Uilleann Pipes - Playing in tune

Uilleann Pipes - Playing in tune

I’m thinking of an on stage concert situation when your playing with others, picking them up cold they are going to be flat for the first couple of minutes.

As my understanding of Uilleann pipes is that they start out flat and as you play and they heat up they go in tune.
Is this correct?

Also if this is the case what tricks can you employ to heat them up and get them ‘in tune’ BEFORE you start playing them?

Sorry if this has been discussed a million times.

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Re: Uilleann Pipes - Playing in tune

"what tricks can you employ to heat them up and get them ‘in tune’ BEFORE you start playing them?"

Take the reeds out of your pipes, and stare REALLY hard at them.

(Sorry, couldn’t resist 🙂 I’m sure someone who knows about pipes will be along shortly with some proper suggestions!)

Re: Uilleann Pipes - Playing in tune

Colman has it right, alternatively you can tell them how much you love them , pray, beg, I’m sure you will try all these at some point….
More mundane suggestions is to play 12-20 min just before you go up.
Realistically, just use the chanter at first, or only. I’d suggest however starting out with a solo air or something , then bring others in.
V-pipes? 😉

Re: Uilleann Pipes - Playing in tune

You tell the others to tune to the pipes. That is the least they can do if they are lucky enough to play with a Uilleann piper.

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Re: Uilleann Pipes - Playing in tune

My mate will adjust his reed to tune to a non tuneable instrument, looks like a hit or miss affair but seems to work. If he’s playing with tuneable instruments we "fine tune" to him and adjust if needed when things warm up.

Re: Uilleann Pipes - Playing in tune

I’m lucky to have a set that stays in tune at A440 and moves very little under most conditions. I think the suggestion that perhaps play a solo first to get things settled might be a good strategy, assuming the others can tune to you.

Re: Uilleann Pipes - Playing in tune

Anyhow. It’s not just temp that effects the reeds, it’s the speed of the air molecules bumbling into each other, so sound, through thinner air at higher altitude , travels slower , in hot air it travels faster, and humid air sound travels faster as well .
So a pipe maker tunes his instrument at a certain altitude, humidity and temp. Take it out of these and it’s not in tune anymore…. same with flutes and whistles.
A lot of variables here to balance and to be aware off.
Best thing is to tune it in the environment it’s going to be played in.

Well explained here
https://www.hornguys.com/blogs/horn-guys-blog/15338265-why-does-pitch-change-with-temperature

Re: Uilleann Pipes - Playing in tune

Play loud and fast and keep smiling through your tears.

Re: Uilleann Pipes - Playing in tune

Just tell the fiddler and flautist to tune to the pipes and keep their yaps shut.

Re: Uilleann Pipes - Playing in tune

Smash the reed with a hammer.

Re: Uilleann Pipes - Playing in tune

Warm them up by playing in the "green room" before you go on stage.

On my sets, the chanter reed tuning doesn’t change much at all, as long the humidity where I’m playing is 40% or higher - but the drones do tend to rise in pitch with use and temperature. Fortunately, they are easy to tune on the fly, on stage (as long as you can hear yourself).

If I’m traveling in a drier clime though, all bets are off. I’ll usually have to adjust the bridle on the chanter reed to get it to play at all, and I won’t even try to mess with the regulator reeds; I just don’t use the regs in a dry climate.
I guess the pipers that live in a dry climate must have to make their reeds in the same dry climate. Fortunately, the average relative humidity where I live is close to that of where all my pipes were made.

Re: Uilleann Pipes - Playing in tune

"Smash the reed with a hammer"?
What good does that do?

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Re: Uilleann Pipes - Playing in tune

Paddy Keenan played a house concert here about 2 1/2 years ago. I say "house" but it was actually outside on a relatively cool spring evening. He sounded great, but he did say alot about how maddening it can be to stay
in tune. I think as it got later and the temperature dropped he tried to be sure everything sounded great;
which it did. But he knows (Paddy knows) when to switch to whistle or have a song or just switch things
up in the set to make everything sound good. It was a good evening, thanks to him.

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Re: Uilleann Pipes - Playing in tune

AB, the hammer solves all your tuning problems. One whack, and your reed will never go out of tune again.

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Re: Uilleann Pipes - Playing in tune

I doubt that, Aaron.

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Re: Uilleann Pipes - Playing in tune

"I’m thinking of an on stage concert situation when your playing with others, picking them up cold they are going to be flat for the first couple of minutes."

I’ve been playing the uilleann pipes 40 years and I’ve played them on stage hundreds of times, here in California mostly but also on tour in Japan and across the southeastern USA.

It’s not as simple as you suggest.

You have two different factors going on

1) the overall pitch of the chanter goes lower as the chanter gets colder and visa versa.

2) the relative humidity has a tremendous effect on how the reed performs. When the humidity gets too low the 2nd octave gets easier, the low octave gets weaker, Back D starts "sinking", and Bottom D becomes unstable and can flutter or burble.

The bottom line is that, given stable temperature and humidity, the chanter will stay on pitch and continue to play in the same manner.

I’ve encountered dozens, hundreds, of times when the environment conspired against my chanter.

There was the recording studio that was super cold. No matter what I did with the reed I couldn’t get the chanter up to A=440. So I would leave my pipes in a closet that was full of electronic stuff, laying on top of the warm equipment. Then right before I had to play I’d grab my pipes, warm and in tune.

There was the series of Christmas concerts where the Green Room was fine, my pipes playing perfectly, but the stage itself was several tics drier. (I always have a humidity gauge in my pipe case.) So, my Back D would be great in the Green Room but would sink at full pressure onstage.

The worst gig I can remember was the wedding where I was playing in a group with violin, keyboard, harp, and who knows what else. Before the ceremony we rehearsed in a super-cold little room and I had to shove my reed in a mile to get the chanter up to pitch.

Then we went and set up for the ceremony. The ballroom was overlooking the Pacific and the whole sea-side wall was windows which were open. A lovely sea-breeze was coming in and the room was pleasantly cool. It wasn’t as cold as that practice room so I had to pull out the reed and move tape around to get the chanter to pitch in the new environment. We did a couple run-throughs and the pipes were great.

Then… shortly before we were to start playing they closed all the windows! The Greenhouse Effect began happening and the temperature in the room shot up rapidly. Since we had to play soon I couldn’t move the reed, check the pitch, move the reed, check the pitch to dial it in- rather I had to do an educated guess, and raise the reed and hope for the best.

When it was time for my big moment my chanter was sharp. I hate being out of tune in front of "classical" musicians. A flute or clarinet or sax can lip each note up or down and stay in tune regardless. They can’t understand the limitations of playing on a reed that’s inside a stock and can’t be manipulated by the player’s embouchure.

"Also if this is the case what tricks can you employ to heat them up and get them ‘in tune’ BEFORE you start playing them?"

The tricks, or more properly methods, consist of

1) showing up early and letting the pipes acclimate to the temperature and humidity of the venue. Once acclimated you can tune up the pipes and they will stay the same. This is ideal. Obviously you need an electronic tuner (I like a Snark because it stays on the chanter).

2) if you have to go off to a Green Room and play, don’t worry if your pipes are now a bit off. When your chanter is playing in tune at the performance venue hold it in your hand and remember the temperature. When you have to perform make sure the chanter is at that same temperature and it should play at the same pitch.

3) experience will tell you approximately how much the pitch of the chanter will go up or down according to the temperature changing. This comes in handy for those times (like the Evil Wedding mentioned above) when the temperature of the venue suddenly changes and you can’t play to check your pitch. Oftentimes at gigs you can’t play your pipes due to other people playing or saying things at the event- you have to keep silent until it’s your time to play.

Re: Uilleann Pipes - Playing in tune

"I doubt that, Aaron."

Think about it long enough and you just might get Dr. SS’s joke.

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Re: Uilleann Pipes - Playing in tune

Aaron, some pennies just don’t seem to want to drop 🙂

Re: Uilleann Pipes - Playing in tune

Yeah, postie. Not everybody has a sarcastic and cynical sense of humor like me.

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Re: Uilleann Pipes - Playing in tune

I do!

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Re: Uilleann Pipes - Playing in tune

Personally I think Kess deserves helpful suggestions rather than sarcasm.

Re: Uilleann Pipes - Playing in tune

I get the jokes. I get them every time I hear them. It has nothing to do with thinking.

That’s the joke.

ha-ha.

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Re: Uilleann Pipes - Playing in tune

Richard described the experience I’ve had. Getting the pipes out early before playing helps them to acclimate. Where my band practices it’s often different enough from my house that I usually have to move the chanter bridle at least once as the set acclimates. I’ve had to do similar adjustments at gigs, especially outdoor and/or drafty venues. The drones have been more or less stable other than minor tuning.

Re: Uilleann Pipes - Playing in tune

So much depends on where you live, and what sort of chanter reed you have.

Kynch O’Kane (sp?) in the southeastern USA makes reeds out of wood (cedar?) which are remarkably resistant to humidity fluctuations. I have one of his reeds in my C chanter and I never have to worry.

Reedmakers have said that they think the cane reed in my Concert D chanter is made from California cane, which I’m told is more resistant to humidity fluctuations than Spanish or French cane. I’ve been playing the same reed since 1982 and it’s lived through all sorts of weather.

Humidity is a big deal here, because it can change very quickly. I was out at one gig, playing outside at a nice home near the beach one evening, and it was our normal beach weather, fairly high humidity (70% to 80%) and cool. Then suddenly I could hear the tell-tale sound of dry leaves rustling high in the trees above, and in less than half an hour the humidity dropped to less than 10% due to the winds shifting from makai to mauka.

When that happens the wise put their pipes in the case, and seal them up.

Re: Uilleann Pipes - Playing in tune

My solution was to pay extra for a chanter that was factory-tuned! The guy who sold it to me said it was in tune and I’m sure he wasn’t putting me on.

Re: Uilleann Pipes - Playing in tune

They should tune them all before they leave the uilleann pipe factory imo. That and better qc on the reed assembly lines.

Re: Uilleann Pipes - Playing in tune

No one has mentioned this, but assuming you have a reed that is relatively in tune, a lot has to do with bag pressure, on a per-note basis which is not an easy skill to master.

Re: Uilleann Pipes - Playing in tune

Brian McNamara has a cane chanter reed as a first option, and an elder reed that he swaps in when humidity becomes an issue.

Re: Uilleann Pipes - Playing in tune

I second hpinson’s comment on bag pressure. I live in a climate that switches between heat waves and thunderstorms. I notice that relative to the rest of the notes, the pressure I need to use for my second octave D changes greatly. If it’s too dry, I have to push just enough for a stable note to come out, otherwise it goes flat (see Richard’s comment on this too). If it’s been storming recently, my other notes seem stable but that D will go sharp and I have to apply a lot of pressure to get it in tune relative to the rest of the notes.

I have not given a concert, but if I were to do so on my current set of pipes, I would want to play for a bit in the same conditions to see how my pipes were behaving that day!

Re: Uilleann Pipes - Playing in tune

About pressure, I don’t want a beginner to get the idea that the uilleann pipes work like some other instruments where you can just blow harder and the entire scale will play at a higher pitch.

Yes on some notes if you increase the pressure they’ll go up in pitch. But on some notes if you increase the pressure they go DOWN in pitch.

So pressure isn’t a solution if the chanter is playing too low because the chanter body is cold. You can’t blow harder and have the whole scale play in tune at a new higher pitch. Rather, you have to either warm up the chanter body and/or sink the reed and/or move the bridle.

BTW the chanter reed I’ve been playing for many years has parallel sides and the bridle can be moved up and down to change the pitch. So, I often don’t have to move the reed up or down in the reed seat to change the overall pitch of the chanter.

Re: Uilleann Pipes - Playing in tune

When possible, I try to open with a slow air that lets me feel out how the reed is behaving a bit.