Tuning the Drones
As discussed in another article, you must be able to blow steady before you can tune the drones with any accuracy (This cannot be stressed enough). Also the pipe must be in good playing condition, reeds properly set up, joints hemped correctly and the bag 100% airtight.
What are you listening for when tuning the drones? The answer is one big drone sound. If you have been thinking of it any other way you need to change your thinking. A well-tuned bagpipe has ONE BIG DRONE SOUND. How do you achieve this? Let's remove the chanter from the mix and concentrate on just tuning the drones.
1. The tenor drones:
Remove your pipe chanter from the bag and cork up the pipe chanter stock. Cork up the bass drone top. Adjust the top section of the outside tenor so that only one or two wraps of the hemp are showing at the bottom of the tuning slide. Place the top section of the inside tenor up near the top of its tuning slide, inflate the bag, blow steady and listen, chances are you are hearing two tenor drones beating against one another; not the one big drone sound we are searching for. Continue to blow steady and move the inside tenor downward on the tuning slide. The beating sound the drones are making should be slowing slightly, continue to slowly move the inside tenor down the tuning slide, the beating sound should be getting slower, blow steady listen continue to move the inside tenor down the tuning slide till the beating sound disappears and you are hearing one big tenor drone. Remember the slower the beating sound becomes the closer you are to being in tune, the faster the beating sound the further out of tune you are. Your goal is to remove the beating sound and hear only one big tenor drone.
2. The bass drone:
Remove the cork from the top of the bass drone and place it in the top of the middle tenor. Position the top section of the bass drone so that only one or two wraps of hemp are showing at the bottom of the tuning slide. Place the mid section of the bass drone so that it is about half an inch from the bottom of the tuning slide, inflate the bag, blow steady and listen, chances are you are again hearing two drone sounds beating against one and the other. Slowly slide the bass mid section up on the tuning slide, listen to the beating. As the beating gets slower you are getting closer to being in tune, continue to move the mid section up the tuning slide till beating disappears and you have one blended drone sound.
A good way to check if two drones are in (tune tenor to tenor or bass to tenor), when following the directions above is; once you think you have both drones tuned continue moving the drone you are tuning past the point where you think you have it in tune. The beating will start to return, now move back up to where you were in tune, by going back and forth past the perfect tuning point your ear will start to zero in on the spot where the beats end and only the one drone sound is heard.
Remember steady blowing, listening and fine controlled adjustments are what you need when moving the drone sections up or down on the tuning pins. You are not going to achieve the ability to tune drones in one session; you need to practice 5 to 10 minutes a day in order train your ear and achieve the confidence to tune the drones to the pipe chanter.
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