Home Media News & Blog The Thirteen Steps, Part II
The Thirteen Steps, Part II

The Thirteen Steps, Part II


The foundations of great bagpipe sound can be summarized in the video, "13 Steps to Great Bagpipe Sound." In Part II, we'll drill into the first of the 13 steps.

The first four of the thirteen steps could be considered maintenance tasks. However one chooses to characterize them, they are the fundamentals of great bagpipe sound:

Step 1: Ask the question “is my bag airtight?”
Step 2: Ask the question “are my joints airtight?”
Step 3: Ask the question “are my reed seats airtight?”
Step 4: Ask the question “are my drone reeds properly calibrated?”

Step 1: Ask the question “is my bag airtight?”

When you ask yourself this question, there is some good news. As Andrew notes in the video, “if you have been playing regularly and have seasoned regularly, you should be good to go.” However, it is always good to ask the question.

As an old dog, I learned something new from watching Andrew’s video.

“You are an old dog, then?” You are asking yourself.

I am, and I learned a new trick. To check for an airtight bag, remove your drones and chanter. Cork the stocks. Make sure those corks are solidly seated in the stocks. Inflate the bag until it can accept no more air, and then set the bag on the ground.

Place your knee on the bag and bounce on it for thirty seconds. Watch Andrew’s video, Thirteen Steps to a Great Bagpipe Sound, for a demonstration of this technique. If you can’t blow any more air into the bag after this, your bag is airtight.

knee on bag

Andrew notes in other videos that this technique is also great for seasoning your bag. When checking your bag for airtightness, you will exert far more pressure on the bag by bouncing on it than you will with your arm when you play. It is a good test.

So the smaller problem in Step 1 is to make sure your bag is airtight.

If you bag is not airtight, do something about it. You will find lots of good advice on this topic here at Dojo U. Finding a leak can, sometimes, be complicated. Break it down into simpler tasks. Check the tie-in for each stock, check the seams, and check the bag. Be thorough and methodical. Find the leak and fix it. The solution may be something as simple as applying a little more seasoning.

Step 2: Ask the question “are my joints airtight?”

Twist check your joints when you pick the pipes up out of the case. It should take a little bit of muscle to get them out of the stocks, but not too much. If the joints can be removed easily, apply a little more hemp until the twist check requires a little bit of muscle.

Step 3: Ask the question “are my reed seats airtight?”

Make sure the reeds are seated snugly. Here’s another new trick that you can use.

“You’re carrying the old dog analogy a little too far,” I can hear you swearing under you breath.

All right, enough with the old dog stuff. Seat the reed in the reed seat, grasp the reed by the tuning screw or the end of the reed and hold the drone upside down. Give the reed a little shake. The drone should remain connected at the seat.

“Shouldn’t you do this so that you don’t damage your drones?” You might be asking.

Here is a good place to perform this test. Notice the comfy sofa and soft pillows.


This would not be a good place to perform this test:


If the reed is not seated properly, you don’t want your drone to drop very far. If it does, you want it to have a soft landing so that it isn’t damaged.

So the smaller problem for step two is to make sure your reeds airtight.

To solve the problem, rehemp the reed and make sure it is seated firmly. Then test again.

Step 4: Ask the question “are my drone reeds properly calibrated?”

Your drone reeds should all be perfectly calibrated to the strength of your chanter reed. If you blow past the sweet spot and your reed starts to squeak, the drones should all shut off. They should all shut off at the same time. If they don't, calibrate your reeds. If they don't shut off, they are taking too much air, close the reed down by moving the bridle toward the tuning nut. If they are shutting off too soon, move the bridle toward the hemped end.

The smaller problem in Step 4 is to calibrate your reeds against your chanter reed. This sounds simple, and it is, with practice. Those first few attempts to calibrate a short-tongued, synthetic reed can be difficult. Take your time, move the bridle just a little bit each time and then retest. It becomes easier with practice.


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Mark Olson Mark Olson is a software engineer in Omaha, NE. Over the years, he has played numerous musical instruments including the bagpipes, guitar, piano, flute, and saxophone. As a young man, Mark competed as a solo piper. Due to the demands of raising a family, Mark had to forgo his musical pursuits. While he regrets the fact he gave up the bagpipes, he is proud of the fact that both of his sons have grown to be fine young men. With the nest now empty, he has picked up the pipes once again. If he gets his chops, and his groove, back, he plans to compete again as a solo piper.