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Old 07-01-2020, 11:35 AM   #1
pancelticpiper
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Default Harmonic support for chanter notes

I just now went back over old threads with "support" "harmonic" or "harmonics" in the titles and didn't see a thread that quite touched on this topic the way I'm thinking about it recently.

I well remember back in the 1970s having only been playing a few years, getting a WWI set of Hendersons and playing them for hours and noticing how no matter what chanter note I played the drones sang with it, the harmonics of the drones supported each chanter note in fascinating ways.

It's natural to take that for granted. Jump forward to recent years, and what keeps jumping out to me is when I hear a chanter note that is NOT supported by the drones. Or drones that support various chanter notes with dramatic inequality.

A friend came over with his new pipes and it was amazing how powerfully those drones supported D. Whenever you played D it sounded like the drones were all shifting to D! I wanted to play Amazing Grace and Meeting Of the Waters and every other tune in the key of D forever.

The bad news was, when you played F the drones went away, and F was floating in the air all by its lonesome. It was the oddest thing!

I could hear that my drones did better on F, but worse on D, than his.

I've had a couple sets of Lawries over the years that had good chanter support up and down the scale but were exceptionally powerful on B. When the chanter played B you could almost hear the drones shifting to B!

A few years ago, around the same time, I picked up two old sets, one Starck (1940s) the other Lawrie (1960s) and both gave good support to the chanter overall but both were particularly powerful on F. It was so enjoyable hitting that note! I found myself playing F-centric tunes. I composed a Retreat that has F all over.

Then I picked up another old set that didn't do much at all on F, and just yesterday I played another old set which also left F hanging out to dry.

Have you experienced this? Certain drones giving amazing support for certain notes, especially D or F and/or certain drones doing nothing for these notes?

About the theoretical side, I don't know much about it other than the Harmonic Series tells us to expect powerful support from the drones for, in this order (showing just the ones below 20th)

A (1, 2, 4, 8, 16)
E (3, 6, 12)
C# (5, 10)
G (7, 14)
B (9, 18)

The note E is so present in drones that when orchestras imitate bagpipes they'll have the droning instruments play A and E together.

For D and F you're getting up there to the higher thinner harmonics

D (11)
F# (13)

so I wouldn't expect much drone support for those notes.

Yet some drones give great support for D and/or F.

Can this be measured? Are some supporting notes coming from the tenors rather than the bass? I had always imagined it was mostly the bass.
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Old 07-01-2020, 01:28 PM   #2
Tom MacKenzie
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Default Re: Harmonic support for chanter notes

I have found Sound Spectrum Pro to be a very useful tool in analyzing the harmonic response of the drones and chanter.
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Old 07-01-2020, 04:36 PM   #3
pancelticpiper
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Default Re: Harmonic support for chanter notes

Thanks for the link!

That's what I wonder, is if we took a set of drones that gives superb support for F, and another set of drones that had little support for F, what would these look like? Where is the support coming from?

I don't have a large number of different drones to do readings of, I only have two sets. It would be interesting to take readings from them.
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Old 07-01-2020, 04:47 PM   #4
Tom MacKenzie
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Default Re: Harmonic support for chanter notes

You would calculate the frequency of F#, then locate the harmonic multiples of that frequency above and below. You should see higher spikes around those frequencies on drones that support F# and smaller spikes from those that don't. Make sure you do this in a quiet room free of fans and electric motor noises.

I slide the display down so only the db above 40 are visible.

When I go to hear the professional pipers play I take a sample of their drones and save it to a file under their name to create a collection of pipe frequency response signatures and their tuning frequency.
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Old 07-01-2020, 11:19 PM   #5
Jim Fogelman
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Default Re: Harmonic support for chanter notes

The 7th harmonic, G, is so flat, that itís almost an F#. Could it be that those drones that did well with the F could have actually been a chanter with a slightly sharper F?
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Old 07-02-2020, 01:02 PM   #6
Patrick McLaurin
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Default Re: Harmonic support for chanter notes

Quite some time ago Richard you mentioned in a post about how each note could sound different against the drones and while I had acknowledged this beforehand, it wasnít something I actively *looked* for, just recognized.

I will say that it would seem to me that a strong tenor voice is necessary to get harmonic interaction such that each note sounds different. I think B and F are the most recognizable when they do happen because they are higher in the harmonic series of the drones, hence why stronger tenors are necessary. The tone of C and E against harmonic drones is quite smooth whereas B and F can give more of a sparkly buzz (tonal buzz, not mechanical).

I canít help but wonder if why this is a rarer experience among pipers these days can be correlated to people seeking out good drones to go with their chosen drone reeds (oft Ezee tenor and some bass like Kinnaird) as opposed to seeking out good drone reeds that go with their pipes. Coupled with the mellow tenor MacDougall fad and the not so robust Ezee tenor popularity (which has a decent E overtone in the predominant Henderson landscape of pipes), a random piper is just not necessarily setup to get all that much harmonic support from the drones that is necessary to achieve an interesting chanter tone for every note.

Some drone reeds get close to helping out universally, but have pitfalls. Kinnaird original are a good bet as can be Redwood tenors. I always found Kinnaird Evo to be mechanically buzzy and disliked them for that reason. My tests of Ackland reeds over the last couple of years has yielded what I feel is a universally bold reed that imparts the harmonic presence needed for good chanter interaction in just about any set of drones. Some might describe them as buzzy which I find odd because if you play a single drone all by itself they are incredibly smooth. I think some people are so conditioned to not hearing the tonal buzz of interacting chanter with drone that they confuse it for a mechanical buzz.
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Old 07-02-2020, 01:28 PM   #7
Aaron Shaw
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Default Re: Harmonic support for chanter notes

Bruce Hitchings has done quite extensive research and testing using spectrum analysis in the ongoing improvements of his Balance Tone reeds. I know harmonic production is paramount in his design work.
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Old 07-02-2020, 09:28 PM   #8
Jim Fogelman
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Default Re: Harmonic support for chanter notes

Quote:
Originally Posted by Patrick McLaurin View Post

I will say that it would seem to me that a strong tenor voice is necessary to get harmonic interaction such that each note sounds different. I think B and F are the most recognizable when they do happen because they are higher in the harmonic series of the drones, hence why stronger tenors are necessary. The tone of C and E against harmonic drones is quite smooth whereas B and F can give more of a sparkly buzz (tonal buzz, not mechanical).
Wouldnít a sting bass get you to the higher harmonics at a pitch closer to the chanter? It has a lower fundamental, which should give more presence to those specific harmonics.

As a brass player, I can play the higher partials (essentially the same thing as the harmonics) easier on instruments with lower fundamentals.
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Old 07-03-2020, 04:33 AM   #9
Patrick McLaurin
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Default Re: Harmonic support for chanter notes

My anecdotal experience indicates that strong tenors are necessary for a bagpipe to come alive. It could very well be that good bass reeds abound, leaving the tenors the last piece of the tone puzzle needed to get there.
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Old 07-03-2020, 07:32 AM   #10
pancelticpiper
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Default Re: Harmonic support for chanter notes

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim Fogelman View Post
The 7th harmonic, G, is so flat, that itís almost an F#. Could it be that those drones that did well with the F could have actually been a chanter with a slightly sharper F?
The 7th harmonic is 31 cents flat of an Equal Temperament minor 7th, it's exactly where most pipers haver their G's tuned.
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