Music Theory
Arranging
Ethnomusicology
Acoustic Composition
1 of 2

What is a drone and is it harmony?

Aside from common harmonic intervals, another interesting musical phenomenon that appears across numerous cultures is a sustained, unchanging note sometimes referred to as a drone. Drones appear in the music of Asia, Africa, the Americas, and elsewhere.

Let’s take a look at the Sitar, a widely known and celebrated instrument of India, to see one way drones are incorporated.

The sitar can have 18, 19, 20, or 21 strings, but most of these aren’t played by the performer. In fact, usually only 6 or 7 strings are used by the performer with the remaining strings resonating sympathetically to create drones. The resulting drone sound is a distinctive characteristic of classical Indian music.

Ok, drones are common across the world, but are they harmony?

Technically a single note can never be considered harmony, but harmony is created when notes are sung or performed over a drone. It could be argued that drones accompanying a melodic line are the most basic (and possibly first) form of harmony.