Support Documents - Stability

STABILITY

  • Stability is one of the keys to a good sounding bagpipe. It refers to how reactive your instrument is to temperature change and also how it reacts to blowing pressure variation. An increase in pressure will lift your pitch and a decrease in pressure will lower your pitch. Usually the chanter will react more than the drones. There isn't much that can be done to combat temperature change, but with regard to blowing pressure, there are a number of things that can be done to assist in making the instrument as stable as possible.
     

  • BLOWING PRESSURE

  • Firstly, good stability requires you to blow with as little variation in air pressure as possible. The best way to achieve this is to first of all listen. If you don't listen and concentrate on the sound you are producing, you can't possibly regulate your blowing pressure and therefore overall pitch. Secondly, avoid any radical changes in air pressure, particularly when squeezing the bag as you take a breath and when blowing into the bag directly after squeezing. Ideally, your arm should always be applying some pressure to the bag, only reducing pressure when blowing.

  • An ideal pressure is where there is enough to keep your High A clear and yet not so much that you are in danger of skirling on the lower notes. Of course, you should also be comfortable. Don't fall into the trap of blowing harder to clear your High A and then backing off when changing to lower notes because you are afraid of skirling. A correctly set up reed in a quality chanter should enable you to blow with the same pressure right throughout the scale.

  • Also be aware of "tempo" or "anxiety" blowing. A common problem where a piper has an average pressure for marches, then under-blows for slow airs and over-blows for a strathspey or anything difficult. It is important to be aware of your blowing pressure at all times throughout a performance, particularly when changing tempos in a medley or when playing a variety of easy and difficult tunes. Decide your ideal pressure and stay with it.

  • CHANTER REED

  • With regard to stability, a weak chanter reed will generally be a liability. They usually react more to climate change and pressure variation. Make sure you are playing the strongest reed you can comfortably handle. Remember that if a reed is too strong it may compromise your blowing stability and cause your arms and hands to tense up.

  • When storing your pipes, remove the chanter and place a reed protector over the reed. Ensure that the reed is never too moist or dry. Chanter instability is usually blamed on temperarure change, however the reed drying out in storage and being rehydrated when played can be just as responsible. Avoiding the extremes of wet and dry will increase the stability your chanter's pitch and maximise the lifespan of the reed.

  • DRONE REEDS

  • Generally speaking, the longer the tongues are on your drone reeds, the more they will react to pressure variation. To enhance their stability, avoid overly long or weak blades. If the tongues are made too short, you may find that striking-in will become difficult and your sound quality will suffer, so this is usually a compromise.

  • When using synthetic drone reeds, ensure they are kept free of excess moisture as most will radically alter pitch when wet.

  • Regular balancing or matching of your drone reeds will improve your overall drone stability.

  • BALANCING DRONE REEDS
    Unbalanced drone reeds are a major cause of difficulty when it comes to tuning drones. The reeds should be set-up so that if you vary your blowing pressure, the drones stay in tune to themselves, even if the overall pitch varies a little. The following method is useful for balancing or matching drone reeds and assumes that at least one tenor is correctly set up with regard to strength and pitch.

  • Firstly plug the chanter stock.

  • While blowing slightly under your average pressure, stop your bass drone and tune the tenors.

  • Once you have done this, increase your blowing to slightly above your average pressure. If the drones stay in tune to themselves, then they are matched. If the sound begins to waver, this means one drone is less stable than the other.

  • If this happens, hold the increased pressure and re-tune the drones by locating the one you have to lengthen. This is the least stable drone as it has reacted the most to the change in pressure. Refer to your reed's instructions to increase the stability of a reed. Generally you will either shorten the tongue and or strengthen the spring of the tongue.

  • Once the tenors are matched - bring in the bass drone and repeat the above steps with one or both tenors operating.

  • While it is important for the three drones to be balanced - they do not have to be perfectly matched over a wide range of blowing pressure - just a little below and a little above your average pressure is enough.

 

Victoria Scottish Pipes & Drums