A forum about Uilleann (Irish) pipes and the surly people who play them.
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Joseph E. Smith
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Post by Joseph E. Smith »

patsky wrote:Playing in Tune
By Patrick Sky
Let’s assume that you have a new chanter and it comes with a reed that, according to the maker, is a good reed. You strap the chanter on and some of the notes are sharp or flat. You then take the chanter to a good piper that you know and he plays the chanter, and it is in perfect pitch. He says that it is a very good chanter and reed. What is wrong? Most likely the problem is your inability to "control" the chanter. A new reed, in most cases, is not going to help you.

I have been playing the pipes for over 30 years and I have never found the perfect chanter/reed combination; that is, a chanter that plays in perfect tune in both octaves with only the slightest change in pressure. When I play my chanter it is in great tune and pitch. When Todd Denman plays my chanter at first it is not in good tune, but after a few minutes it "comes in". Why is that? It is because some of the notes have to be forced to play in tune either by using a different fingering or by increasing or decreasing the pressure. Getting these "wild" notes in tune is what I mean by control. All master pipers know this.

For example, on most chanters the 2nd octave G is flat. I almost always force the note by lifting the chanter and applying more pressure.
Then there is the problem of the first octave E being sharp, and then flat in the 2nd octave. On most chanters one has to place a small piece of tape across the E hole to flatten the first octave and then lift the chanter off of the knee when ever the 2nd octave E is played. This produces an E note with a "whooping" sound; which adds color to the music; listen to Liam O'Flynn—almost all of his 2nd octave E's have a "whoop" sound as he lifts the chanter. That is because Liam's Rowsome chanter is flat in the 2nd octave E.

Next we have the 2nd octave A. If the hole for the A is large enough to produce an on pitch note by lifting the G and F# fingers, then the B will be sharp. Most pipe makers make the 2nd A note slightly flat so that the B will be in pitch. To bring in, and sharpen the A, simply play the A with the G finger down or sometimes with the F# finger down. You just have to practice this fingering until it feels natural.

The problem of the C natural being sharp has to be mastered by keeping your finger in contact with the chanter and "pointing" so that you half hole the C# note. This will produce a nice sliding effect and bring the C note into tune.

Finally, remember that the thumb hole D must be adjusted so that it will play with the same amount of pressure as the 2nd octave E.

As I said in the first paragraph, you must learn to "control" your playing or you will never play in tune. Every chanter is different so try moving your fingering around to locate the proper fingering and pressure of each individual note. By using different fingerings on my Kenna B chanter I can get 3 distinct A notes in the 1st octave (one being on pitch and 2 not on pitch) and the same for the F# in the 1st octave. This will seem like piping hell at first, but after a while you will get used to it and not even think about it.

Here is a link to Pat's website, http://www.patricksky.com he has put up a list of reed adjustment advice that you'll find is very helpful.

Here are some reed making links compiled by djm. Some of them are now defunct, but there is still a load of info regarding reed making.

djm wrote:I thought it might be helpful for those starting out to know what reedmaking intructions are available. Hopefully, others may add to this list to make it more inclusive. Here goes:

Books on Reeds - UPs

"The Piper's Despair", D.M. Quinn - available from NPU
"The Uilleann Pipe Reedmaker's Guidance Manual", Dave Hegarty - available from NPU, also available as a free download from NPU
"My Method", Tim Britton - available from Tim Britton, Seattle Pipers Club
"A Manual for the Irish Uilleann Pipes", Patrick Sky - available form Pat Sky

Books on Reeds - Other

"Reed Design for Early Woodwinds", David Hogan Smith - available from Amazon

On-line Books/Instruction

"The Uilleann Pipe Reedmaker's Guidance Manual", Dave Hegarty -
http://www.pipers.ie/en/default.lasso - Resources => Reedmaker's Guide (members only)

"The Chanter Reed", Patrick Sky -

"Reedmaking For Uilleann Pipers", Laurie & Eddie Climo -

"Reedmaking Notes from Benedict Koehler's Class in Elkins 1996" -

"Problems With Penny-Chanter Reeds", David Daye -

"Gary's Reedmaking Calculator" -

"Uilleann Pipes Reed Making", Evertjan 't Hart -


"A Comprehensive Guide to Reed Making for the Uilleann Pipes", Allan Moller - VHS (PAL & NTSC) - available from NPU

"The Heart of the Instrument", Various - DVD (PAL & NTSC) - available from NPU

Professional Reedmakers On-line

Alan Burton - http://www.reedshaman.co.uk/index.htm
Tom Kennedy - http://www.devstd.com/kennedy/index.asp
Last edited by Joseph E. Smith on Sun Mar 04, 2007 5:28 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Joseph E. Smith
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Post by Joseph E. Smith »

For those interested in tying in their own stocks and stuff, here is a link that describes it pretty well, albeit for GHB's, but the technique is the same. Thanks to Sporting Pitchfork for the link. :)