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Freeman 01-26-2019 01:51 AM

Help Improving Band Tuning
 
Hello,

We're a small-town band in Australia that performs at public events.

I've taken on tuning responsibilities, despite being the most junior piper by several decades; the older guys are either not concerned with tuning, or have no knowledge.

Today was Australia day, windy, 34C, and humid. The results are as follows: https://youtu.be/Fj9ChTLD3kQ

My normal routine is to go around and get high a, low a an octave apart for each player. Then I'll get the PM to take the band through green hills while I set the drones. Occasionally I'll put some tape on a glaring D or HG - but that's the limit of my abilities at the moment.

On hot days I've noticed that many of the players in our band have a sharp low hand and a flat high hand - today I compromised by attempting to get high a in tune, and living with the rest (grating as it sounded to me).

Any tips for these kinds of days, short of taping the whole bottom hand?

Thanks.

Paul M Burke 01-26-2019 03:29 AM

Re: Help Improving Band Tuning
 
I think the first thing you need is that the guys buy in to the fact that tuning is important and a little time spent on tuning is worth the effort.

Second be prepared that while you feel it is necessary other may feel different and when you hear

"we never done it before."
Or

"we always do it this way."

Don't let it get you down.

I'd suggest something simple like the Braw app. The visual representation of the notes may help persuade people to move to the idea of tuning.

If everyone starts out the same then changes to individuals are easier to diagnose and until there is a baseline for everyone it is difficult.


Baby steps.


Paul

CalumII 01-26-2019 05:07 AM

Re: Help Improving Band Tuning
 
Firstly, you need the PM to be behind you, and for you to both agree how you manage things. I've been in that position of running around trying to make things work and having no support.


Secondly, maintenance and instrument fit. I can see quite a few instruments there that I would bet money do not have airtight bags. No bagpipe can be tuned that is not in good condition. There also quite a few oversized bags and wrongly sized blowsticks. Pick a moisture control system and ensure it is used properly.



Get the drone reeds set up secure, reliable and stable. Drones should be able to stop and be blown up again staying perfectly in tune. Enforce clean, accurate playing.


Finally, chanters. Take advice on what reeds will suit you, and re-reed the band all at the same time. Have a set warmup/tuning up procedure and tunes and follow it. If someone's chanter is not good enough, stop them playing.



As for developing your own skills - spend a lot of time getting to know how to produce a really good sound on your instrument. Everything a bagpipe does happens for a reason; learning what it's doing and why is essential.

magsevenband 01-26-2019 06:25 AM

Re: Help Improving Band Tuning
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Freeman (Post 1334378)
the older guys are either not concerned with tuning, or have no knowledge.

Sounds like most bands around NY/NJ also...invest in reeds, chanters, check bags for leakage, work on strike ins.

LJ Neville 01-26-2019 10:31 AM

Re: Help Improving Band Tuning
 
All of the above, and also, blowing. Tough to tune folks if they are not powering the instrument steadily. If you are at a loss as to how to work on this I'd be happy to forward you my method. Message me with your email address if interested.

I wish you the best of luck - it may be an uphill battle but when you get there, it will be so much more satisfying for everyone - the players AND the audience!

Pppiper 01-29-2019 09:17 AM

Re: Help Improving Band Tuning
 
(edit made below)

This is a big topic.

Note, I'm not very good at writing concisely ... so apologies from the get-go: there's lots going on here, and details matter. You asked for tips, so hopefully some of the following will prove to be helpful.

There are lots of methods, the items below are what proved to be effective for me when I had such responsibilities.

Ok, first off, heed the notes here about blowing and maintenance. These are BIG issues in bands that contain lots of players who are either novice/negligent. It becomes clear who takes their sound more seriously. If people are determined to sound better as a group, you and the leadership will need to do your best to inspire the membership to help in being responsible for improvement.

Blowing is huge. Unfortunately, it's probably the most overlooked area on the part of bands and players. Without steady blowers, there's really only so much you can do to tune the instruments. Invariably, this will be even more of an issue when the band is trying new tunes, or full of nerves (say, in front of judges in a competition).

Good fingering (precision) is nice, but if instruments' tone is all over the place, then even the best fingers in the world won't do much to make a good sound. As far as I'm concerned, tone/tuning forms the foundation of your "sound pyramid" .. the next level would be people playing together/in time.

Occasional "blowing" clinics are a good start, and I'd suggest going more frequently unless you start see progress. These are good things to bring an instructor in for, if you can afford it sometimes. For this, I recommend building a few simple "manometers" (good resource article here: http://bagpipejourney.com/articles/manometer.shtml) for people to use, and have others observe as folks have their turns. Make it a fun little game/competition if you want ... guy/lady with the most unsteady blowing buys the group a 'round at the end of the night, etc ... keep it light-hearted and fun.

Maintenance/setup is a big part of this. If a pipe is leaking, falling apart, etc ... it's game over ... especially with cumulative effect. Here's a good article on checking key items, and staying on top of them (http://pipehacker.com/2010/10/07/4-s...gpipe-blowing/)

The better things start to go with blowing clinics, you should get to a point where players are both watching the water movements, and HEARING the sound changes they represent. This will help to train the ears and control of your players, and I think you'll find a lot of improvement in a few weeks. Keep it up, and imagine the difference after 6 months.

* * *

When I was the "sound guy" for a band years back, I adopted a system based on an article that I had read about a long time ago ... can't remember the author.

A big key was setting chanters that are effectively warmed up. Tuning/adjusting the notes of a chanters that have not been played at all for the past 20 mins is not going to help you much ... things are going to move.

For our group, I instituted a "buddy system" for setting chanters. First, we'd take a reading of the "master piper" for the day ... master, meaning "template." This would be someone who is one of the steadiest blowers in the band.
  1. Everyone gets pipes together, plays on their own a little .. 3-5 mins.
  2. Tuning guy listens to master piper, makes adjustments to notes so they all sound good to his drones, and then takes a meter measurement of his low-A. Lets say it's A=478 hz .. ~5 mins
  3. Whole band assembles, plays simple sets as tuning guy goes around, setting drones to 478. Making 2 passes around the circle is recommended. ~10 mins
  4. Everyone takes note of the people to their left and right in the circle ... these are their "tuning buddies."
  5. Starting with the "master piper" first, tuning guy listens and readjusts as necessary. Meanwhile, the TWO pipers who were to the left of the master are off to the side, playing some simple tunes, and keeping their pipes warm. Take a good 5 minutes with the master piper, thus allowing the next two to get nice and warmed up. The rest of the band can relax, but should be actively watching for their "buddy"
  6. Call over piper 1 who's been staying warm, playing with piper 2. Now, the buddy system takes effect .. the piper 2 calls over his/her other tuning buddy (piper 3), and they keep playing as you compare piper 1 to the master piper, and make adjustments. ~2mins
  7. When piper 1 is done, the "master" is relieved for the time being. Call over piper 2, and compare/adjust against piper 1. ... Piper 3 calls over Piper 4, and they carry on getting warmed up ... 2mins.

And so on, and so on. The guiding premise is avoiding setting people who haven't been playing/warming up.

On occasion, it's good to bring the master piper back over, and check to ensure things aren't starting to diverge .. BUT ... take care to ensure the master piper has been warming up for 3 mins or so before coming over.

(edit) ... originally, we would use the "master piper" one-on-one with all members, but this would present some issues. The "master" would get really wiped out sometimes, and also, he/she would be playing for much longer than everyone else. Depending on the blowing of your members, you might not be able to follow the above to the letter. One compromise would be to identify 4-5 of your best blowers, and arrange it so that one of these are visiting you after every 2-3 pipers, and only trade off the "master" when you have a new, good blower.

By the time you get all the way through everyone, I'd get everyone back together in the circle, and have them start playing tunes together again. Wait for a set or so, before second guessing ... everyone's got to warm up again. After a good 5 mins, hopefully the chanters are sounding pretty together.

Get another setting from the master piper, and retune the drones. It could be the same number, or it may be a bit different (a tick or two higher is common). Even if the number is the same, go around again to recheck.

Lastly, if you had significant issues with a few pipes, work with them separately as the band carries on. This way, the people who need attention can get it without holding up everyone.

As you can see, this is quite a process ... the above was adopted to try and strike a balance between boredom/drudgery for the corps, and chaos. An organized system, where the tuning guy(s) can do their job, and the needs of the instrument/members are taken into account.

Hope some of this helps.

Cheers,
~Nate

Pip01 01-29-2019 11:58 AM

Re: Help Improving Band Tuning
 




Ah... Freeman...

Well... here we are... and there it is...

Having viewed the vid several times... a few salient
features do come to mind...

The first being... that it seems to me... that it is a young
or young-ish band... insofar as everyone having played
together for a while. (Please do correct me if I am wrong.)

(Also... I have no idea how many others you may have
in your mob that are not in the vid.)

The second thing being... and from way up and over here...
and through some 12 to 14 thousand miles away... and the
vid sound tunnels.... they don't... at least to my stone ear...
sound half-bad... and I don't intend that as any vague sort
of left-handed compliment.

Obviously... quite obviously...they are trying... and deserve
commendation for it. :)

Also... and with us all... there is room for improvement.

Your portion... is to engage them... in an upward path...
and I would hazard that you... and they... shall be quite
successful in it... :)

And the reason for that... is simple... because no one
wishes to be... in a bad sounding... or even... some
mediocre...band. (That just ain't th' aim of it all.)

Sounding good... brings everything to bear... beginning
with the bridles on the drone reeds... and running on to
everything else. (The starts and stops... and all together...
also has its place. :)

Now none of this is to cause groans and lamentations. :(

Nor does it bespeak gearing up for the competition boards.

Neither is it accomplished with an assertiveness needed for
pulling teeth... or killing snakes... because most (if not all of
us who play)... really do want... to sound good... :)

And thus it falls to you... to engage... to show... and to lead...
and to guide them to where they wish to go... and to be...

Wishing you and them... the very Best of Good Fortune with
it all... and do... please... send another vid... some six or so
months... down the line... (I would wager that they shall like
seeing it... as well... :)

With Regards... and All the Best... to you and the Hastings
District Pipe Band,

Pip01







RJB 01-29-2019 04:04 PM

Re: Help Improving Band Tuning
 
In addition to all the above, our band adopted the policy that the band chanter is "owned" by the tuner, meaning once the reed is set, holes taped, you take it home, but never touch the reed! If you must play something, get another chanter reeded to do with as you please, but the band chanter is only modified by the band tuner.

Best of luck.

mcaskill 01-30-2019 05:15 AM

Re: Help Improving Band Tuning
 
Having played quite a bit in Australia, I will say that you are going to have some unique issues over and above the basics of tuning. It would be logical to take advantage of some of your local knowledge. I have found some of the articles by Brett Tidswell, The Piping Principal with the Pipe Band Association there to be very helpful. His site at http://www.schoolofpiping.com/articles.html has some articles on setting up a band, and setting up a band in hot weather that are invaluable and well thought out.

I often refer to his book, "The Complete Pipers Handbook" that has a section on setting up a band and in particular how to handle a variety of weather conditions. I have spoken to him at length and he is most generous in assisting. http://www.schoolofpiping.com/handbook.html

Pppiper 01-30-2019 06:13 AM

Re: Help Improving Band Tuning
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by mcaskill (Post 1334489)
Having played quite a bit in Australia, I will say that you are going to have some unique issues over and above the basics of tuning. It would be logical to take advantage of some of your local knowledge. I have found some of the articles by Brett Tidswell, The Piping Principal with the Pipe Band Association there to be very helpful. His site at http://www.schoolofpiping.com/articles.html has some articles on setting up a band, and setting up a band in hot weather that are invaluable and well thought out.

I often refer to his book, "The Complete Pipers Handbook" that has a section on setting up a band and in particular how to handle a variety of weather conditions. I have spoken to him at length and he is most generous in assisting. http://www.schoolofpiping.com/handbook.html

Brilliant! I believe THIS is the article I'd stumbled upon years back, which was the basis for tuning process with the band. Thanks for reacquainting me with the original source!

Cheers,
~Nate

pancelticpiper 02-02-2019 02:35 PM

Re: Help Improving Band Tuning
 
What's revolutionized our band's tuning process is the Pipe Major getting the Braw Tuner app.

He pulls the pipers out of the circle one at a time, takes them in a side room, and just has them play. The app creates a map of the average pitch of the 9 chanter notes, so the PM knows exactly which tape needs to be moved and how much. (Or if the chanter overall is too flat or sharp.)

When everyone circles up they're in tune.

Any of the pipers who have the app can tune themselves in another room to the pitch the band is set at that day, and will match the rest of the pipers exactly.

It removes all the time-wasting things like guesswork and chasing the pitch of various notes.

Of course well set up pipes and good blowing are essential.

DapperDan 02-03-2019 11:20 AM

Re: Help Improving Band Tuning
 
Best of luck with this worthy endevour Freeman.

In addition to the above tips, just real quick these are some other things my band does that put out a really good sound (and this is for playing at competitions; other events are less pressure) :

-Matched chanters - the band buys one type of chanter, and everyone is issued one, it belongs to the band. Everyone has the same type of reed, from the same batch if possible, adjusted to their strength. Tape on every hole, every chanter set by the same person. Pipers encouraged to use a solo chanter for any piping outside of band.

-We get tuned at the practice nearest a contest, usually a few days before, so that everyone will be close on the actual day and they can concentrate on making fine adjustments for the conditions.

-Before competition/parade season even begins, we are strongly encouraged to attend practices where we have to show that our instrument is airtight, and our reeds are calibrated. People who need help are helped out - it's not a gotcha game, it's with the understanding that having a comfortable instrument is good for you AND the band!!

-We have a routine of warming up, resting, tuning, playing a bit, re-tuning, doing some attack drills, and then checking each pipers chanter, and so on, and some routines are describe above already. The person/people in charge of tuning have an idea of how long this routine should be, so that we are stable when we hit the circle. They don't over do it or wear us out - the rests between playing are important.

-We march up to the circle playing a tune, usually once thru. This prevents us from going flat in the time it takes to walk from the tuning area to the circle.

It has been interesting to observe all this, and has helped me to understand my instrument and be better in tune when I'm on my own.

Another good tuning app is Bee Flat tuner, which is specifically for pipes. Very user friendly and easy to read.

pancelticpiper 02-08-2019 05:28 AM

Re: Help Improving Band Tuning
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by DapperDan (Post 1334578)

We get tuned at the practice nearest a contest...

This jumped out to my eye.

In all the bands I've been in over the years tuning has been a continuous and ever-present component of every practice.

The practice nearest the contest isn't different from any other practice throughout the year.

I think good blowing is the main thing that leads to good band tuning, and good blowing is a habit that has to be continuously worked on.

Pppiper 02-08-2019 06:00 AM

Re: Help Improving Band Tuning
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by DapperDan (Post 1334578)
We get tuned at the practice nearest a contest, usually a few days before, so that everyone will be close on the actual day and they can concentrate on making fine adjustments for the conditions.

Quote:

Originally Posted by pancelticpiper (Post 1334676)
The practice nearest the contest isn't different from any other practice throughout the year ... I think good blowing is the main thing that leads to good band tuning, and good blowing is a habit that has to be continuously worked on.

I've found both statements to be true, and applicable, in their own way.

Tuning is certainly an ever-present task, so I agree it should be part of every practice/outing. But I also feel that it's fair to concede that the practice immediately before an outing could/should have more intensive attention toward fine tuning, in that doing so qualifies as being part of adequate preparation.

Reasonably speaking, in order to get around to working on actual playing of the music, marching drills, starts/stops, etc ... I think it's fair to say that in a not-so-perfect world, some corners in one area may need to be cut/tabled from time-to-time in order to ensure all aspects of group playing receive attention. Suffice it to say, sometimes there just aren't enough hours in the day/practice. Accordingly, I feel that the strongest attention toward precise tuning/adjustment is best to be exercised for the practice(s) leading up to an appearance.

Of course the better the corps as a whole does in taking care of their instruments, controlling their blowing, and keeping up with their own personal practice time ... well, such is likely to be far less of an issue. Then there might not be the need for heavier scrutiny during those pre-outing sessions.

Cheers,
~Nate

Texas Gael 02-08-2019 06:27 AM

Re: Help Improving Band Tuning
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by pancelticpiper (Post 1334676)
This jumped out to my eye.

In all the bands I've been in over the years tuning has been a continuous and ever-present component of every practice.

The practice nearest the contest isn't different from any other practice throughout the year.

I think good blowing is the main thing that leads to good band tuning, and good blowing is a habit that has to be continuously worked on.

Your last comment hit home with me. I've had competition band experience with a couple of Grade IV bands and a Grade III band, and am currently playing with a new Grade IV band hoping to get some drummers so we can compete. I am always amazed, and saddened, at the pipers who continually show up at practice with a poorly maintained, poorly set up bagpipe. Tuning should not take very long, your bagpipe should be generally in, though may need a slight tweaking if a bit flat or sharp.

Cheers -

Wes

Dan Bell 02-08-2019 09:58 AM

Re: Help Improving Band Tuning
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Texas Gael (Post 1334678)
I am always amazed, and saddened, at the pipers who continually show up at practice with a poorly maintained, poorly set up bagpipe. Tuning should not take very long, your bagpipe should be generally in, though may need a slight tweaking if a bit flat or sharp.

I'm sure this is the bane of every PM's existence...

I'm sure every PM has a different approach to tuning, which is why I've been hesitant to weigh in here. I think it's important to try to achieve a good sound at every practice. Ear training is important. Of course, in the real world, there's only so much time in each rehearsal, and getting musical work in is important, too.

I deal with it by trying NOT to have really intensive musical work to do in the last practice before a contest (that should be done in the weeks leading up to it). I am happy to spend more time at that last rehearsal getting the chanters as dialed in as I can. One must still be aware that conditions on the day are likely to be different.

Any tuning strategy relies on the competence of the people executing it, that it be well-suited to the setup and blowers that you have, and the conditions on the day. There will always be judgement calls involved. If there was one good solution, everyone would be using it...

Dan Bell 02-08-2019 10:03 AM

Re: Help Improving Band Tuning
 
Additionally, I WILL send a player out of the circle to fix issues if their instrument isn't going at an acceptable level. No sound person/PM/whatever can spend tons of time on one bagpipe while everyone else stands around.

This is obviously easier in the higher grades, where players have a better understanding of what's expected of them, and more ability to achieve it consistently. That said, at any level, there needs to be an expectation that players turn up with workable instruments. They should seek help outside of band time if they need it.

On the day of a contest, players whose pipes aren't going need to be cut. There just isn't time to address serious instrument problems during a band warm-up.

3D Piper 02-08-2019 12:23 PM

Re: Help Improving Band Tuning
 
I made two 5 person water manometers. Routinely, we all hook up and play the whole practice while watching them. You can quickly identify any issues. It sure helps tuning when everyone can blow steady!

-Matthew

DapperDan 02-08-2019 05:08 PM

Re: Help Improving Band Tuning
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by pancelticpiper (Post 1334676)
This jumped out to my eye.

In all the bands I've been in over the years tuning has been a continuous and ever-present component of every practice.

The practice nearest the contest isn't different from any other practice throughout the year.

I think good blowing is the main thing that leads to good band tuning, and good blowing is a habit that has to be continuously worked on.

To clarify - we get tuned any time we play, and it is as you say a continuous component. At the practice (rehearsal is maybe the better term) before a contest though, more time and diligence are spent specifically on tuning, everyone is carefully checked individually to make sure nothing has drifted out of whack (which can happen).
I just thought this might be helpful to the OP - it sounded like he was tasked with tuning a band that wasn't used to being tuned at all!

RJB 02-17-2019 11:45 AM

Re: Help Improving Band Tuning
 
So, being somewhat of a technological neanderthal, I've not found an easy way, using the Braw tuner, to type, punch, or lock in a certain pitch (let's say from a well-tuned player's chanter), then go around tuning everyone else's drones using that pitch. What am I missing here, besides a brain I mean.

hooks 02-17-2019 07:18 PM

Re: Help Improving Band Tuning
 
I have found the Braw Tuner an absolute must have for tuning.


To tune to a desired pitch which you can set manually or tune to a given chanter's pitch hit the "low A = " square on the right hand side of the main page.


This opens up a page called "Set reference Low A " which enables you to calibrate to a chanter's pitch by playing Low A for about 5 seconds or alternatively you can set the pitch manually here if desired.


Once this pitch has been set the drones can be tuned as with any tuner by holding your cell phone to the drone top and adjusting the drone until the green arrow centres itself.


Although I think most pipes prefer to tune their pipes by ear this tuner is ideal for tuning the whole band while they are playing in a circle.


Dave

RJB 02-17-2019 07:24 PM

Re: Help Improving Band Tuning
 
That's it! Thanks mate.

DapperDan 02-18-2019 07:10 AM

Re: Help Improving Band Tuning
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by RJB (Post 1334966)
So, being somewhat of a technological neanderthal, I've not found an easy way, using the Braw tuner, to type, punch, or lock in a certain pitch (let's say from a well-tuned player's chanter), then go around tuning everyone else's drones using that pitch. What am I missing here, besides a brain I mean.

Another good one is the "Bee Flat tuner" app. It costs a few bucks, but you can have a band's drones tuned quickly without doing any math or having to set up options or enter any info. You can use it to get the chanters in quickly as well.
You can open the app, and press one button and have your reference pitch. And you can take the reading off of either a chanter (any note) or a drone. So if the pm or another solid player is warmed up and tuned, you can get a quick reading off his/her drone while playing a tune (best way to get a reading, so the player isn't subconciously changing pressure to bring a Low A in tune). The screen is very easy to read, and you can also tune notes on the chanter. You can enter a pitch manually if you want, or adjust it with an up/down button on the screen. There are options you can program, but it's set for GHB by default.


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