One of several instruments that I play badly is the five-string banjo. It’s difficult to play in bluegrass style, and while I can play that style very slowly, I don’t seem to get any better at it. But I’m not here to talk about my musical limitations. The five-string, a uniquely American instrument, has a short top or fifth string which is usually tuned to a high “G.” A banjo may be tuned in several ways, but the most common is the “G” tuning in which the strings are tuned (from the top down) G-D-G-B-D. In other words, when played “open” (no strings fretted), a G chord results.
The top G acts as a drone. It is rarely fretted and in bluegrass style, sounds almost constantly.
Other instruments also make use of a drone. The Scottish bagpipe is one example. So is the Indian sitar.
Songs also use of drone notes. “Restless,” by my man Gordon Lightfoot, begins with a B on the keyboard which is held during the entire song. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2G9PiSiWAwU. The Beatles used a middle-range drone in “Blackbird.” There are high drones on the last verses of “Eleanor Rigby” and “Yesterday.”
The connection to writing is this: the urge to write and ideas for writing form a constant undercurrent for the writers. Every waking moment, that urge and those ideas are present. One of the concerns I have as a writer is that I will wake up one day and have nothing to write about. It hasn’t happened so far, and I don’t think it will and I hope that it won’t. In the meantime, there’s this undercurrent of writing that runs through my life and the lives of other writers I know.