Date: Sun, 8 Mar 2009 12:39:20 -0400
From: Chase Sanborn <>
Subject: [TPIN] Pitch Tendencies (drones)

Integrating drones into your practice session will improve your ability to hear and control fine gradations of pitch and will reveal the pitch tendencies of your instrument. Drones are the single most significant practice aid I have ever discovered, for all levels from absolute beginner to seasoned (and sometimes jaded) professionals. I cannot stress enough the benefits that come from the use of drones.

I like a pure tuned root & fifth drone. The two notes act as 'magnetic goalposts', exerting a powerful harmonic gravitational influence. Playing the root or the fifth, the drone guides you to a perfect unison by listening for and eliminating beats.  Playing the major third, the drone pulls you down towards the the root as your ear naturally gravitates toward the lowered third. A minor third pulls you up towards the fifth, though the raised minor third may take some practice to hear, and is more difficult to achieve on the trumpet as we have more mechanisms for lowering pitch than raising it. (A complete chart of pitch adjustments for every interval can be found in Tuning Tactics.)

You can learn about general pitch tendencies from a chart, but better yet is to let your ear teach you where your notes actually lie when you and the horn are both warmed up. Over time, the pitch tendencies of your instrument become clear and embedded in your subconscious. You'll become more diligent about the use of slides and will take full advantage of alternate fingerings. For example: Third space C, when played as the third of an Ab chord, may slot better with 2/3 fingering. Likewise, 1/3 for F above that and the open Bb partial when it functions as the third of a Gb chord. Eventually you develop an unconscious instinct for moving your notes in the right direction.

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.

* When you first start working with drones, your embouchure may feel tired, as you are adjusting many more notes than you are used to. Eventually you will settle into it, and the drones become a reassuring presence during the practice session. Like a metronome, used occasionally, drones are your enemy. Used regularly, they are an ally.