Drone Your Way to Excellent Intonation

If there is pain, use it as an awareness, as meditation, as a sharpening of the soul. And when pleasure is there, use it as a droning, as a forgetfulness. Both are ways to reach God. One is to remember yourself totally, and one is to forget yourself totally.

~ Osho

Several months ago I spoke with the fantastic jazz trumpeter Ingrid Jensen about practice. She mentioned that one thing she liked to do was practice with drones, using an Indian instrument called a tanpura (also tampura). She said that playing against a drone was a great way to train your ear/horn coordination. Practicing with a drone allows you to really feel how it sounds to play every note against the tonic, throughout your range. It’s meditative.

Canadian trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, North Sea Ja...
Image via Wikipedia

When I hear a great practice idea, I try it, and I’ve been using this one for a while and absolutely love it. I almost immediately noticed a greater ability to match pitch (my fellow musicians mentioned it in rehearsal), and a deeper awareness of sound in general. Part of the reason for this is that playing with the drone makes me aware of where the horn is naturally out of tune, whether because of the way a horn is made or because of the quirks of the harmonic series. But doing this has made playing just one note a meditative experience, even more so than it usually is. And by meditative, I mean it makes it easy to lose the “self” in the sound. Hard to explain, but a fantastic feeling.

Check the comments for more information about the developer of this great app, Prasad Upasani. He’s also created iTanpura Lite, a free app. I used that for a very short time before I knew this was a great thing to have, so I upgraded to the $25 version, called  iTabla Pro. It’s got the drones on the Tanpura, but adds many tabla rhythms and other instruments, like the Swar Mandal, and the Manjira. All future updates are free, and according to the comments, this is frequent and fast if there’s ever a problem.  I’m having a blast exploring this great app.

Might seem like a lot of dough to dish out for an app, but oh, man do you get some great stuff! It’s been a totally engaging way to help me learn more about Indian music, especially the taals used for tabla (which I’m trying to play and failing so far). You can set iTabla Pro to tell you the syllables used for the tabla and this is helping me learn more quickly.

Here’s a tanpura (you can see a set of tabla in the lower left):

Shubha Mudgal playing hte tanpura

You can set the iTanpura to any pitch and can change those pitches by cents (there are 100 cents in a half step). This is wonderful as it allows me to tune the device to my didgeridoos, none of which are close to standard tuning. It’s a fantastic program and has given my practice a real shot in the arm. I’m incredibly grateful to Ingrid for sharing that information. You can hear the interview in the link below. Anyway, here are a couple demonstration videos of the software. First is the iTanpura (with just the drones and you can get it for free) and then a demonstration of the iTabla pro:

Apple’s App store links:    iTanpura Lite     and      iTabla Pro (has the drone and tabla)

Have fun, and good luck with your meditation, er…, practice.


iTanpura Pro (with Tabla)

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6 thoughts on “Drone Your Way to Excellent Intonation

  1. India as a country has made it big in many fields of art like music or movies, dancing and painting etc. It remains home for some of the best talents that the world has ever seen. All these artists today have made a mark on the international front owing it to their skills and religious practice. They have taken the Indian art, culture, music and dance beyond geographic boundaries. In case of the Indian singers, their soothing voices have reached out to and won many hearts globally. When it comes to Bollywood Hindi music, old is gold proves to be true. Eminent composers and singers like Mohammed Rafi, Kishore Kumar, Lata Mangeshkar, S.P. Balasubramaniam etc. have created music that everyone loves to listen to even today.

    1. Thanks for this comment and the resources! I am only just learning more deeply about Indian music and musicians, diving deeper than Pt. Shankar and Pt. Hussain. Beautiful stuff. Thanks!

    1. You’re welcome! I keep discovering more features (like being able to change any string of the Tanpuras to any note).

      Just talked with the inventor, Prasad Upasani yesterday. A great guy who has created a wonderful app, not only for Indian classical musicians, but for any musician of any style.

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