Tuning The Pipe Chanter

Question:   How do you know when all of the notes on your pipe chanter are in tune?

Answer:  When all the intervals between the notes are correct and each note is true and blends harmoniously with the drones.

OK - so how do we achieve this?
In a perfect world each manufacturer's pipe chanter would have a chanter reed that is made specifically for that chanter and this chanter and reed combination when put together would match perfectly. This perfect combination unfortunately is extremely rare. In most cases the reed you have selected will on some notes be too sharp or too flat and this is something you as a piper need to be able to correct.
Let's start with the Low A and High A notes. The eight-note spread from Low A to High A is an octave, and achieving this octave is the first thing we must deal with. The easiest way is with the use of a tuning meter. Bagpipe tuners can range in price from $40.00 to $700.00; the meter I am currently using is a Korg TM-50 Priced at around $40.00.

Tuning the Low A, C, E and High A
1. Press the power button to on.
2. Press the calibration button till the numbers in the top left corner read 455hz.
3. With your drones shut off play low A into the meter and observe where the needle sits.
4. With the drones shut off play high A into the meter and observe where the needle sits.
5. If the Low A and High A are in the same place on the meter your Low A and High A are an octave apart. If the needle is not sitting in the same place for both notes move the chanter reed up or down in the reed seat until you have the Low A and the High A in exactly the same place on the meter. You can't go to step # 6 until you have achieved this.
6. Tune the outside tenor drone to the Low A (See September Newsletter). With the tenor now tuned to Low A and High A, let's see how we can bring C and E into tune.
7. With the outside tenor drone sounding, play Low A, C, E and High A, (Always play notes in a 3 or 4 note context) listen to the C & E are they in tune? Not sure? Try slightly over blowing on the C then try slightly under blowing. Did either over blowing or under blowing improve the C? Do the same under blowing & over blowing test to the E, did under blowing or over blowing improve the sound of the E?
8. If when you slightly under blow on either the C or E and that note comes into tune then the note is sharp and can be corrected with a bit of tape placed across the top of the hole. If when you slightly over blow and the note comes into tune the note is flat. You could push the reed down into the reed seat to sharpen one or both of these notes but in doing so you will put the High A out of tune. You can't sharpen a note with tape, you can only undercut or enlarge the hole, this is something I would not recommend at this point, and the best thing to do would be to replace the chanter reed.

Tuning the Chanter Notes Low G, B, D, F and High G
1. Open the bass drone and tune it to the outside tenor (See September Newsletter) The Low G, B, D, F and High G are easier to hear with the bass added to the background.
2. To tune F, play Low A, E then F listen to the F. Many times the F is too sharp, try a little tape and play the same combination of notes as before. You may have to adjust the tape slightly to achieve the sound you want.
3. To tune High G. Play Low A, E, F, High G, & High A, if it sounds fine leave it alone; if you think it is a little sharp, add a little tape.
4. To tune D. Play Low A, B, C, D, again you may or may not have to use tape to obtain the desired sound.
5. To tune B. Play Low A, B, C, D listen to the blend between the B and the drones and if needed add tape to the top of the hole.
6. The Low G can be tuned if needed by adding a small piece of tape to the top of the sound holes located on either side of the pipe chanter. The use of tape is a perfectly acceptable way to flatten a note and bring that note into tune. You do not want to cover more that half the hole on the note you are adjusting, if you cover more than half you will change the notes adjacent to that note. Try to find reeds that you only have to tape 1/3rd or less to bring the notes into tune. Take it one note at a time; just like you learned to play one note at a time and you will get there.

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