Drone Configuration and Melody Types

An interesting talk with a young piper yesterday in Carlisle prompted me to write a little about drone tuning. Our conversation centered on the types of drones one should use and for which melodies. He was interested in using the drone configuration of A, d’, a’’ (Bass A, tenor D, alto A) with his ‘A’ Scottish small pipes. This drone configuration is not unusual in the European style but it is with Scottish small pipes. When I first heard about it I was skeptical, there would be a clash of sounds, but it was not as bad as what I thought as I listened to him play.

The problem is the amount of melodies he could play, not many would fit the harmonic arrangement. The Highland tunes would be more willing to blend in with the drones especially the one which were routed in the D note, but the Northumbrian and Border melodies that used the C# (3rd note of the A scale) a lot clashed with the D drone. He thought it sounded ok, but I begged to differ.

When I started to play the Northumbrian small pipes in G I looked for melodies that played with the A drones (a’, a’’) there was not many melodies either, the root note of the melody being the A note on the chanter. With the drone playing the root note it harmonized with the rest of the scale. Not a problem.

My young friend was interested in a small pipe that “fitted all situations”, I was too, many years ago and in some respects the addition of owning chanters reflect this still. But perhaps this has been tried before, in the past, and the best that was achieved by the tradition was a drone configuration of A, a’, a’; giving a strong root note for different types of modes/scales to be explored. For me it was interesting to see a “work in progress” but I wonder if it will be followed up in a few years time… I hope so.

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