Tuning - the Two Basic Requirements

There is more to getting a great sound from your pipes than having them correctly tuned.  But you definitely cannot get a great sound if they are not.

In order to have a well-tuned bagpipe, the "only" requirements are that

  • the pitches (or frequencies) of the individual notes of the chanter must have the correct ratios to the base note (known as low A in piping circles) and
  • the drones are tuned to sound one octave or two octaves below the base note for the tenor and bass drone respectively.

It is the first of these requirements that poses the biggest challenge.  To satisfy this requirement, you need, in the first place, a good chanter, a good reed, a good ear (or a good electronic tuner) and some insulating tape. Two sets of pipes can each be in tune but sound horrible when played together.  So "in tune" has another dimension if you are in a band or play with other pipers.

Chanter Tuning Principles

In order to get a harmonious combination with the drones, the frequencies of the chanter's notes should be related to each other in the form of simple fractional relationships.

This basic principle of harmony has been known since the philosophers of Ancient Greece began to write about music two and a half thousand years ago (although they were considering instruments such as the lyre, rather than the bagpipe).  

Drone Tuning Principles

Once the chanter is correctly tuned (or balanced - the word used by the piping fraternity) tuning the drones is relatively simple.