple practice is the best thing you can do to improve your tuning. It’s better than placing finger tape and even better than apps such as Intonia. The reason it’s better is that your ear is getting immediate feedback. Instead of looking at a piece of tape or sound wave graphic on your computer, your ear is being trained to hear the correct pitch and correct your fingering to match. Instead of following a visual cue (which is a crutch) you are learning to trust your ear.
Lessons complete in the How To Play In Tune module: