Drone Music

Drone Music

Drone Music is made from long, sustained tones which are added to or subtracted from over time.

Listen to these sounds:


Listen beyond the drums, can you hear the constant low tone of the bagpipes?


Can you hear the constant tone which is improvised around?


Behind the fast notes is a constant tone.


This is an Indian instrument. Just as with the bagpipes, try to listen beyond the high sounds and hear the constant underlying tone in the background.

Can you spot the similarities between these sounds?
What do they all share in common?

Drones in Music

Drones are found in different types of music from across the world. They are sustained or repeated tones, which ring out for extended periods of time.

They can evolve slowly and create rich and complex textures.

Drones are found in Aboriginal music, Indian music, Japanese Gagaku, and even Western music.

Famous examples of drone instruments are the bagpipes and the didgeridoo.


In Canada, they are celebrating Drone Music with a whole day dedicated to it! ‘Drone Day’.

(Their website also contains a large selection of links to examples of Drone Music).

Function in Music

Drones often serve as a strong foundation upon which other sounds can be built and added.

They provide a fixed point of reference against which other sounds can relate, without needing to enforce a defined tonal structure.

This gives musicians and composers flexibility and freedom to improvise and play along over the drone.

Drones and Electronic Music

Electronic instruments and oscillators are drone making machines. The pitched tones that they create are perfect for making Drone Music.

As synthesisers and drone making electronics became more available in the 1970s, a whole wave of composers began to create Drone Music from electronic sounds.

These pieces used sustained electronic tones which interacted and complemented one another. These sounds would modulate one another and create complex soundwave interactions.

Mnemonics III (excerpt)

by Pauline Oliveros

Creating Drones

We know that drones can be created using certain instruments like oscillators and electronic instruments, but drones can also be created by editing sound files.

If we use time-stretch to really extend a sound, it loses its envelope and begins to turn into a ‘drone-like’ sound.

The more we stretch the sound, the more ‘drone-like’ it becomes.

By stretching different, short sounds, we can create an array of drone textures that can be combined to make a drone piece.

Filtering, delay and reverberation can also be used to sculpt and modify the qualities of these sounds, blending them together.

Composition Tip

Use the following transformations to make and edit drones: