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Bordun (from French bourdon [ buʁˈdõ ], Italian bordone , as much as "humming bass") stands for:

  1. a mostly low hold tone to accompany a melody
    1. as a shorthand a drone pipe of a bagpipe or a drone string of a hurdy-gurdy or a lute instrument
    2. Resonance string (s): "empty" (aliquot) strings on lute instruments that resonate without being grasped.
  2. an organ register with covered labial pipes in positions 32 ′, 16 ′ or 8 ′
  3. a large church bell with a strike tone lower than c 1

Musical characteristics

Bordun refers to a sustained tone that accompanies a melody . The drone represents a simple type of polyphony that has long been known . In vocal music, the drone is also called ison .

The fundamental of the respective key or the perfect fifth to the fundamental is usually used as a drone . Sometimes both tones sound at the same time as a so-called drone fifth (e.g. market sack pipe : drone tones A + e⁰, melody on root note A). A modification consists in making the lower fourth of the fundamental tone sound as the second drone, i.e. the perfect fifth moved down an octave to the fundamental (e.g. Hümmelchen , drone c⁰ + f⁰, melody on the fundamental F). Other tones and combinations of tones are also possible and in use as a drone, such as the major and minor third (usually together with the root and fifth), the minor seventh (usually alone, e.g. Great Highland Bagpipe : drone tones A + a⁰ + a⁰, melody in Aeolian ) or the major ninth (mostly together with the fifth, e.g. market sack pipe: drone tones A + e⁰, melody on keynote D). The drone pipes of the bagpipe and the drone strings of the hurdy-gurdy form a typical element in the sound of these instruments.

Well-known melodies that are suitable for an on-board unaccompaniment are z. B. the song "So we drive out the winter" ( Doric ) and the march " Scotland the Brave " ( Mixolydian ).

Between the melody tones and the drone there is a constant interplay of dissonant friction and consonant euphony, which creates a harmonious color scheme with its own charm.

European drone music moves mainly in keys with the same tonal center , i.e. key changes into keys and modes of the same name , or in keys and modes in which the drone is the fifth of the tonal center. Further modulations lead to strong dissonances with the unchanged drone.

Instruments with a drone have a tuning that is aligned with their drone, which can lead to intonation problems when making music with rigidly voiced instruments, especially when the music moves away from the tonal center. The intonation of instruments with a drone is usually a pure or medium-tone tuning without a closed circle of fifths or a tuning of unequal temperament like Kirnberger II .


The musical practice of the drone is widespread worldwide. It can be found in many European musical traditions, from northern Germany to Tyrol, in Brittany and central France, in Scotland, in Scandinavia, northwestern Spain, southern Italy, Bohemia, Hungary, Bulgaria and in most other eastern European countries.

But also in non-European cultures, such as B. in Indian music , drones are played. There, however, it is more of a lying tone to which the melody creates a sense of distance without harmonic meaning.

In classical music , the drone is a cautiously used element. Prominent examples: the entire prelude to the Rheingold is underlaid with a drone in E flat. In The Old Castle from the pictures of an exhibition by Modest Mussorgsky , a rhythmic drone with numerous fifths sounds throughout the piece, creating a medieval atmosphere.

Audio file / audio sample The old castle (beginning) ? / i

But drones are also used for allusions to country life, but in the majority of cases only for a few bars. So you can hear in the 6th Symphony Pastorale by Ludwig van Beethoven several times such audible information. At the beginning of the 5th movement (Hirtengesang), for example, two drone fifths can be heard in the violas (cg) and in the cellos (fc).

Audio file / audio sample 5th movement: Shepherd's song (beginning) ? / i

The sustained bass note in the last two and a half bars of Johann Sebastian Bach's Fugue in C minor from the Well-Tempered Clavier has a completely different function . This so-called organ point serves for the final increase and, interestingly, also for the final calming of the piece of music.

Audio file / audio sample Fugue in C minor (ending) ? / i

Classification of musical instruments

  • There are musical instruments that, depending on their design, can only be played with a border. These include:
    • Bagpipes with a drone pipe. Irish bagpipes, the uilleann pipes , have "regulators" in addition to the "drones", with the help of which you can change the harmonic foundation of the music while playing.
    • Double flutes (for example Dwojanka , Dvojačka and Doneli ) with a handhole-free drone whistle
  • Other instruments are morphologically set up for constant play with a drone, but this can be switched off in exceptional cases, for example with some hurdy-gurdy and double wind instruments.
  • In another group, the way of playing is essential for classification as a drone instrument before the design. Instruments of this group are preferred, but not exclusively used as a border. These include the Tambourin de Béarn , the Nyckelharpa and generally drums that are tuned to a note of the melody and that are struck in a steady rhythm. Bordunzithers (including Hummel , Scheitholt and Scherrzither ) have special drone strings. Some organ pipes (like the portative ) are only used as drone pipes. Drone whistles are also called "hummers".
  • After all, many musical instruments hardly reveal from their shape that they are often or predominantly played with an accompanying drone: This applies to the lute instruments saz , tambura and sitar . The strings of the Indian tanpura used as a drone instrument are only plucked empty, although in principle they could be shortened to form a melody.

In a broader sense, are also based

on drones. Here the melody in the overtones is generated over the unchanged fundamental tone (drone) .

In the case of the five-string banjo , the high chanterelle is usually used in a manner not similar to the drapery.

Organ register

In medieval organ building, drone refers to the principal's bass pipes , first documented in the 13th century. As a rule, however, a covered labial register is meant. The drone can be traced in Dutch organ building from 1505 and is one of the deep principal registers. In contrast, in French-speaking countries, a reed flute construction is still widespread and the next higher octave row is also called a drone. In the course of the emigration of Dutch organ builders in the second half of the 16th century, the register expanded, first in Westphalia, Friesland and Lübeck, in the 17th century also in Rhineland and Denmark, at the end of the 17th century in Central Germany and Bohemia and from 18th century in southern Germany and Switzerland, from the 19th century also in Italy and England. The principle sizes followed the Dutch tradition, while in France other sizes were common, for example with Aristide Cavaillé-Coll . Dutch organ builders preferred pipes made of lead or organ metal ; outside, wooden pipes or a division into wooden bass pipes and metal treble pipes prevailed. In the 16th and 17th centuries, the lids were usually soldered shut, which required side whiskers for tuning. Movable tuning hats were later used.

Church bells

In the French-speaking world, Bourdon is the largest church bell with a large peal, for example the Bourdon Emmanuel at Notre-Dame de Paris . The bell , which usually weighs several tons, can stand at a clear pitch to the next higher bells. According to the campanological definition, a Bourdon must be below the octave marked in . Depending on the disposition, several Bourdons can exist side by side in some bells (for example in the Cathedral of Sens or the Cathedral of Nantes ).

See also


  • Christian Ahrens: Mock polyphony in instrumental folk music. In: The music research. Volume 26, Issue 3, July – September 1973, pp. 321–332.
  • Anthony C. Baines: Drone (i). In: Stanley Sadie , John Tyrrell (Eds.): The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians . 2001.
  • Mary A. Castellano, JJ Bharucha, Carol L. Krumhansl: Tonal Hierarchies in the Music of North India. In: Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, Vol. 113, No. 3, 1984, pp. 394-412.
  • B. Chaitanya Deva: The Psychology of the Drone in Melodic Music. In: Bulletin of the Deccan College Research Institute. Vol. 10, No. 1, September 1950, pp. 69-84.
  • Roland Eberlein : Organ register. Their names and their history . 3. Edition. Siebenquart, Cologne 2016, ISBN 978-3-941224-00-1 , p. 63-68 .
  • Edith Gerson-Kiwi: Drone and 'Dyaphonia Basilica'. In: Yearbook of the International Folk Music Council. Vol. 4 (25th Anniversary Issue), 1972, pp. 9-22.
  • Joachim Matzner : On the systematics of drone instruments (= collection of musicological treatises. Volume 53). Publishing house Heitz, Baden-Baden 1970.

Web links

Wiktionary: Bordun  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Matzner; On the systematics of drone instruments , 1970, pp. 35–39.
  2. Eberlein: Organ register. 2016, p. 65.
  3. Eberlein: Organ register. 2016, p. 66.