Balancing drones part 2

And on goes the battle of the drones!

First, two tenors being tuned. They are clearly out of tune  during the first part of the recording, which is evidenced by a distinctive beating sound, then they come together as the beating sound becomes less distinctive and ultimately disappears, then I bring them out of tune again and then back into tune.

Next, I have followed the advice provided by the fine folks at Bob Dunsire’s Bagpipe forum. Plugging the middle tenor, I moved the top section of the bass drone to just show two lines of hemp. The lower section has been adjusted to accommodate just the breadth of two of my fingers.  Leaving the top section alone, I moved the lower section up until I thought the beats disappeared.  In the recording below, there is a subtle beat becoming apparent at about 22 seconds. That beat disappears at about 1.02 minutes.  At this point the lower section is very low on the tuning pin, leaving just a finger’s breadth of space.

Balancing drones

Tuning those drones has been an ongoing battle for me. In the end and out of sheer frustration, I just plugged the bass drone and decided to live with the tenors only until I can sort the matter out.

I had a bit of spare time today, between studying and practising with the practice chanter, and so I decided to address that bass drone again.  No matter what I did to the thing, I didn’t like what came out of it. As a last resort, I replaced the reed with my spare inverted reed which is quite new  (I have ordered a set of new drone reeds to make sure I am starting  afresh).

That changed the sound a fair bit, as well as in relation to the other tenor drones. At least it did sound a bit better, although it seems to me that the tenors are slightly overwhelming the bass drone.  Comments, please!

The Zen of playing from memory with two feet tapping

I have to say, memorising and playing to two feet tapping is a very different experience from reading it off sheet music and playing with one foot tapping along with the metronome.

This method goes much deeper.

So far I have memorized

  • The Battle’s O’er
  • The Skye Boat Song, and
  • The March of the 42nd Gordon Highlanders

I’ll stick to these three tunes this week to reinforce the learning and play them on the pipes too.


A better day

I piped my way through my rather long  (and getting longer) list of tunes. There was the usual struggle with taking care not to press the bag too hard to avoid shutting off the drones, but after about 15 minutes, I managed to avoid that and play relatively steadily through each tune. I guess the aim here  is not so much a perfect (or near perfect) performance, but just to get a feel for playing the pipes and building endurance.

In the meantime, I’m working on two new tunes for this week: The Dawning of the Day and 100 Pipers.

Hmm… should I then leave it at the 14 tunes or so and work on getting good at them on the pipes?


No, no, no! Ugh! I feel crap!

Study and work pressures didn’t leave me with much time to practice in the last few days. In fact, none at all. Nothing that could be done but to pick up as soon as I could, which was today.

First I checked the bagpipe setup for any air leaks. All good. Checked the two tenor drones for tuning. I didn’t like the amount of air needed to keep the bag inflated with just the two tenor drones going. Time to apply my learning about drone reeds. I lowered the bridle just a little, barely a millimetre I’m sure. I struck up the pipes gently so as not to shut off the reeds. All good. This was now far easier for me to keep the air pressure in the bag. But, the tenors’ pitch was too high. I unscrewed the pitch screws a bit to decrease pitch and increased the lengths of the tenors a little. That sounded much better.

With great confidence, I started with the first tune. Ugh! Too many fingering mistakes and the same for all the other tunes on my practice list.  Ah, well, good days are often followed by not so good days. The only success was that the drone reed adjustments at least made it noticeably easier to keep the bag inflated. I didn’t have to squeeze the bag as much as before which made me much more relaxed. That’s the way it should be, I’m sure.

I hope tomorrow will be a better day.

Yes, yes, yes! Wow! I feel good!

As usual, when near magic happens, no recording! But it matters not one whit in the overall scheme of learning the bagpipes. Today, I played on the pipes, Skye Boat Song, Shores of Loch Bea, Flower of Scotland, March of the 42nd Gordon Highlanders, Amazing Grace, Going Home, Corrichollie’s 43rd Welcome to the Northern Meeting, and Green Hills of Tyrol.

All from beginning to end without stopping. There were pressure problems, yes, but that’s fine it will improve over time. It is having played all these tunes on the pipes in a way that my neighbours could even enjoy, that matters. I got the thumbs up for Flower of Scotland 🙂

I haven’t felt this good in a long time. And this is just the beginning.

About drone reeds

I am learning more and more about the care and feeding of the many parts of the bagpipe. I want to store this wisdom here and add to this treasure over time.

In a conversation I’ve read on the Bob Dunsire forum, I need to remember that as a drone reed is made easier (i.e. bridle moved away from the blade) the drone sound may become sharper. To counteract this, it is necessary to flatten the pitch of the reed by unscrewing ( or lengthening) the screw on the reed. This will also mean that the drone will tune lower on the pins. Another way of flattening the reed pitch is to hemp it so that it is seated further out of the drone.

This is a very good article on the subject of drone reeds.

Messing with drones part 4

Next, lets listen to the bass drone’s two stable states. I think they are clearly audible in this recording as I start from low pressure to higher pressure. At the higher pressure there is a distinct change in tone. This is maintained until I release the pressure and the drone seems to drop back to the unstable state.

Next, based in a suggestion by Eric on Bob Dunsire’s Forums,
I lifted the top tuning pin a bit more to show a little more hemp plus lifting the reed bridle further away from the tip of the tongue to ease it up a bit more. Here is the result

Some difference! Compare with previous

Messing with drones part 3

Based on feedback on my previous post, the bass drone sounds like a tenor drone. Not good.

The only change I have made so far is to rehemp the blowpipe and the bass tuning pin because these were known areas of air leaks. Everything else is tight. The bag stays very tight for the first 30 seconds and after that it needs far less than a full breath to fill it to a tight drum again. Therefore, air leaks are not an issue at this point.

I also made sure that the bass drone does actually have a bass reed installed. The bass reed, being an EZEdrone reed, is slightly longer and larger in diameter than the tenor reed. All good.

I did adjust the top and lower tuning pin heights, but I still didn’t like the tone. BTW, I did make sure that the reed is tight and straight in its seat, but still no good.

Here is a side by side comparison.

Non-inverted reed:

Inverted reed: