Six-holed woodwind instrument
The tin whistle, also called the penny whistle,flageolet, English flageolet, Scottish penny whistle, tin flageolet, Irish whistle, Belfast Hornpipe, feadóg stáin (or simply feadóg) and Clarke London Flageolet is a simple, six-holed woodwind instrument. It is a type of fipple flute, putting it in the same class as the recorder, Native American flute, and other woodwind instruments that meet such criteria. A tin whistle player is called a whistler. The tin whistle is closely associated with Celtic music.
History of the whistle
The tin whistle in its modern form is from a wider family of fipple flutes which have been seen in many forms and cultures throughout the world. In Europe, such instruments have a long and distinguished history and take various forms, of which the most widely known are the recorder, tin whistle, Flabiol, Txistu and tabor pipe.
Almost all primitive cultures had a type of fipple flute and is most likely the first pitched flute type instrument in existence. Examples found to date include a possible Neanderthal fipple flute from Slovenia, which according to some scientists may date from 81,000 to 53,000 BC; a German flute from 35,000 years ago; and a flute, known as the Malham Pipe, made from sheep's bone in West Yorkshire dating to the Iron Age. (A revised dating of the Malham Pipe now places it within the early medieval period.) Written sources that describe a fipple-type flute include the Roman tibia and Greek aulos. In the early Middle Ages, peoples of northern Europe were playing the instrument as seen in 3rd-century British bone flutes, and Irish Brehon Law describes a flute-like instrument. By the 12th century, Italian flutes came in a variety of sizes, and fragments of 12th-century Norman bone whistles have been found in Ireland, as well as an intact 14 cm Tusculum clay whistle from the 14th century in Scotland. In the 17th century, whistles were called flageolets, a term to describe a whistle with a French made fipple headpiece (common to the modern penny whistle); and such instruments are linked to the development of the English flageolet, French flageolet and recorders of the renaissance and baroque period. The term flageolet is still preferred by some modern tin whistlers, who feel that this better describes the instrument, as the term characterises a wide variety of fipple flutes, including penny whistles.
Modern tin whistle
The modern penny whistle is indigenous to the British Isles, particularly England, when factory-made "tin whistles" were produced by Robert Clarke from 1840 to 1889 in Manchester, and later New Moston, England. Down to 1900, they were also marketed as "Clarke London Flageolets" or "Clarke Flageolets". The whistle's fingering system is similar to that of the six-hole, "simple system Irish flutes" ("simple" in comparison to Boehm system flutes). The six-hole, diatonic system is also used on baroque flutes, and was of course well-known before Robert Clarke began producing his tin whistles. Clarke's first whistle, the Meg, was pitched in high A, and was later made in other keys suitable for Victorian parlour music. The company showed the whistles in The Great Exhibition of 1851. The Clarke tin whistle is voiced somewhat on an organ-pipe with a flattened tube forming the lip of the fipple mouthpiece, and is usually made from rolled tin sheet or brass. They were mass-produced and widespread due to their relative affordability.
As the penny whistle was generally considered a toy, it has been suggested that children or street musicians were paid a penny by those who heard them playing the whistle. However, in reality, the instrument was so called because it could be purchased for a penny. The name "tin-whistle" was also coined as early as 1825 but neither the tin whistle nor the penny whistle name seems to have been common until the 20th century.[a] The instrument became popular in several musical traditions, namely: English,Scottish,Irish andAmerican traditional music.
Due to its affordability, the tin whistle was a popular household instrument, as ubiquitous as the harmonica. In the second half of the 19th century, some flute manufacturers such as Barnett Samuel and Joseph Wallis also sold whistles. These had a cylindrical brass tube. Like many old whistles, they had lead fipple plugs, and since lead is poisonous, caution should be exercised before playing an old whistle.
The Generation Whistle was introduced in the first half of the 20th century, and also featured a brass tube with a lead fipple. The design was updated somewhat over the years, most notably the substitution of a plastic fipple for the lead fipple.
While whistles have most often been produced in higher pitches, the "low" whistle has historically been produced. The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, has in its collection an example of a 19th-century low whistle from the Galpin collection. During the 1960s revival of traditional Irish music, the low whistle was "recreated" by Bernard Overton at the request of Finbar Furey.
The most common whistles today made of brass or nickel-plated brass, with a plastic mouthpiece, which contains the fipple. Generation, Feadóg, Oak, Acorn, Soodlum's (now Walton's), and other brands fall in this category. The next most common form is the conical sheet metal whistle with a wooden stop in the wide end to form the fipple, the Clarke's brand being the most prevalent. Other less common variants are the all-metal whistle, the PVC whistle, the Flanna square holed whistle, and the wooden whistle.
Gaining popularity as a folk instrument in the early 19th century Celtic music revivals, penny whistles now play an integral part of several folk traditions. Whistles are a prevalent starting instrument in English traditional music, Scottish traditional music and Irish traditional music, since they are usually inexpensive; relatively easy to play, free of tricky embouchure such as found with the transverse flute; and use fingerings are nearly identical to those on traditional six-holed flutes, such as the Irish flute and the Baroque flute. The tin whistle is a good starting instrument to learn the uilleann pipes, which has similar finger technique, range of notes and repertoire. The tin whistle is the most popular instrument in Irish traditional music today.
In recent years, a number of instrument builders have started lines of "high-end" hand-made whistles, which can cost hundreds of US dollars each—expensive in comparison to cheap whistles, but nevertheless cheaper than most other instruments. These companies are typically either a single individual or a very small group of craftsmen who work closely together. The instruments are distinguished from the inexpensive whistles in that each whistle is individually manufactured and "voiced" by a skilled person rather than made in a factory.
The whistle is tuneddiatonically, which allows it to be used to easily play music in two major keys a perfect fourth apart and the natural minor key and Dorian mode a major second above the lowest note. The whistle is identified by its lowest note, which is the tonic of the lower of two major keys. Note that this method of determining the key of the instrument is different from the method used to determine the key of a chromatic instrument, which is based on the relationship between notes on a score and sounded pitch.
Whistles are available in all 12 chromatic keys; however, the most common whistles are pitched in D and G, followed by whistles in C and F, and then B♭ and E♭, with other keys being somewhat more rare. The D whistle can easily play notes in the keys of D and G major. Since the D major key is lower these whistles are identified as D whistles. The next most common whistle tuning is a C whistle, which can easily play notes in the keys of C and F major. The D whistle is by far the most common choice for Irish and Scottish music.
Although the whistle is essentially a diatonic instrument, it is possible to get notes outside the principal major key of the whistle, either by half-holing (partially covering the highest open finger hole) or by cross-fingering (covering some holes open while leaving some higher ones open). However, half-holing is somewhat more difficult to do correctly, and whistles are available in all keys, so for other keys a whistler will typically use a different whistle instead, reserving half-holing for accidentals. Some whistle designs allow a single mouthpiece to be used on differently keyed bodies.
Main article: Low whistle
There are larger whistles which, by virtue of being longer and wider, produce tones an octave (or in rare cases two octaves) lower. Whistles in this category are likely to be made of metal or plastic tubing, sometimes with a tuning-slide head, and are almost always referred to as low whistles but sometimes called concert whistles. The low whistle operates on identical principles to the standard whistles, but musicians in the tradition may consider it a separate instrument.
The term soprano whistle is sometimes used for the higher-pitched whistles when it is necessary to distinguish them from low whistles.
Fingering and range
The notes are selected by opening or closing holes with the fingers. Holes are typically covered with the pads of the fingers, but some players, particularly when negotiating the larger holes and spacing in low whistles, may employ the "piper's grip". With all the holes closed, the whistle generates its lowest note, the tonic of a major scale. Successively opening holes from the bottom upward produces the rest of the notes of the scale in sequence: with the lowest hole open it generates the second, with the lowest two holes open, it produces the third and so on. With all six holes open, it produces the seventh.
As with a number of woodwind instruments, the tin whistle's second and higher registers are achieved by increasing the air velocity into the ducted flue windway. On a transverse flute this is generally done by narrowing the lip/embouchure. Since the size and direction of the tin whistle's windway is fixed, like that of the recorder or fipple flute, it is necessary to increase the velocity of the air stream. (See overblowing).
Fingering in the second register is generally the same as in the first/fundamental, though alternate fingerings are sometimes employed in the higher end of the registers to correct a flattening effect caused by higher aircolumn velocity. Also, the tonic note of the second register is usually played with the top hole of the whistle partially uncovered instead of covering all holes as with the tonic note of the first register; this makes it harder to accidentally drop into the first register and helps to correct pitch. Recorders perform this by "pinching" open the dorsal thumb hole.
Various other notes (relatively flat or sharp with respect to those of the major scale) can be accessed by cross fingering techniques, and all the notes (except the lowest of each octave/register) can be flattened by half holing. Perhaps the most effective and most used cross fingering is that which produces a flattened form of the seventh note (B♭ instead of B on a C whistle, for example, or C♮ instead of C♯ on a D whistle). This makes available another major scale (F on a C whistle, G on a D whistle).
The standard range of the whistle is two octaves. For a D whistle, this includes notes from D5 to D7; that is, from the second D above middle C to the fourth D above middle C. It is possible to make sounds above this range, by blowing with sufficient force, but, in most musical contexts, the result will be loud and out of tune due to a cylindrical bore.
Traditional whistle playing uses a number of ornaments to embellish the music, including cuts, strikes and rolls. Most playing is legato with ornaments to create breaks between notes, rather than tongued. The traditional music concept of the word "ornamentation" differs somewhat from that of European classical music in that ornaments are more commonly changes in how a note is articulated rather than the addition of separately-perceived notes to the piece. Common ornaments and articulations include:
- Cuts are very briefly lifting a finger above the note being sounded without interrupting airflow into the whistle. For example, a player playing a low D on a D whistle can cut the note by very briefly lifting the first finger of his or her lower hand. This causes the pitch to briefly shift upward. The cut can be performed either at the very start of the note or after the note has begun to sound; some people call the latter a "double cut" or a "mid-note cut."
- Strikes or taps are similar to cuts except that a finger below the sounded note is briefly lowered to the whistle. For example, if a player is playing a low E on a D whistle the player could tap by quickly lowering and raising his or her bottom finger. Both cuts and taps are essentially instantaneous; the listener should not perceive them as separate notes.
- A roll is a note with first a cut and then a strike. Alternatively, a roll can be considered as a group of notes of identical pitch and duration with different articulations. There are two common types of rolls:
- The long roll is a group of three slurred notes of equal pitch and duration, the first sounded without a cut or strike, the second sounded with a cut, and the third sounded with a strike.
- The short roll is a group of two slurred notes of equal pitch and duration, the first sounded with a cut and the second sounded with a strike.
- Cranns (or crans) are ornaments borrowed from the Uilleann piping tradition. They are similar to rolls except that only cuts are used, not taps or strikes. On the tin whistle they are generally only used for notes where a roll is impossible, such as the lowest note of the instrument.
- Slides are similar to portamentos in classical music; a note below or above (usually below) the intended note is fingered, and then the fingering is gradually shifted in order to smoothly raise or lower the pitch to the intended note. The slide is generally a longer duration ornament than, for example, the cut or the tap and the listener should perceive the pitch changing.
- Tonguing is used sparingly as a means of emphasizing certain notes, such as the first note in a tune. Tin whistle players usually do not tongue most notes. To tongue a note a player briefly touches their tongue to the front of the roof of the mouth at the start of the note (as if articulating a 't'), creating a percussive attack.
- Vibrato can be achieved on most notes by opening and closing one of the open holes, or by variation of breath pressure (this last is actually both vibrato (pitch modulation), and tremolo (amplitude modulation)). Of the two, fingered (i.e., true) vibrato is much more common than diaphragmatic (breath) vibrato (i.e., tremolo), except on notes like the lowest note on the whistle where fingered vibrato is much more difficult. A common method of achieving vibrato is to finger a note, and then quickly flick a finger on and off, not the hole below the fingered note, but the hole two below the fingered note, leaving an open hole in between. This technique can be heard on The Chieftains' iconic air, Women of Ireland (Chieftains IV).
- Leading tone
- Leading tones are the seventh just before the tonic, so named because melodic styling often uses the seventh to lead into the tonic at the end of a phrase. On most tin whistles the leading tone to the lowest tonic can be played by using the little finger of the lower hand to partially cover the very end opening of the whistle, while keeping all other holes covered as usual for the tonic.
- The tone of the tin whistle is largely determined by its manufacturing. Clarke style rolled metal whistles tend to have an airy "impure" sound, while Generation style cylindrical instruments tend to have clear or "pure" whistle sounds. Inexpensive rolled metal whistles, such as those from Cooperman Fife and Drum (which also produces high-end instruments) may be very airy in sound, and may be difficult to play in the upper register (second octave). Often placing a piece of tape over one edge of the fipple slot (just below the mouthpiece) to narrow the fipple will improve the instrument's tone and playability significantly.
- While, as mentioned under Fingering, a player will usually play a given instrument only in its tonic key and possibly in the key beginning on the fourth (e.g. G on a D whistle), nearly any key is possible, becoming progressively more difficult to keep in tune as the player moves away from the whistle's tonic, according to the circle of fifths. Thus a D whistle is fairly apt for playing both G and A, and a C instrument can be used fairly easily for F and G.
A number of music genres commonly feature the tin whistle.
Irish and Scottish Music
Traditional music from Ireland and Scotland is by far the most common music to play on the tin whistle, and comprises the vast majority of published scores suitable for whistle players. The tin whistle is very common in Irish music to the point that it could be called characteristic of the genre and fairly common in Scottish music.
Main article: Kwela
Kwela is a genre of music created in South Africa in the 1950s, and is characterized by an upbeat, jazzy tin whistle lead. Kwela is the only music genre created around the sound of the tin whistle. The low cost of the tin whistle, or jive flute, made it an attractive instrument in the impoverished, apartheid-era townships; the Hohner tin whistle was especially popular in kwela performance. The kwela craze accounted for the sale of more than one million tin whistles.
In the late 1950s, mbaqanga music largely superseded kwela in South Africa, and so it followed that the saxophone surpassed the tin whistle as the township people's wind instrument of choice. Kwela master Aaron "Big Voice Jack" Lerole continued to perform into the 1990s; a few bands, such as The Positively Testcard of London, continue to record kwela music.
Kwela sheet music is rarely published, and many of the recordings of founding kwela artists are out of print. One representative compilation is South African Jazz and Jive (Rhino Entertainment, 2000).
The tin whistle is used in many other types of music, though not to the extent that it could be called characteristic as with Irish music and kwela. In some Irish music composed for symphonic ensembles, it is often replaced with piccolo. It is not unusual to hear the tin whistle used in praise music and film soundtracks, notably the soundtrack to Lord of the Rings. Published scores suitable for tin whistle performance are available in both of these genres. The tin whistle also appears in "crossover" genres like world music, folk rock, folk metal and folk punk.
Tin whistle music collections are generally notated in one of three different formats.
Standard musical notation
It is common to score music for the whistle using standard musical notation. The tin whistle is not a transposing instrument - for example, music for the D tin whistle is written in concert pitch, not transposed down a tone as would be normal for transposing instruments. Nevertheless, there is no real consensus on how tin whistle music should be written, or on how reading music onto the whistle should be taught. However, when music is scored for a soprano whistle it will be written an octave lower than it sounds, to spare ledger lines and make it much easier to read.
The traditional music of Ireland and Scotland constitutes the majority of published scores for the whistle.[b] Since the majority of that music is written in D major, G major, or one of the corresponding musical modes, use of the D major or G major key signatures is a de facto standard. For example, the "C whistle" edition of Bill Ochs's popular The Clarke Tin Whistle Handbook is scored in D and differs from the D edition only in that the accompanying audio CD is played on a C whistle.
Reading directly onto the C whistle is popular for the obvious reason that its home key or name key is the all-natural major key (C major). Some musicians are encouraged to learn to read directly onto one whistle, while others are taught to read directly onto another.
The whistle player who wants music to read on to all whistles will need to learn the mechanics of written transposition, taking music with one key signature and rewriting it with another.
Tablature notation for the tin whistle is a graphical representation of which tone holes the player should cover. The most common format is a vertical column of six circles, with holes to be covered for a given note shown filled with black, and a plus sign (+) at the top for notes in the second octave. Tablature is most commonly found in tutorial books for beginners.
The tonic solfa is found in Ireland and possibly Wales, especially in schools. Many schools have printed sheets with tunes notated in tonic solfa, although in Ireland more have teaching by note. With the availability of good standard notation tutor books, teaching is possibly moving in this direction.[original research?]
Since the majority of popular tin whistle music is traditional and out of copyright, it is common to share tune collections on the Internet.Abc notation is the most common means of electronic exchange of tunes. It is also designed to be easy to read by people, and many musicians learn to read it directly instead of using a computer program to transform it into a standard musical notation score.
- In Irish traditional music
See also: List of All-Ireland Champions
During the 1960s, Tommy Makem played the tin whistle as a member of The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, one of the most influential Irish folk groups, especially popular during the American folk music revival.
In 1973, Paddy Moloney (of The Chieftains) and Sean Potts released the album Tin Whistles, which helped to popularise the tin whistle in particular, and Irish music in general. Mary Bergin's Feadóga Stáin (1979) and Feadóga Stáin 2 (1993) were similarly influential. Other notable players include Carmel Gunning, Micho Russell, Joanie Madden, Brian Finnegan, Cathal McConnell, and Seán Ryan. Many traditional pipers and flute players also play the whistle to a high standard. Festy Conlon is considered by some to be the best slow air player.
- In Scottish traditional music
Award-winning singer and musician Julie Fowlis recorded several tracks on the tin whistle, both in her solo work and with the band Dòchas.
- In kwela
Aaron "Big Voice Jack" Lerole and his band recorded a single called "Tom Hark", which sold five million copies worldwide, and which Associated Television used as the theme song for the 1958 television series The Killing Stones. But the most famous star of the kwela era was Spokes Mashiyane.Paul Simon's 1986 album Graceland draws heavily on South African music, and includes pennywhistle solos in the traditional style, played by Morris Goldberg.
- In popular music
As a traditional Irish musical instrument, the Irish rock bands The Cranberries and The Pogues (with Spider Stacy as whistler) incorporate the tin whistle in some of their songs, as do such American Celtic punk bands as The Tossers, Dropkick Murphys, and Flogging Molly (in which Bridget Regan plays the instrument).
Andrea Corr of Irish folk rock band The Corrs also plays the tin whistle. SaxophonistLeRoi Moore, founding member of the American jam bandDave Matthews Band, plays the tin whistle in a few of the band's songs.
Bob Hallett of the Canadian folk rock group Great Big Sea is also a renowned performer of the tin whistle, playing it in arrangements of both traditional and original material.
Icelandic post rock band Sigur Rós concludes their song "Hafsól" with a tin whistle solo.
Barry Privett of the American Celtic rock band Carbon Leaf performs several songs using the tin whistle.
Lambchop uses the tin whistle in the song "The Scary Caroler."
The Unicorns use the tin whistle in the song "Sea Ghost".
Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull plays a tin whistle on "The Whistler" from the Songs from the Wood album (1977)
- In jazz
Steve Buckley, a British jazz musician is renowned for using the penny whistle as a serious instrument. His whistle playing can be heard on recordings with Loose Tubes, Django Bates and his album with Chris Batchelor Life As We Know It. Les Lieber is a celebrated American Jazz Tinwhistle player. Lieber has played with Paul Whiteman's Band and also with the Benny Goodman Sextet. Lieber made a record with Django Reinhardt in the AFN Studios in Paris in the post Second World War era and started an event called "Jazz at Noon" every Friday in a New York City restaurant playing with a nucleus of advertising men, doctors, lawyers, and business executives who had been or could have been jazz musicians. Howard Johnson has also been known to play this instrument. Musical polymath Howard Levy introduces the tune True North with a jazz and very traditionally Celtic-inspired whistle piece on Bela Fleck and the Flecktones' UFO TOFU.
- In film and video game music
Howard Shore called for a tin whistle in D for a passage in his "Concerning Hobbits" from The Lord of the Rings film trilogy. The tin whistle symbolizes the Shire, together with other instruments such as the guitar, the double bass, and the bodhrán. The tin whistle also plays a passage in the main theme in the same trilogy.
The tin whistle is featured prominently in the song "My Heart Will Go On" by Celine Dion in the movie Titanic. The song's introduction consists of a tin whistle solo which has become iconic. Famously performed by Abigail Butler and Emily Black.
The tin whistle also features prominently in the soundtrack of the film How to Train Your Dragon, and is connected to the main character, Hiccup.
The tin whistle is heard at the start of the 1984 short film The Adventures of Andre and Wally B
The tin whistle is featured in the winning song of the 2013 Eurovision Song ContestOnly Teardrops by Emmelie de Forest.
The tin whistle is featured in Mario Kart 8's track Wild Woods of the DLC Pack, Animal Crossing × Mario Kart 8.
- ^Oxford English Dictionary
- ^ abcdefThe Clarke Tin Whistle By Bill Ochs
- ^"Historical Folk Toys – Catalog Continuation Page: Penny Whistle in D". Historicalfolktoys.com. Retrieved 2017-09-18.
- ^The tin whistle tutor Edition: 3 – 1991 By Michael Raven
- ^ abcdThe Essential Guide to Irish Flute and Tin Whistle By Grey Larsen
- ^The Neanderthal Flute, Crosscurrents #183 1997 Greenwich Publishing Canada
- ^The Malham Iron-Age Pipe, by A. Raistrick, Professor Spaul and Eric Todd © 1952
- ^Sermon, Richard; Todd, John F.J. (2018-01-02). "The Malham Pipe: A Reassessment of Its Context, Dating and Significance". Northern History. 55 (1): 5–43. doi:10.1080/0078172X.2018.1426178. ISSN 0078-172X. S2CID 165674780.
- ^English Medieval Bone Flutes c. 450 – c.1550 AD. By Helen Leaf
- ^The Cambridge Companion to the Recorder John Mansfield, Thomson et al, 1995 Cambridge
- ^Performance practice: a dictionary-guide for musicians By Roland John Jackson
- ^Whistler's Pocket Companion By Dona Gilliam, Mizzy McCaskill
- ^ abcMel Bays Complete Irish Tin Whistle Book By Mizzy McCaskill, Dona Gilliam
- ^The tin whistle tutor the best – 1991 By Michael Raven
- ^Dannatt, Norman. "Antique Clarke whistle collection". Archived from the original on 11 May 2006. Retrieved 10 July 2006.
- ^The Oxford companion to musical instruments By Anthony Baines
- ^Oxford English Dictionaryonline edition
- ^Anraí, Róisín (2014-08-27). "Traditional Tin Whistle - Irish Musical Instruments - YourIrish". Yourirish.com. Retrieved 2017-09-18.
- ^"Tin Whistle Page – History of The Irish Penny Whistle". Celticmusicinstruments.com. Retrieved 8 June 2016.
- ^Hannigan and Ledsam
- ^Vallely et al., p. 397
- ^"Whistles By Key". Burkewhistles.com. Retrieved 12 January 2021.
- ^Benade, Arthur H. (1990). Fundamentals of Musical Acoustics. New York: Dover. p. 492.
- ^ abLarsen
- ^ abSchaldach
- ^Open Directory
- ^"Tommy Makem, 74, hero of Irish folk music, dies". Obituary. International Herald Tribune. 3 August 2007.
- ^"Feadoga Stain, Vol. 1 - Mary Bergin | Songs, Reviews, Credits | AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved 12 January 2021.
- ^"Mick Moloney". Folk Life. 1977. Retrieved 8 March 2015.
- ^"Julie Fowlis". Retrieved 8 March 2015.
- Dannatt, Norman (1993). The Penny Whistle. The Clarke Tinwhistle Co.
- Dannatt, Norman (2005) The History of the Tinwhistle. The Clarke Tinwhistle Co. ISBN 0-9549693-2-4
- Gatherer, Nigel. "History". The Scottish Whistle. Retrieved 30 January 2006.
- Gross, Richard. "Tinwhistle fingering chart". Tinwhistle Fingering Research Center. Retrieved 16 January 2006.
- Hannigan, Steáfán; Ledsam, David (2000). "Whistory: A Low Whistle History". The Low Whistle Book. Sin É Publications. ISBN . Archived from the original on 2006-07-21.
- Larsen, Grey. "A Guide to Grey Larsen's Notation System for Irish Ornamentation"(PDF). Archived from the original(PDF) on 18 February 2006. Retrieved 24 January 2006.
- McCullough, L.E. (1976). "Historical Notes on the Tinwhistle". The Complete Irish Tin Whistle Tutor. Oak Publications. ISBN . Archived from the original on 2007-06-07.
- Ochs, Bill (2001). The Clarke Tin Whistle: Deluxe Edition. The Pennywhistler's Press.
- "Tin Whistle Tune Collections". Open Directory. Retrieved 25 January 2006.
- Wisely, Dale (2000). "Deciphering Whistle Keys". Chiff and Fipple. Archived from the original on 6 April 2006. Retrieved 22 March 2006.
- Wolfe, Joe. "Introduction to flute acoustics". UNSW Music Acoustics. Retrieved 16 January 2006.
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On my quest to deeply learn an instrument every month, I had the amazing opportunity to spend a month learning the tin whistle. I learned some effective and helpful techniques that will jumpstart your tin whistle playing.
An essential tin whistle learning plan is comprised of the following:
- Music Theory (depending on your music experience)
- Learning new songs
- Technique and Ornamentation
- Listening to Traditional Tin Whistle Music
Now that’s easy to say those learning methods, but what do those really mean? I’ve spent the time for you to compile a learning plan that incorporates all that you need to know.
If you haven’t already, it’s time to choose a tin whistle. It does matter when choosing a tin whistle, especially since there are dozens of varieties and keys of tin whistles to choose from.
Choosing a Whistle
The tin whistle isn’t like other instruments where you have to spend a ton of money to get an instrument that is of decent enough quality to enjoy playing. Tin whistles are extremely inexpensive compared to other instruments.
Just starting out, I wouldn’t recommend getting a whistle for more than $20.
I imagine your jaw just dropped a little. Yes,you can get a beautiful sounding instrument for less than $20. The tin whistle is unique in that way.
The Most Common Key For Tin Whistles
Furthermore, there are many keys you can buy a tin whistle in. If you’re starting out I recommend getting a tin whistle in D. D whistles are the most common and will be compatible with any tin whistle song book.
The Best Tin Whistles for Beginners
The best kind of tin whistle for beginners is an inexpensive tin whistle. Fortunately, and unlike other types of instruments, you can get a beautiful sounding tin whistle for very, very little money, making this a fantastic starting instrument.
Two popular and beautiful sounding choices are:
- Clarke’s Sweetone Tin Whistle in D
- Waltons Mellow D
Is the Tin Whistle a Real Instrument?
You might be wondering if it’s worth learning the tin whistle if it’s just a toy instrument. I can assure you, that the tin whistle has incredible depth and beauty waiting for those who spend the time to learn it. Check out my article here if you want further discussion on whether the tin whistle is a real instrument.
Get a Song Book
There are two types of song books you can get:
- A structured learning songbook which teaches you the basics as well as introduces you to songs with a gradual increase of difficulty
- A songbook which is simply a compilation of songs. If you want to learn the possibilities of the tin whistle, I highly recommend a songbook with Irish tunes
Which of these two do you start with? Well, if you can, both are a good investment in improving your skill, but if you are choosing one I 100% recommend getting #1, a structured learning songbook.
Choosing a Structured Learning Songbook
The book I learned on was Clarke’s Tin Whistle Book by Bill Ochs. This book is a fantastic starting resource for many reasons:
- It contains basic music theory explanations. If you don’t know how to read music, this book will walk you through how to read what you need to learn the tin whistle.
- Songs of various origins demonstrating the capabilities of the tin whistle from very easy to very difficult
- Traditional Irish songs that are pivotal for learning tin whistle ornamentation
- A CD that goes along with the songs in the book–this is crucial for learning and understanding how the tin whistle can be played, particularly how traditional Irish music can be interpreted.
Which structured songbook you choose isn’t as important as long as it has the above attributes. Some well-known books are:
- Clarke’s Tin Whistle book by Bill Ochs
- Mel Bay’s Complete Irish Tin Whistle Book by Dona Gilliam
- How to Play the Penny Whistle by Gina Landor
- The Complete Irish Tin Whistle Tutor by L.E. McCollough
The Best Way to Practice the Tin Whistle
Now that you have a whistle and (hopefully) a structured songbook, you are now awesome!
Next, let’s learn how to actually play and then you’ll be more awesome.
To learn the tin whistle quickly and effectively, you have to incorporate a combination of different practices.
Practice Scales and Intervals
I know, you’re probably already rolling your eyes and remembering your middle-school band teacher telling you to practice scales, but your middle-school band teacher had a point!
Why Scales and Intervals Can Jumpstart Your Learning
Especially since the tin whistle is a diatonic instrument (read our article here to see what that means), meaning it is only in one key, practicing scales and intervals helps you to play extremely common patterns in music. Because you only have one key (two keys actually, read on to learn more), you have fewer scales to memorize!
It’s a bit easier to understand if you think of it as if you were learning a language. You can think of scales and intervals like learning common phrases like: “How was your day today?” and “where’s the pizza?”. Scales and intervals make up the bits and pieces of any song you’ll play, therefore practicing them will accelerate your learning.
Furthermore, scales and intervals help you learn the fingerings.
A Quick Refresher On Scales
A scale is simply a list of notes following an interval pattern. When someone says a “Major scale” what they mean is a series of notes that are a particular distance apart. The tin whistle is a D Major instrument, and so I’ll share the interval pattern for any Major Scale along with the notes of the D Major scale.
|Start||Full step||Full step||Half step||Full step||Full step||Full step||Half step|
This is the same interval pattern for all major scales in every key.
How To Practice Scales
Practicing scales is simple, pick a slow enough pace where you can play each note regularly and without fumbling, starting from the bottom note in the scale, all the way to the top. Then, start from the top, and then go back to the bottom. A common pattern to work towards is a quarter note for the 1st note, and then eighth notes for the notes in between till you get to the top.
Here is the fingering for the D scale on a D tin whistle, going up and down:
Now one cool thing is that the tin whistle has an easy fingering that allows you to play C instead of C#, this opens up another scale, the G major scale:
Lastly, it’s important to practice the full range of the instrument. Although the tin whistle can go higher, I am only putting the first two octaves, since above that you need earplugs to practice (not kidding).
Secret Ninja Music Theory Tips
What’s also important to know about the tin whistle is that no matter what key of tin whistle you buy, the fingerings are the same. So if you buy a C whistle, the scale fingerings will look exactly the same even though the notes will be a whole step lower.
Random tidbit: the tin whistle is a transposing instrument which means that the sheet music for the tin whistle will always be the same no matter what key you get (many concert instruments fall in this category). If you wanted to convert the notes to match the notes on the piano, you will have to transpose.
What Are Intervals?
If you were ever in band or if you had a piano teacher, you’ve likely had to practice intervals. Often music books will have the major interval right after a major scale.
So, if a D Major scale looks like these notes:
Then the D Major interval would be the 1st, 3rd, and 5th notes. To make it sound pretty you can throw in the next octave of the starting note:
Example of a D Major interval:
Now the G major scale interval:
How To Practice Intervals
Similar to scales, you go up the notes of the interval in a steady rhythm and go back down again.
Here are the fingerings for the D Major scale interval:
Here are the fingerings for the G major scale interval:
Taking Scales and Intervals To the Next Level
Cool, that’s it right? You’re done?
No… you’ve just started. It’s really good to get the two major scale intervals and scales figured out, since much of the music you will play will be in those keys.
However, the fun continues! One of the most exciting things I learned about the tin whistle is an incredibly powerful music theory principle: depending on what note you start in a major scale gives you a different scale altogether!
In music theory they give these modes fancy names:
|Position in Scale||Starting Note for D Major||Mode|
What’s super cool about this is that all of these modes have completely different feels! Also, you don’t have to insert any new notes! You are essentially playing the D Major Scale with a different starting position.
Which Modes To Practice
Although all modes will be valuable, Learn the D and G Major scales and intervals first (Ionian), then learn the Aeolian scales and intervals, followed by Myxolydian, and then Dorian, followed by Phrygian.
Another name for the Aeolian mode is the melodic minor. So much of the music we play is in a minor key. I tried to organize the modes to learn by how frequently a song is in that mode.
Learn New Songs: Keep It Fun
Wow, there is so much to learn about scales and keys and music theory! You technically don’t have to know any theory to learn any instrument, but I have definitely found that it helped my learning process as I picked up the tin whistle. Everybody learns differently–but I do encourage you to spend the time learning theory if you aren’t familiar with music.
However, you are practicing your instrument so you can play songs, not scales, and learning songs is an important part of your practice.
Use your songbook! Carefully go through each song. Try to practice your song to the point where you don’t make mistakes before moving on to the next song. Make sure you listen to the song if you can so you can get a feel for the song.This is extremely important if you’re learning the tin whistle.
Folk songs that feature the tin whistle, such as Irish and Scottish folk music have much different interpretations of rhythm than what you might be used to. For example, in Irish folk music, many songs interpret eighth notes and triplets don’t play them exactly as you would in modern music.
There’s a slight hold on the first note of a triplet in a lot of folk styles. Listen to someone play the song who understands these rhythm interpretations so you can play the right rhythm from the get go.
If you’re trying to practice tunes over and over again until you get them right, you’ll find that you’ll be halfway to memorizing them!
Challenge yourself and memorize your favorite pieces. Memorization is a different skill, and it’s an essential skill if you’re serious about the tin whistle. In an Irish Session, the songs are played so rapidly that advanced groups don’t use any sheet music at all, but rather, expect all songs to be memorized.
Tin Whistle Technique and Ornamentation
Tin whistles are amazingly dynamic instruments, and in order to really take this instrument to the next level, it’s essential to learn and understand tin whistle technique and ornamentation.
There are many techniques that apply to other instruments that are necessary to learn the tin whistle, such as slurring, tonguing (in certain styles of music), glissandos, etc. However, tin whistle has a set of techniques that are particular to the tin whistle called ornamentations. Although many instruments have ornamentations as well, tin whistle ornamentations are more than simple frills, they are a crucial part of Irish music.
Some argue that a beginner shouldn’t touch ornamentation. I spent a month learning the tin whistle for an hour every day as an absolute beginner. I can say that I wish that I had practiced ornamentation just a little bit from the beginning. Even if you aren’t incorporating it into your music as you are starting to learn to play (which I agree that you shouldn’t), it’s important to know what sound you will be heading towards.
Don’t jump the gun and try to learn ornamentation first because it’s important the basics first, but be aware of them. Make it a small part of your practice, with the majority of your practice being learning breath control, the fingerings, and basic technique.
If you want to learn more about tin whistle ornamentation as well as tin whistle technique, I made a post about this subject, here.
Listen to Songs With the Tin Whistle
Lastly, this is an important principle that can’t be understated. The Irish tin whistle has a sound and interpretation that is likely to be very different than the music you typically listen to. It’s important to get the feel of the music. What happens when you pick up an instrument and try to play a reel that you haven’t played before? If you don’t know how it should sound, then it’s time to keep listening so you can absorb the feel of the music.
It’s good to listen to music with tin whistle in it, and I’d say your focus can be there.
Let’s try listening to a short song and see what we can learn:
These are two reels–which have the characteristic of being moderate tempo with lots of energy.
As you listen to this song you’ll notice a few things:
- There is no tonguing! The entire song is slurred and only separated by tin whistle ornamentation. You can hear cuts, strikes, and rolls very prominently throughout the song. These give the same separation that tonguing would, and therefore tonguing is rarely heard in traditional Irish music.
- Besides his foot tapping, you can hear a clear accent of the beat in the music. You’d be able to feel the beat even without his foot tapping.
- The player uses his breath as a way to provide an accent and a break in the music–it’s done seamlessly
There’s a mountain of wisdom you can see in this one song. Listening will help you understand the music as you play.
Irish Sessions are the ultimate jam sessions (in my mind)–players of equal playing capabilities meet at a pub in cramped quarters and go through songs at speeds that I can’t even imagine.
You can find many sessions on YouTube and they are phenomenal examples of traditional Irish music and the experience of a session:
Learning Schedule For Music Beginners
If you’re ready to get started! Here’s a learning schedule you can follow if you’re a beginner to music and a beginner to the tin whistle. I’m going to assume you only have half an hour a day to practice, but if you have an hour, you can double these time increments.
|Study Skill||Time Per Day|
|Scales and Intervals||5 minutes|
|Songs from your Songbook (this covers technique, song learning and memorization)||15 minutes|
|Music Theory (YouTube and Google “Music Theory for Beginners”)||5 minutes|
|Ornamentation (don’t do too much of this. Just familiarize yourself until you’re ready–this could take months of daily practice)||5 minutes|
Ways to Adapt the Beginner Learning Schedule
Learning music theory is a lifelong journey, but you really only need to understand the context of your instrument. Learning the different scales and modes and what they mean is essential. Past that, learning chord progressions and how music is structured is very helpful as well. If there’s nothing in your songbooks that surprises you, then it may be time to focus on something else.
You can substitute free play for learning music theory if you already know it. It’s good to learn songs, but it’s also good to explore the instrument on your own without any structure. Play songs you know and love, or simply improvise.
Best tunes to play with the D tin whistle?
Here are 50 tunes, a list first developed by thesession.org member ‘Dr. Dow,’ which are pretty common the world around. Some of them are a bit overplayed, or felt to be out of fashion, but generally, when they get played at a session, most everyone in the circle can join in. Learning them is a good place to start.
Reels: The Banshee [James McMahon], The Bird In The Bush, The Bucks Of Oranmore, The Concertina Reel, The Congress, Cooley’s (Luttrell’s Pass), The Cup Of Tea, Drowsy Maggie, Farewell To Ireland, Father Kelly’s (Rossmore Jetty), The Foxhunter’s, The Gravel Walks, The Maid Behind The Bar, The Merry Blacksmith, Miss McLeod’s, The Mountain Road [Michael Gorman], Rolling In The Ryegrass (The Shannon Breeze), Saint Anne’s, The Sally Gardens, The Silver Spear, The Star Of Munster, The Wise Maid (All Around The World).
Jigs: The Blackthorn Stick, The Blarney Pilgrim, The Cliffs Of Moher, The Connaughtman’s Rambles, Donnybrook Fair (The Joy Of My Life), The Irish Washerwoman, The Kesh, The Lark In The Morning, The Lilting Banshee, Morrison’s, My Darling Asleep, Out On The Ocean, The Rakes Of Kildare, Tripping Up The Stairs.
Hornpipes & Set Dances: The Boys Of Bluehill, Harvest Home, King Of The Fairies, Off To California, The Rights Of Man
Slip Jigs: The Foxhunter’s, The Kid On The Mountain.
Hop Jigs: The Butterfly, The Rocky Road To Dublin.
Slides: Merrily Kissed The Quaker’s Wife, The Road To Lisdoonvarna.
Polkas: Denis Murphy’s, Egan’s, John Ryan’s (The Keadue).
10 Easy Tin Whistle Songs for Beginners (With Videos)
By Brian ClarkLast Updated: March 10, 2021 1
If you’re looking to learn some easy songs to play on a tin whistle, then this is the right place for you. We’re going to show you 10 songs that you can get started on right away.
We have tried to include a good variety of songs on this list, from movie theme tunes, Irish folksongs, to classics and poptunes.
The songs in this list are very popular, with basic melodies that are easy to follow and play on a tin whistle.
1. Titanic – My Heart Will Go On
This is one of the classic tin whistle songs with which we’re starting off this list. As you already know, this is one of the rare pop songs that have a wind instrument similar to the tin whistle play the main theme, so it’s no surprise that this is one of the most sought-after songs to learn.
As you can see in this tutorial video, it’s really easy to play this song, and you will play it like a pro in no time at all!
2. Lord of the Rings – Hobbits Theme Song
We continue with the soundtrack theme. Lord of the Rings is one of the most well-known stories in the history of the world, and iconic movies did well to Tolkien’s legacy.
Apart from that, they also gave us this beautiful music that’s great for beginners to learn and grasp the concept of this instrument.
3. Simon & Garfunkel – Sound of Silence
One of the most iconic tunes in the history of rock music, Sound of Silence, was recorded thousands of times by the most influential artists in the world. So, why not give it a go yourself?
It’s an easy song, with a simple melody and this tutorial will show you everything you need to know.
4. Rocky Road To Dublin – Irish folk song
One of my personal favorite songs of all time. Rocky Road to Dublin has a simple, catchy melody that will be stuck in your head when you hear for the first time.
And since it’s simple enough to play on a tin whistle, you will always have that option of just playing it for yourself and your enjoyment.
5. Game of Thrones Theme Song
Did you really think this list would be complete without the GOT theme song? For one of the most popular series ever to be aired, the theme song got to become as iconic as the show itself.
And even if you didn’t watch the show, you most certainly know how the song goes. So, get on to practicing and play this with your friends; they’ll love it.
6. Amazing Grace
Amazing Grace is a commonly played song for beginners on almost every instrument. Check out the video tutorial that we have embedded below to learn how to play it on your tin whistle:
7. Fairytale – Shrek
Last of the OST tracks on this list, we promise! A catchy, gentle, simple tune that can be played by anyone, the Shrek soundtrack song is one of the people’s favorites when it comes to tin whistles. The simplicity and pure beauty of the song make it a perfect theme for the first song to learn on the tin whistle.
8. The Kerry Polka
The tin whistle is best known around the world because of Irish folk music. Irishmen played their songs on tin whistles, and that Celtic sound really spread and caught on around the world. So, apart from the before-mentioned Rocky road, The Kerry Polka is another example of a catchy Celtic tune that’s easy to play and suited for a beginner. If you’re into Irish folk music, you will find TONS of tabs and instructions on the internet, don’t worry.
9. Leonard Cohen – Hallelujah
One of the most beautiful songs ever to be made, Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah is a true masterpiece. And to make things even better, the melody is really, really simple and doesn’t take a lot of time to master at all.
So, as it turns out, it’s not that hard to reach those heavenly melodies at all.
10. Scarborough fair
This old traditional song is probably best known today because of Bob Dylan’s version of it, especially the one sang in duet with Johnny Cash. But, this is still a beautiful tune that’s well known around the world and makes one of the most beautiful love songs of all time.
In this video, you’ll find everything you need to master this song and see that it’s not that hard to play it after all.
We hope that this post has inspired you to learn some new songs on your tin whistle. There are lots of other songs that you can find online, as well as free tutorials on how to play them.
So, get started. Practice regularly, and soon you will be able to play them all!
Featured image: by Daniel Fernandez / CC BY-SA
Whistles songs tin
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