Monthly Archives: November 2015

Supporting Causes: la Marseillaise and “Trick or Treat”

Yesterday Paris was attacked and many lost their lives. I understand those who were in a stadium that was attacked starting singing the French national anthem. To show my support I arranged it for the bagpipe and the sheet music can be had by clicking here. It fits on the bagpipes quite well except it requires C and F natural in a couple spots if you’re to play the main melody, but dropping down to low A (which is the chord) is what I’ve done as my chanter’s C natural doesn’t sound very nice; either the C# or C is in tune, but not at the same time due to different taping requirements and both notes appear in the tune. There are also some transient high Bs in the ending phrases; I have substituted high As with what I think is minimal disturbance though I am not honestly very familiar with the melody. I guess I should try to play it on my friend’s new Kinnear smallpipe chanter with high B, F, and C natural keys…

la Marseillaise

One thing I appreciate about France from a piping perspective is the innovative piping of the Breton tradition and Bagad bands. Most notably, their use of minor scales, special chanters with pastilles for playing F and C natural without cross fingering, B instead of A drones (here’s a YouTube video of me playing a Scottish tune with my drones tuned to B and the scale adjusted accordingly), and the low F# instead of low G (other, older blog posts on these tunings here and here). These guys are real innovators and have adapted the highland bagpipes as needed to reflect their cultural traditions. A similar innovator is Lincoln Hilton, a piper in the SFU organization. He has recently put his compositions and arrangements, commonly employed by SFU, up for sale on his website with all proceeds going to fund cancer research in Australia in support of Andrew Bonar, a fellow SFU band member, who has recently been under treatment for cancer. One of Lincoln’s newest tunes is entitled “Trick or Treat” (link to his debut YouTube video playing the tune) for Halloween, the day before his fund raiser went live. This tune is awesome. It is in D minor (A phrygian) instead of our usual D major (A mixolydian), which means it requires an F and Bb instead of our usual F# and B. My tempo is dodgy but I’m working on it!

Link to mp3: Trick or Treat – Sinclair drones with Selbie tenors (a note about these at the bottom of this post), Redwood bass which is freaking awesome in this pipe, Colin Kyo chanter, Husk reed, 3M Scotch 35 vinyl electrical tape since my usual pinstriping tape isn’t wide enough to cover enough of the F# and B holes to flatten them as much as was needed to tune to D minor.

One issue with using alternate notes is how to tune them. Highland pipes are tuned using just intonation because all chanter notes must harmonize with the drones which are playing the note A (Bagad bands have developed sharper drones that tune to B thus necessitating special chanters where the notes more naturally harmonize with B drones). I’m still playing A drones, but I had to tape my chanter’s B down to Bb and my F# down to F, but how do I tune these notes? Luckily, I wondered about the tuning of non-standard notes back in 2013 (click the link) and had already figured out where these notes should tune if you were referencing a chromatic tuner which is useless for bagpipes unless you know which notes are supposed to register as “out of tune” and in which direction, sharp or flat, and by how much they need to be “out of tune” in order to be in-tune using the just intonation scale. That was a run-on sentence, no doubt.


  1. Tenor drone reeds: I started this recording session with old Wygent tenor drone reeds at the recommendation of Shawn Husk on the bookface and while they sounded glorious, they are gloriously bold and thus a big pain to tune, and stay in tune. The slightest differences in tuning between the tenors were noticeably audible making for an unstable bagpipe. I still maintain the steadiness of mellow tenor, blended drones a la MacDougall is really a lack of boldness in the tenors especially with regard to higher overtones making them sound as if they’re locked in tune when really, you just can’t hear that they’re out of tune. I’m not complaining, it’s good enough for me! I gave up on the Wygents and plugged my Selbie tenors in (Ezee are also too tedious to tune for me). The Selbies are surprisingly mellow in these Sinclair tenors despite being quite bold in most other pipes (my 1950s Hendersons for example are impossible to tune with Selbie tenors for the same reason these Sinclairs are impossible to tune with Wygent tenors = the tenors are just too bold and rich). To clarify, you can no longer hear the wawawa due to the lower frequencies but the higher overtones still indicate the drones aren’t quite together, and it’s getting those higher overtones matched which I just don’t have the patience for.
  2. A friend gave this 3M Scotch 35 vinyl electrical tape a long time ago. It seems to hold for long periods without getting gummy. I haven’t tried it in super hot weather yet, but perhaps soon.

No Hornpipe Shakes for Me

Due to my focal dystonia, I am incapable of moving my E finger with any coordinated speed. The dystonia manifested in about my 9th year of piping and I’ve been playing for 19 years now. Since then I’ve gradually become able to play GDE grace note patterns, taorluaths, and even D doublings (but only from a higher note). This means I can also play hornpipe shakes from notes higher than D down to D or C fairly reliably. However, a lot of hornpipe shakes occur from notes below D or C and my focal dystonia still prevents that. From the top notes the pinkie and ring fingers are already up in the air and so I imagine they’re easier to pick up coming from a state of having already been in the air, but from a lower note the tension is already there and the contraction of my pinkie finger upon trying to play an E grace note kicks in and no E grace note comes out.

If you’ve listened to my blog for a while you might have noticed the odd tune where I’ve removed the hornpipe shakes in favor of delayed slurs. Tunes filled with hornpipe shakes I usually avoid posting to the blog but I figured I’d get over it and post a few of my favorites where I’ve had to remove the hornpipe shakes in order to make my fingers be able to play the tune.

The pipes are the new-to-me Sinclairs mentioned in the previous post. I had a go with Ezee in the tenors the other day which will be posted at the bottom but I’d like to feature the pipes with Selbie tenors which I much prefer. The Ezee are a bit richer, but also harder to tune. The Selbies are not as bold as the Ezee (which I find odd and opposite of what I’d expect). I like the Selbies more because they are easier to tune because they are less bold. Additionally, the Ezee tenors do not strike in well and cut out if blown in from a howling state which they are wont to do upon strike in. Basically, terrible reeds for a band pipe. Pulling off the tenor volume a bit with the Selbies also lets the Redwood bass shine quite remarkably in my opinion.

One thing you’ll have to put up with is the fine line this reed has between a crowing high A and a sharp high A. I need to pull this reed out just a tad so I can blow through the high A more consistently.

Recorder off to the left (tenor side):

Leaving Port Askaig and The Quaker – this one’s a bit rough and is provided only for comparison to the Ezee tenor recordings below since they mic was in the same spot as this recording

Recorder behind (drone side):

Hector the Hero, The Rock, 1st Hype Cowboy Division

Recorder off to the right (bass side):

Mason’s Apron and The Good Drying

Recorder behind but farther away (drone side):

Humours of Ballyloughlin, Scarce O’ Tatties, Old Chanter, and Leisa McCord

Here are the recordings using Ezee tenor drones with the Redwood bass. They all are recorded with the mic off to the left (tenor side).

Kalabakan, Bridge Something, High Road to Linton, Sleepy Maggie, and Dancing Feet

Room 35, Moonshine, and Glenlyon

What drone reeds to use in Sinclair bagpipes?

I recently acquired a set of (probably 1960s) Sinclair bagpipes.


I mouth blew all my drone reeds and decided that a regular Ezeedrone bass or a short, inverted Ezeedrone bass was best. Many other bass drone reeds were muted. This set would be a small bore Sinclair set, I believe. Apparently early Sinclairs and maybe now modern Sinclairs have bigger bores in places, but with a bass bottom bore at 8 mm I think this set falls in line with the smaller bore pattern attributed to their age. Many tenor reeds had the opposite problem of being too bold. So I settled on a lovely set of Rockets until they wouldn’t sound regardless of bridle position once I added a chanter, so then I just went with straight Ezeedrone tenors.

In the recordings below, we’ve got the original Sinclair chanter paired with a Gilmour reed I’ve been playing for years that’s still too hard for me. It tunes right at Bb (low A = 466 Hz). I put tape on high G and D, and the B is flat, with the F sometimes flat. Short, inverted Ezeedrone bass and regular Ezeedrone tenor reeds. I thought the sound was good although the tenors lacked a little sparkle, in my opinion.

King of Laois and The Thornton jig

Neili’s and Ger the Rigger – POLKAS!!!

Pressed for Time, The High Drive, and The Big Yin – hornypipe type things

Troy’s Wedding, The Snuff Wife, and Thief of Lochaber

After a conversation with Stuart on the bookface (someone who also recently picked up a set of Sinclairs), he floated the idea of using Selbie tenors so I figured, why not? The redwood sounded a bit bold as did the Kinnaird but perhaps a plastic tongue vibrant reed would spruce up the tenors without making them too loud. (Thinking about it, I might try Canning next as they’re a bit bolder than Ezeedrone as well.) I mouth blew the Selbie tenors again and was pleasantly surprised so I went with it. Still using the short, inverted Ezeedrone bass but now with a 480 Hz Colin Kyo chanter.

Aires de Pontevedra, Muineira de Casu, Kittly Lie Over, Leisa McCord (EJ Jones), Rory Gallagher (Gordon Duncan) – this is quickly becoming my international jig set

I then decided I might play a slow air but I couldn’t help from getting the felling that there was some instability in the bass. So, I did something I never thought I would ever do. I reached for the Redwood bass drone reed to put it in. When I was mouth blowing the reeds it was one of the best sounding bass drone reeds, but in every other pipe I’ve tried this reed in, it isn’t very good. Primarily, it has a hard time starting. Well, in this pipe I think it sounds pretty darn glorious paired with the Selbie tenors which makes my favorite combo so far.

Fair Maid and Donella Beaton – let’s see how many times I can make the same mistake twice

Bessie McIntyre, Captain Lachlan MacPhail of Tiree, and Alick C MacGregor

Lastly, I figured I put the Redwood tenors in there to go with the bass, but ultimately I think the Redwood tenors are too bold.

Mo Ghile Mear, The Herring Wife, and Rakes of Kildare

Angus MacKinnon and Frank Thompson – the BBQ set (Angus Frank)

Which is your favorite?