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Support Documents - FUNDAMENTALS OF PITCH - Drones

  • Shortening the drone will raise its pitch because you have decreased the distance between the reed and the end of the drone.

  • Conversely, lengthening the drone will lower its pitch because you have increased the distance between the reed and the end of the drone.


The act of tuning the drones without the chanter is relatively simple. To move through the following stages, you will need to stop some drones. This is achieved by reaching up with your right hand and closing over the hole at the top of the drone you want to stop. This should shut off the reed. If it doesn't stop, the reed may have a leak or simply be too strong. In this case, use a plug.


  • Plug the chanter stock and stop the bass drone.

  • Irrespective of whether you hear wavering or not, move one of the tenors up or down until you hear a noticeable wavering.

  • Now move the drone back in the opposite direction so that the speed of the wavering gradually slows down, until it stops. They are now in tune to each other. To be sure, keep moving the drone further in the same direction so that the wavering speeds up again, and then bring it back in tune. Once you know what to listen for, this additional step will not be necessary.


The tuning of the bass to a tenor is exactly the same principal as tuning two tenors. The only difference is that the bass is one octave below the pitch of the tenors. Due to this difference, the wavering is not quite as pronounced and therefore tuning the bass may require a little more practice.

  • Stop one of the tenors.

  • Irrespective of the sound you hear, move the bass up or down until you can clearly hear wavering.

  • Move the bass drone in the opposite direction so that the speed of the wavering gradually slows down, until it stops. Again, to be sure, keep moving the bass drone further in the same direction so that the wavering speeds up again and then bring it back in tune.

  • You should practice tuning the tenor to the bass as well as the bass to the tenor.


  • For the sake of the exercise, de-tune one tenor and the bass.

  • Try to ignore what the bass is doing, and focus on the sound of the tenors. Tune them as described above.

  • Now tune in the bass as described above.

  • Tuning difficulties will arise if your blowing is unsteady, or the 3 drone reeds are not matched for stability. It is important that the 3 reeds rise and fall in pitch at the same rate over your likely blowing pressure range. Refer to Drone Reeds for balancing drone reeds.


  • The principals here are exactly the same as for tuning the drones only, except that they will be tuned to the Low A of the chanter.

  • For the sake of convenience, plug your bass drone and one of the tenors.

  • Ignoring High A and the rest of the scale, play Low A and listen to it's tuning relative to the drone. It's more than likely that you will hear some wavering. You will need to experiment with moving the the tenor in the direction required to slow the wavering down. This will require a little more concentration than just tuning drones.

  • While adjusting the tenor with the right hand, you will need to play High A at the same time with the left hand only. Periodically check the drone's tuning against your Low A. If the wavering speeds up, move the drone in the other direction until it slows down and eventually stops. At this point, the drone and Low A will be in tune.

  • Unplug the other tenor and match it's tuning to the first.

  • Now bring in the bass. With a High A and two tenors operating, it can be a challenge for some to tune the bass. You may find it easier to tune the bass before the second tenor - use whichever method is easiest.

  • While tuning, periodically play a few bars of a tune. Often pipers will under-blow when tuning their drones and when it comes time to perform, their chanter is noticeably sharp. Also be aware that in the first 10 minutes or so of playing, the chanter will steadily rise in pitch. This is less prevalent if the instrument is already warm and all you're doing is a re-tune.

  • With practice, you will be able to tune all three drones at once while playing High A. Remember that when playing High A with only the left hand, it is only a rough guide due to the fact it's pitch will be slightly false without the bottom hand on the chanter. Another point to be aware of is that your pipes will take more air with all three drones operating. You may find that you will need to increase your overall pressure to keep the chanter at the required pitch and to keep the High A clear.

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