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PostPosted: Fri Jul 10, 2020 9:24 pm 
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Joined: Thu Jul 09, 2020 11:00 pm
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Location: Sydney, NSW, Australia
Hello all,

This is my first post, and I am a new learner. I’ve had a Daye half set for a few years but never really attacked the beast in earnest until the pandemic lockdowns gave me the time to get to work. Now making good progress, and have bought a proper chanter from Jack Brennan to go with the Daye drones (which I am overwhelmingly leaving turned off at this point, except for occasional tests of my bag pressure consistency, for which I find them very useful indeed).

As I progress in tunes to a few that involve high a and b, I am finding that I have a hard time adjusting the chanter reed to give both gurgle-free and consistent (non-octave-jumping) bottom D and E and a comfortable high a and b. It seems like whatever I do, either the a and b need superhuman bag pressure to hit, or the D and E have to be played so incredibly softly that the chanter stope half the time when I try to back off the pressure that far. This even with the usual tricks for high a and b like starting on a low-hand grace note, and with proper Hard D and E with an A grace note.

I realise some of this is bag control, strength, and comfort which will come over time, but the pressure needed for a and b can’t be right- I’m new to using the exact muscles for a pipe bag, but I am also a reasonably competitive long-time swimmer with good arm strength, and I find I’m in pain hitting those notes once, let alone consistently. Particularly having problems with the a cuts in the second part of Off to California and the high second part of the Boys of Bluehill.

To head off some possible troubleshoots- everything it well-airtight and I’m using a popping strap so I think it really is a reed adjustment.

Any advice?
Thanks all!


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PostPosted: Sat Jul 11, 2020 12:20 am 
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Joined: Sat Apr 20, 2013 3:12 am
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Location: centre France
First advice is to talk to the guy who made the reed/ chanter.

Find a more experienced piper in your area who might help in a hands-on fashion.

Don't play with the bag more than 7/8ths full, this gives more pressure flexibility with your BAG arm.

Try to find a reed adjustment that gives minimum difference between low and high pressure notes.If that point happens when the force needed is too high it suggest the reed is too strong.

Turn the drones on, they will soak up some air when you need to back off the pressure.


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PostPosted: Sat Jul 11, 2020 2:32 am 
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Location: Sydney, NSW, Australia
Thank you Geoff! Very helpful indeed.

Jack is adjusting a second reed for me now, so that should help as you suggest, though the current one was working for him so I want to see if I can get it working for me!

And as you suggest, I’m hoping to arrange a bit of lesson and help with adjustment with Ian MacKenzie, who is near enough to me. But I really appreciate your input here too!

The 7/8ths full advice I wouldn’t have guessed- I always feel like unless the bag is full, my bellows arm involuntarily “panics” to keep it drum tight. I will have to work on resisting that and aiming at partly deflated.

When you suggest turning the drones on, does that mean that I should have the reed adjusted softer than feels right for chanter alone, so that the drones mop up the extra pressure once they’re on?

Beyond using the bridle you open or close the reed lips, is there anything else non-invasive I should try? I tried Pat Skye’s advice of tying a “tail” on the reed staple to stop the bottom D gurgling once the high notes were comfortable, but with minimal success.

Thank you so much again for your expertise!


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PostPosted: Sat Jul 11, 2020 6:22 am 
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Joined: Sun Mar 22, 2009 11:03 am
Posts: 21
Location: Pennsylvania, USA
Geoff knows far more than I, but I'll pass along one exprience. When I was learning on a Daye bag, bellows, and chanter, I went through a spell where there was a significant leak. I assumed it was my tie-ins and I redid them several times. Turns out I had a leak in the bag seam. Playing that set in a week-long class left me feeling like I had been in a boxing match from trying to play high notes. A GHP-ing friend finally convinced me to use the soapy-water-on-a-swab test to find the leaks. Fixing them made a huge difference. While this is probably not the issue for you, it is another thing for beginners working without an expert to watch out for. Good luck with it all!


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PostPosted: Sat Jul 11, 2020 6:40 am 
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Checking for leaks should always be the first port of call.

It is tricky to diagnose a problem like this and see what the problem really is. It could well be a poorly set up reed but it could be other things too.

I was teaching a young girl at some point who was struggling tremendously with hitting the octaves, putting enormous pressure in to get there. When I tried her pipes I found they, a Mickey Dunne half set, were actually quit easy to play and well set up. We had to go a few steps back and go over how to reach the octaves properly (she was also a flute/whistle player and wanted to reach the octaves by overblowing and force alone, no stopping of notes and all that sort of piping stuff I was trying to get her to do). She was also a very fine concertina player and is sticking to that these days (and doing well with it).

Let someone who can judge these things try your pipes before doing anything too drastic.

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PostPosted: Sat Jul 11, 2020 12:24 pm 
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Location: centre France
Of course, I may have taken 'flamingallah's statement that his rig is airtight at face value. So, in case that airtightness is a relative thing let's state what IS airtight:

Block carefully two of the bag exit points and use the third to inflate the bag completely. When full block the third hole and placing the bag on a solid chair , sit on it. The bag should not deflate.

After that it is a case of checking the drone stock for leaks, the stop key is a favourite place to lose air.

If all is well go to the reed.


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PostPosted: Sun Jul 12, 2020 5:40 am 
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Joined: Thu Jul 09, 2020 11:00 pm
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Location: Sydney, NSW, Australia
Thank you all for the advice on the air-tightness. I have gone through the checks you’ve suggested (though not quite sitting on it as Geoff suggested).

I tried Geoff’s test of sitting on it today, which was successful- that is, I didn’t detect any leaks. I also can find no leaks in the bellows or drone stock. I did find that the blowpipe non return valve lets a very little bit of air backwards toward the bellows, so I’m working on adjusting that.

The advice of keeping the bag slightly deflated during playing has made quite the difference though! Much easier to hit the low D cleanly with the reed adjusted nice and easy. Still not perfect, but a big difference. Same with practicing with the drones on (which seemed delightfully naughty given how much advice says not to use them until you’ve spent ages on the chanter only!).

Sorry that my messages take a while to come through. My new membership here means I’m still moderated for each post! I’ll try not to be too much of a Flamin’ Galah on the forum...


Last edited by FlaminGalah on Sun Jul 12, 2020 6:01 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Sun Jul 12, 2020 2:22 pm 
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Joined: Sat Apr 20, 2013 3:12 am
Posts: 542
Location: centre France
Playing with the drones from the start:

Although the generally accepted way to begin on the Uilleann pipes is with bag, bellows and chanter I believe this is a relatively new concept and the 'practice set' probably did not arrive on the scene prior to the early 20th century.

In other bagpipe traditions it is often that the advice is to commence by learning to blow the drones in a steady way, first. Okay, the blowing of this two octave pipe needs control but not dead pan steady blowing but starting by practicing each part separately and as soon as possible joining the playing of drones and chanter together is, I think, the better way.

I'm happy that my suggestions were helpfull....

Good luck.


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PostPosted: Sun Jul 12, 2020 6:07 pm 
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Location: Sydney, NSW, Australia
Thank you Geoff! (And Ken and Gumby!)

Practicing with the drones certainly seems to make sense as you've put it. My practice session yesterday, taking into account this advice, did seem to take on a wonderful placid feeling, with everything working really well. I think I had still had the reed much too hard, as the two bits of advice (drones and deflation) allowed me to close it down substantially for much easier pressure.

Maybe in a few years I'll feel confident enough to pipe in public...

Thank you again.


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