Tuning is 90% logic, and 10% "ear."
Obviously, tuning is a major part of getting a good sound on your pipes. However, tuning is impossible without first having tended to the first two big steps in the bagpipe tree of sound. Tuning, to use the metaphor again, requires the foundation built by good Maintenance and Tonal Quality.
The next thing to stress about tuning is that only a small part of tuning relies on the quality of your "ear." At the Dojo, we stress that logic and strategy are the biggest components to tuning your instrument, not a magic ability to hear whether or not it's in tune.
At the Dojo, we think it's so important to stress that tuning is mostly logic. Really, all your ear has to do is determine whether a change makes the tuning better, or worse. For example, if you move your tenor drone up, does it become better tuned to the other tenor, or worse? If you change the tape on a certain note on your chanter, is it better or worse relative to your drones? If it's better, you went the right way (keep going!). If it's worse, return it to the original position and go the other way. Do this a few times over, and you'll be much better tuned than you were before.
Now that you've got the idea behind tuning logic, let's apply it to our drones. Chanter pitch changes over time due to moisture and temperature changes inside the bag. So, we have to get used to accurately and efficiently tuning our drones to match the chanter. Start by getting your drones in tune with each other. Then, decide whether they (as a group) need to be flattened or sharpened to more closely match your chanter.
Click here to go to the Drone Tuning class
Chanter Tuning is a matter of "zeroing in" on a completely tuned scale. You want to start by "setting" or "balancing" the scale as a whole, and that's a matter of finding the right position for the reed in the chanter's reed-seat. Once the reed is set properly in the seat, you can work to fine-tune individual notes (hint: use the tuning logic from above!).
We have a wide variety of tuning classes and topics available in our archives. The best way to browse these is by using the "Search the Archive" page, which is located under the "Archive" tab above. Scroll down to the "Bagpipe Tuning" section, and you'll see several links to various tuning topics. Never stop trying to tune your pipes better!