Adjusting Your Drone Reeds for Maximum Efficiency
I last wrote about the efficiency of a bagpipe based on its ability to hold air. I used a few real-life stories to demonstrate how some obvious and not-so-obvious factors could severely compromise the efficiency of your bagpipe making it more difficult to play. What did the guy say in the infomercial? “But wait! There’s more!”
Your drone reeds could be consuming more air than necessary, making your instrument more difficult to blow. Exactly what does this mean? By adjusting the bridle on your drone reeds you can control the amount of air they consume. Once adjusted for optimal performance, your reeds should consume no more air than is absolutely necessary in order to make a continuous and pleasing wall of harmony behind you.
Let’s use a pressure gauge to demonstrate what I’m trying to say. Let’s say that your bagpipe is efficient and set-up to play at 1.4 PSI. If you blow the bagpipe below this pressure, at say 1.3 PSI you will be producing a sound slightly below pitch. Conversely, if you blow your bagpipe at 1.5 PSI you will be producing a sound slightly above pitch. If you blow your bagpipe at 1.55 PSI the reeds will shut down and cease to sound at all, as you are forcing excessive air through the reed. The trick is to balance the efficiency of your drone reeds to match the strength of your chanter reed when blown to pitch. Now we’re only talking about efficiency at this point. We’ll talk about adjust the pitch later.
The easiest way to adjust the efficiency of your drone reed is to move the bridle. Shorten the tongue and the reed will take less air. Lengthen the tongue and the reed will take more air. Cork off the bass and one tenor drone. Radically shorten the tongue on the other tenor drone reed so that it will not sound when “mouth blown”. This is where you put the reed into your mouth while it’s seated in the drone and blow. Now move the tongue back slightly until the reed starts to sound. Excellent! Now put the drone into your bagpipe and fire it up. Sound your chanter. If the drone reed shuts down, you’ll need to move the bridle to lengthen the tongue. Small adjustments sometimes deliver huge results so be conservative. Fire up your pipes again and sound the chanter. When your reed is properly adjusted, it will continue to sound while the chanter is being played to pitch.
Now slightly over-blow your bagpipe. Your drone should stop sounding, as the excessive air causes the tongue to flatten against the body of the reed and shut off the flow of air. This way you know that you’ve balanced your drone reed to the strength of your chanter reed.
Repeat this process for the other tenor and for the bass reed. Once you have all three drone reeds adjusted properly, they should provide a continuous sound while playing your chanter up to pitch. If you over-blow the chanter reed modestly, all three drones should shut down simultaneously. Fiddle with the bridles until you find the right range of adjustment.
Now that you’ve got your reeds adjusted to match the strength of your chanter reed, you need to blow steady. If you don’t, the tone of your drones will bounce in and out of tune or they may shut down completely while playing. I know that there are pressure gauges and other products out there that will provide you with a visual indication of your blowing however nothing surpasses those things on either side of your head. Listen, listen, listen. The more you practice, the better you’ll become.
If you have specific questions, don’t be shy. Post them here or drop me a line.
Next blog we’ll look at how to adjust the pitch of your drone reeds.