Support Documents - Preparation for Competition

  • As always, individuals should store their pipes in moderate conditions, avoiding the extremes of hot and cold.

  • Before the last practice prior to the competition, each piper should do a thorough maintenance check:

    • Ensure that all tuning slide joints are neither too tight nor too loose and that the stock joints are firm.

    • Check that your bag is air-tight.

    • Check that the blowpipe valve is operating correctly.

    • Check that all chanter tape is in good condition and replace as required.

  • If the Ross canister system is being used, ensure the drying desiccant is dried before the last practice and that the chanter sectiion is not altered from it's normal state. Many pipers leave the chanter section alone, only occasionaly drying a very small amount, however just before a competition would not be the best time to do this.

  • On the practice prior to the competition, it is advisable to do the most accurate tune-up possible - just make sure that it is done in a stable moderate temperature. This should save an enormous amount of time and heartache on the day.

ON THE COMPETITION DAY

  • Ensure all pipes are stored together in the shade with the pipe cases open. This is the first step in acclimatizing the instruments to the conditions.

  • Try to be situated where you have access to shade and an open area.

  • Realistically, 40 minutes to an hour is needed to tune an average pipe corp. If the tuning prior to the competition day was successful and the conditions on the day are similar – you shouldn't need more than 45 minutes.

BAND TUNING METHODS


CHANTER TO CHANTER

The usual method of having one or more key pipers tune the others one to one. As with any band tuning method, it's success is entirely dependant and all parties using the same blowing pressure outside the band as they would inside. One issue is that the piper or pipers doing the tuning will also end up playing more than the band and possibly end up sharper in the process.

  • The initial aim during the first 15 minutes of tuning is to acclimatise the instruments to the conditions. To begin moving tape and reeds before this has happened is a waste of time and effort as the pipe corps will only be chasing it's tail later in the tuning session. Playing together rather than solo during this stage is preferable as glaring problems can be identified early on, however higher grade bands often do part or all of this initial warm-up solo.

  • The initial drone pitch should be taken from the piper, or pipers, who usually produce a stable, reliable sound. The drones will need to be tuned a number of times as the pipes neutralise to the conditions.

  • Make sure all pipers are in the same environment as much as possible. Don't have some players in the sun and others in the shade. Rotating the band can also help to even out the effects of the sun.

  • Once the pipes have stabilized, tuning can begin. While individuals are being tuned, the remainder of the pipe corps needs to keep playing just enough to prevent the pipes going flat. Many bands fail here, over-working the players and leaving little energy for the onfield performance. It is only necessary to play for a minute or so at a time, working on intros, changes and stops. Have short breaks of up to a minute, however this will depend on the conditions; longer breaks in the heat, shorter breaks in the cold.

  • When checking chanters, playing the scale or just holding notes is a complete waste of time as the person being tuned will more than likely drop their blowing pressure - particularly in a lower grade band. While pipers should always strive to use the same pressure no matter what the circumstances, this type of unsteady blowing is often a fact of life that no amount of reminding or coaching will remedy. To ensure that the instrument being tuned is close to it's optimal pressure, notes need to be checked in the context of a tune – preferably something like a Strathspey which tend to promote a good overall blowing pressure.

  • During the tune-up, it is important that the drone tuner keeps checking the pitch of the piper, or pipers doing the tuning. The pitch will naturally continue to creep up, but if managed well, this should be minimal. If there is more than one piper doing the tuning, they will need to keep checking their chanters to each other as well.

  • 5 minutes before the line, it is best that one piper does the final checking to minimize variables. Make sure the drones are tuned again just before the line.

CHANTER TO DRONES

A useful method for tuning a lower grade band - it is best done by someone who doesn't actually play in the band.

  • The drones are tuned to the average pitch of the pipers and the chanters are then individually tuned, by ear, to their respective drones. The advantage of this method is that it can be very accurate with each instrument being tuned to itself.

  • Continual checking of the average pitch and tuning of the drones is necessary to keep pace as the instruments gradually sharpen throughout the tuning session.

  • The disadvantage of this method is that pipers need to play solo which may alter their blowing pressure from the norm - again a Strathspey is useful for promoting a realistic blowing pressure. Otherwise the band should be managed as per the chanter to chanter method.

WEATHER CONDITIONS


HOT CONDITIONS - DIRECT SUNLIGHT & WARM AIR OR BREEZE

  • On a hot day, a common mistake is to spend too much time in the shade and then wonder why the drones and chanters are going crazy once the band enters the sun (often too late to do anything about it). The pipes have to be acclimatized to the onfield conditions for optimal stability. Alternating between 5 minutes in the sun and then 5 minutes in the shade will gradually warm the pipes up - hopefully without them going over the top.

  • When warming up in the sun, occasionally rotate the band so that the chanters are sharing the sunlight and you don't end up with one side of the pipe corps too sharp.

  • When pipers are resting, protect the chanters from the sun by placing them under the left arm on the inside of the bag.

  • On a hot day, two things will change. One, the drones will usually tune higher on the pin in order to counteract the warm air inside the bores. Two, the chanter will of course sharpen, but importantly, the notes most affected will be Low G, Low A and B. Often pipers think their top hand is flat and start lifting tape – ending up too sharp in the process. It's much easier to just lower the tape on the bottom hand in order to re-balance the chanter.

DIRECT SUNLIGHT & COLD AIR OR BREEZE

  • The worst of all conditions. This is where getting out into the sun early is important so that the instruments can acclimatize quickly to combat the cold air. You can then occasionally retreat to the shade if you feel that the pipes are becoming too sharp.

NO DIRECT SUNLIGHT & WARM AIR OR BREEZE

  • Usually ideal for drone and chanter stability - the optimal conditions for an easy tune-up session.

COLD CONDITIONS

  • The chanters will be flatter than normal, in particular Low G, Low A and B. This is where it is beneficial to have all of the notes taped so it is simply a matter of sharpening the lower notes in order to re-balance the chanter.

  • While resting, make sure pipers wrap their hands around the neck and bottom of the chanter to prevent the wood or plastic chilling.

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KEY POINTS

  • Do the hard work at home and at practice – not on the competition day.

  • Perform regular maintenance including matching drone reeds for stability.

  • Store pipes in moderate conditions and avoid the extremes of hot and cold as much as practicable.

  • Ensure your pipes fit comfortably with the correct bag size, non-slip patches and correct blowpipe length with blowpipe and mouthpiece adequately bored out.

  • Play pipes that are air efficient. Strong reeds can certainly contribute to stability, but too strong and they're just as likely to cause unsteady blowing.

  • Irrespective of whether you are playing easy or hard tunes, fast or slow tunes, solo or in the band, always use the same, steady blowing pressure. Also watch your blowing pressure on tune changes (long notes) and when changing from high notes to low notes or vice-versa. When your chanter or drones are being tuned, don't suddenly under or over-blow from your normal pressure – a common problem. Steady blowing is absolutely the most important element in achieving a good sound - solo or in a band.

  • When tuning your own chanter, try to do it within the context of playing a tune, rather than just holding notes or playing up and down the scale. The same goes for when others are tuning your pipes or vice-versa.

  • Bands should try to conduct clinics to teach as many pipers as possible to tune their own bagpipe. This in turn should make them more aware of their blowing pressure and resultant pitch within the band.