You get to the gig, and the stark realization hits: There is no place to warm up.
If you warm up outside, the guests will see you and it'll ruin the effect. You can't warm up inside, because that's where the guests are seated, waiting for the event to start. There are literally no options.
So now what do you do?
Well, unless you are a speed tuner, you're kind of doomed to have to get your pipes warmed up and tuned up while the people watch. Talk about tacky, unprofessional, and somewhat embarrassing!
Even if you ARE a speed tuner... is this the ideal scenario? No!
Live and Learn:
After about 1000 gigs (yes, I must have actually played that many), I finally found the solution to this problem. It rests on a couple of key concepts:
- Bagpipes don't sound great for the first few minutes of playing. The moisture levels have to equalize, the temperature has to equalize, and the temperature of the wood of your drones also needs to equalize with the surrounding environment. We could write a book on these concepts, but we'll leave it at this for now, for the sake of an efficient article.
- Once the bagpipe moisture/temperature/wood is fully "acclimatized," it's actually quite stable - we can see this by observing top pipe bands, and the degree of stability they get in their instruments with a very short total play-time on their instruments leading up to a performance.
- This last one is a doozy, and can require a bit of a leap for some: Tuning can be musical, and can look professional. That's right. If we can "tune as we go" by efficiently and profesionally tweaking the tuning of our instrument, there's no need for an extended warm up at an event. We'll simply tune on the fly. If this makes you cringe a little bit, I challenge you to think about this. Think about how much easier and better your gigs will be if you can successfully develop this ability.
Once you're on board with those three concepts, you are now ready for my 6-step process that I use for every gig (including band practices and solo competitions, by the way). The 6 steps maximize the quality of my sound upon arrival, and minimize the total play-time on the instrument (which will avoid over-saturation of moisture).
Are you ready? Let's have a look.
Step 1: Warm Up for 10-15 Minutes
This is simple. Take out your pipes and play for 10-15 continuous minutes. You can and should absolutely rough-tune your drones to your chanter, but for now don't touch anything else from the tuning perspective. Things will be a bit out until your pipe acclimatizes.
Step 2: Let the Pipes "Acclimatize" for 10-15 Minutes
Ok! After step 1, your pipes have received a good amount of moisture and the whole instrument (inside and out) has been exposed to the actual environment of the outside world (as opposed to your pipe case). Now is when we let them rest, just like you'd let good wine rest before drinking it.
During this time, the chanter reed will gradually and completely soak in a healthy amount of moisture. It'll come back into tune when you strike up again. And, more importantly, it'll be super stable when you strike up again.
I recommend setting a physical timer for this step, to make sure you get a consistent amount of acclimation-time, every time.
Step 3: Tune the Pipes in their "Cold" State
This next step is important. If we are going to travel to a gig and then strike up and expect our pipes to be in tune, it's very important that we don't tune the pipes while we're fully warmed up. Instead, we want to tune the pipes in their "cold" state - so they'll sound great when we start up in our cold state at the gig when we get there.
How do you do this? Well, it's pretty simple really!
Fire up, and quickly and efficiently tune your drones to your chanter. Don't play for more than 90 seconds without a 90 second break - this way, they'll never get "too warmed up" so as to defeat the purpose of tuning them cold. If your chanter notes need some tweaking, now is the time - but make sure to continue to use the 90 seconds on / 90 seconds off strategy to keep from getting too "hot."
Step 4: (Recommended) Repeat This Process a Few Times
If you have time, you should let the pipes rest for 5 minutes or so again, and then fire them up again. Are they still in tune? If not, they WILL be close. Go ahead and tune them again to your liking, following the 90/90 principle again. Then, let them rest again. Then, fire them up again. Are they even more stable now? They should be!
Note: Testing this on a regular basis is a great thing to do for your overall understanding of your instrument - I recommended trying this process on your own, regardless of whether or not you have a gig coming up!
Step 5: While Transporting the Pipes, DO NOT Disassemble.
Ok! So, now we have a stable bagpipe, and we're ready to head to the gig. But! Don't take them apart! Leave the pipe fully assembled as you travel (Yep, just rest them on the back seat, hopefully out of direct sunlight for the most part). That way, you know literally nothing has changed for your instrument in the meantime, and you know that you're going to be pretty dang close to perfectly in tune when you show up.
By all means, throw your pipe case in the car for when the gig is over. But, leave those babies assembled for the ride to the gig!
Step 6: Utilize a "Tune As You Go" Process During Your Performance.
Last but not least, you'll want to exercise the art of "Tuning as you go" during the performance, to keep your pipes locked in as the temperature does increase inside the bag (causing your chanter pitch to climb a bit over time). With a little bit of practice, you should be able to professionally reach up and tune your drones, and get the job done in less than 20 seconds or so. Then, you'll return to playing great tunes for the gig!
If you want to know more about gig preparation, the tune-as-you-go process, and the exact 3 phases I execute every single time I book a gig, you'll want to check out our 3-Stage Gig Perfect Cheat Sheet, available for FREE by clicking here now.
- Our Tried and Tested "Phone Call Protocol" that makes sure you ask all the right questions and get all the right details for your gig.
- Step-by-Step "Pre-Gig" Checklist to make sure you've got every detail ready for the day of the gig.
- Our on-the-day minute-by-minute schedule that allows you to make sure everything, from your uniform to your bagpipe preparation to your travel happens perfectly on time.
- The complete "Tune As You Go" Process for beautifully tuning your pipes without needing a dedicated warm up location at the gig-site!