Chances are, if you’ve been playing bagpipes for a while, you’ve definitely licked a reed or two in your life.

It can be tempting to want to do this – the usual reason given is that it makes your pipes “easier” to play.

But is that always the case?

The Pros and Cons of Horsing Around with Reeds

Horsing around with reeds can teach a piper a lot about their characteristics.

Pinching a reed, for instance, can make it easier to play, but it also raises the pitch and shortens its lifespan. It’s not always easy to predict how long the reed will stay in tune after pinching. Plus, over-pinching can irreparably damage the reed.

Similarly, shaving a reed can make it easier to blow and produce a sharper sound. But it also shortens the reed’s lifespan, and there’s always a risk of shaving too much, ruining the reed. You can take wood off, but you can’t put it back!

Licking a reed can make it more flexible and responsive with a better sound. But this technique also lowers the pitch and increases the risk of introducing bacteria into the reed, which can lead to damage.

Manipulating bagpipe reeds requires a certain level of skill and experience. Even experienced pipers may not be able to predict the exact outcome of their adjustments. Moreover, any changes made to the reed can significantly reduce its lifespan. Over time, this can become costly as a piper may have to purchase new reeds more frequently.

So… Should You Manipulate Your Reed?

There’s no simple answer to this question. While some minor adjustments can make the reed more playable, they can also lead to damage and ultimately reduce the lifespan of the reed. It’s essential to balance the potential benefits of manipulating the reed against the risks involved. It may be best to leave the reed in the condition in which it was purchased from a reputable maker.

Bagpipe reeds are sensitive and require careful handling. Plus, they’ve been designed and crafted by master craftsmen who, chances are, know quite a bit more about what will make them work best in your pipes, straight out of the box.

While it can be tempting to manipulate them to achieve a better sound, it is important to consider the risks involved. Minor adjustments such as pinching or shaving the reed can have temporary benefits but can also shorten the reed’s lifespan.

Ultimately, you need to decide whether the potential benefits of adjusting the reed outweigh the risks.

The Piper’s Dojo Weekly Show brings you weekly advice about how to be a better bagpiper. Tune into our weekly livestreams on our Facebook page, subscribe to our YouTube channel or wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts!

I hope you’ve enjoyed my take on this topic. However, as with everything in piping, there are many schools of thought, and I’d love to hear yours! Leave a comment below to keep the discussion going…

About the Author

Andrew is a prolific practitioner of the bagpipe, active at the highest level of pipe bands, solo competition, teaching, and creative endeavors for the past 20 years. He was 2017 & 2019 World Champion with Inveraray and District Pipe Band, 2017 Winner of the USA Silver Medal for Piobaireachd, 2008–2013 Pipe Major of Grade 1 Oran Mor Pipe Band, multi-prize winner of Silver Medals at Oban and Inverness, and the 2004 B-Grade Winner Strathspey/Reel at Oban. 

Andrew published his debut and award-winning book, Finding Bagpipe Freedom, in 2021. He's also an Accredited Bagpipe Teacher and Examiner (Scottish Qualifications Authority) and holds a Bachelor Degree in Fine Arts from Simon Fraser University.

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}


Join Dojo University - Just $1

Your first month is just $1.
Click the button below to get started!