One Huge Tune Up Tip for Weddings and Funerals

As pipers it’s likely that many of us play gigs here and there. Most often, I play at weddings and funerals.

There’s nothing all that hard about these gigs, and frankly, it’s rare that anyone would even notice if your pipes weren’t quite in tune. Unfortunately, a lot of folks hire pipers just for the basic raw sound of the pipes, and for the look of the piper.

So, the tip really is, just dress nice when you play at gigs. That’s all that matters.


The biggest challenge instrument-wise is that you generally have to warm up long before the performance. For instance, at a wedding, you may have to sit through the whole ceremony, and then be expected to fire up and escort the wedding party out of the church. Or, at a funeral, there’s often an “Amazing Grace” or something of the sort 15 to 20 minutes into the service.

Here is where my tip comes in: It’s always important to tune up your pipes in the environment in which you’re going to be playing. In the funeral/wedding environment, the “environment,” so to speak, is a totally un-warmed up instrument! Be sure to get your pipes in tune in their “cold” state, not their fully warmed up state!

Here’s my routine:

  1. I play for 10 to 15 minutes before I leave the house, or as soon as I get to the gig. This gets the moisture flowing through my pipes, and I also check the tuning of my chanter at this point, to make sure everything sounds good.
  2. I let my pipes rest, without playing, for a solid 10 to 15 minutes.
  3. About 5 or so minutes before I need to take my position for the gig (at which point I won’t be able to play at all), I fire up and tune my pipes right away – no warm up! I get them in tune to the chanter in their “cold” state. Now, in half an hour or so after my pipes have been sitting for a while, they should still be in tune.

Usually, gigs don’t require the piper to play for a long time during the ceremony. We usually play a quick ditty during a service, or march a wedding party out of the church. Therefore, to be fully “warm” is not essential. If you do have to play longer at a gig, don’t be afraid to reach up and tweak your drones from time to time, to keep them sounding harmonious! A good thing to practice on your own is the art of tuning artfully. In other words: try to make your tune-up routine musical. I use a bright clear high-A when I reach up to tune my drones, and sections of major-key piobiareachd variations to check my chanter tuning.

Unfortunately, when people hire us to perform, they don’t necessarily expect us to sound good. However, that also means that if you do sound good, you’ll make a phenomenal impression on your clients and the audience members present. Good luck at your next gig!

  • Kevin Palm

    Excellent article! I’ve had to play a few private gigs where I had to wait a while to play with no warmup time. The pipes never did sound their best in these situations, so I’m definitely taking these tips to heart!

  • This is some great advice. Even in the few minutes it takes to set the drones, the chanter reed will change in pitch, and if I’m not paying attention I’ll end up playing for fifteen minutes or so chasing the chanter pitch around. The end result is that when it’s time to play, the pipes aren’t anywhere near the temperature where the drones were tuned, so they sound like garbage. I’m probably the only person who notices, but it makes my ears hurt.

  • Excellent advice, and a very accurate observation! 🙂

  • Wow! That sure is a fine example of a well dressed piper in the photo! Nice article with some good tips too.

  • John Courtney

    Thanks Andrew,

    I used this method today at a funeral when all they wanted was the recessional, (AG twice through). Things sounded solid from the strike in through the cut off. Much better than having to sneak off to blow and tune and hope.


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