Irish Pennywhistle – Wikibooks, open books for an open world

The pennywhistle, often known as the tin whistle or tin flute, is a conventional end-blown flute, just like the recorder in look and use. Its origins are in Eire, however it since has come into use in lots of branches of Celtic people and conventional music, being among the many commonest melody devices each in sluggish airs and in dance tunes similar to jigs and reels. In up to date Celtic music, it usually provides a robust accompaniment to vocal music, and it is excessive pure tone can present a steadiness of vary in multi-instrumental preparations.

This wikibook offers a tutorial on the essential technique of the pennywhistle, in addition to an introduction to ornamentation, improvisation, and taking part in in a seisiún (pronounced “session” in english; a type of Irish “jam session”). That is particularly designed to assist somebody who already is aware of a bit about music, similar to completely different keys and scales, however even the musically uninitiated will discover a lot helpful data.

Deciding on an instrument[edit]

Earlier than you start taking part in, it’s crucial to pick an instrument that most closely fits your wants, talents, and, in fact, worth vary. It’s normally greatest to check out a number of whistles, both by buying or by borrowing them, earlier than you determine which one to proceed utilizing. Particularly, do not hand over whistling simply since you don’t love a selected whistle! There are a whole lot of moderately priced whistles in the marketplace. Some are squeaky, shrill, and exhausting to deal with, whereas others really feel as pure as your personal voice, so maintain making an attempt till you discover the best one. Listed here are some tips to set you heading in the right direction.

Kinds of whistle[edit]

The development of a pennywhistle may be very easy, because the whistle consists of solely two elements. The primary is the bore, a tube about 2 cm in diameter. Six holes are situated on the bore; these are coated by the fingers to create completely different pitches. The second half is the mouthpiece, which is normally fabricated from molded plastic and glued to the bore (exceptions are listed beneath).

The most well-liked pennywhistles in the marketplace right now are in all probability additionally the only option for inexperienced persons: cheap, with plastic mouthpieces. I extremely advocate the Sweetone, which has a very good sound and is offered for 5 to 6 U.S. {dollars} from varied on-line shops.

One other cheap alternative is the Clarke whistle, which is made in England of a single sheet of metallic wrapped in a semiconical form, with a uncooked block of wooden inserted because the mouthpiece. This provides a delicate, breathy sound that’s acceptable for sure songs, however requires far more breath than a plastic mouthpiece, making lengthy notes or phrases all however unattainable.

Most low-cost whistles usually are not tunable, which means that the pitch of every word is fastened and can’t be modified to match that of different devices. Different whistles, together with some as cheap as $15, could be tuned by shifting the mouthpiece. A tunable whistle could also be a very good funding should you plan on taking part in with different musicians fairly often, and particularly in case you are accompanied by an instrument similar to a piano that can’t be simply tuned to match your pitch.

It ought to be talked about that it’s in truth potential to switch low-cost non-tunable whistles. Whistles similar to a Technology or a Walton have the fipple (mouthpiece) glued on. To switch such whistles fastidiously warmth the fipple in sizzling water to melt the glue and take away the fipple. Clear the glue off each the fipple and the bore. Grease the within of the fipple and the surface of the bore with vaseline or lip balm or comparable and exchange the fipple. This offers an hermetic match and permits the fipple to be eased up and down making it the whistle tunable.

The bore of most whistles is fabricated from unfinished tin or brass. Some manufacturers, nevertheless, additionally provide a “blackwhistle”, which has an opaque black end on the bore. This makes no distinction aside from appears to be like, and may by no means price greater than an unfinished whistle.

One other various to plain metallic is the wood whistle provided by the Sweetheart Flute Firm. These devices provide a candy, mellow tone and make it straightforward to not sound squeaky or shrill, although some might not just like the deviation from the extra piercing conventional sound. They’re with out exception very costly, beginning round $100. Not like most whistles, which require that the musician half-cover holes to attain sharps and flats, wood whistles can have keys added to sharp sure notes for an additional cost.

The ultimate and most uncommon non-metal whistles, such because the Water Weasel model, are fabricated from PVC pipe.


As talked about above, most whistles play in a selected key. For instance, a whistle in the important thing of D performs the notes of D, E, F#, G, A, B, and C# with out requiring the musician to manually sharp any notes. Any notes that aren’t on this scale have to be created by half protecting holes (until your whistle has keys to sharp notes; see “Kinds of Whistle” above.) If you happen to want to play a pure C on a D whistle, as an example, you could half-cover the B gap to attain a B#, which can also be a C. Some folks discover it straightforward to manually sharp notes; others favor to purchase whistles in a number of completely different keys.

For the reason that overwhelming majority of Irish music is written within the keys of G and particularly D, whistles in D and G are the commonest, though additionally it is straightforward to seek out whistles in the important thing of C. Every key of whistle has a special fingering. For example, when taking part in a C whistle, the bottom note– that with all of the holes covered– is a center qb; on a D whistle, the bottom word is the D simply above center C. Because of this, it may be very troublesome to modify between keys. It’s actually a private choice whether or not this or guide sharps is extra cumbersome. Some folks refuse to do both, and both play solely tunes of their key or transpose different tunes into it.

One exception to those primary remarks is the low D whistle provided by many firms. These whistles are fingered in the identical sample as a center D whistle, however are for much longer and wider in order that they play an octave decrease. They’re usually made out of unconventional supplies, similar to PVC pipe, and normally have a wood block as a substitute of a molded plastic mouthpiece. Low whistles have a deep, haunting sound that provides a pleasant selection to any whistler’s repertoire.

The disadvantages of low whistles are that they’re costlier than small whistles, take immense reserves of breath, and have very giant, extensively spaced holes. Until you may have exceptionally giant fingers, you’ll in all probability have to cowl the holes with the flat, fleshy a part of your fingers between the second and third knuckles, fairly than with the fingertips, which many individuals discover troublesome to get used to. That stated, this type of fingering is strictly the identical as that of a bagpipe, so if in case you have performed the pipes it is going to be second nature to you.

Enjoying the whistle[edit]

For this we assume that you’re taking part in a whistle with the usual D tuning, which is the default whistle tuning.

There’s a nice tin whistle tutorial particularly appropriate for inexperienced persons at [[1]].

Place of Whistle and Fingers

Maintain the whistle in order that it comes out of your mouth at about forty-five diploma angle. If you’re right-handed, your proper hand ought to be on the bottom- for left-handers it’s reverse. Your thumbs maintain the whistle up from beneath. Place the highest pad the primary three of your fingers (not the tip) over every corresponding gap, tight sufficient for no air to leak. This could require little or no strain if the fingers are accurately positioned -if you discover holding the place for lengthy durations uncomfortable, you could be urgent too exhausting. The pinkies ought to be positioned the place ever is snug and out of the way in which. They aren’t used. When all of the holes are coated, that’s D place. If you happen to carry up the bottom finger, you may have E place. Raise the subsequent lowest finger, and it’s F. Raise the subsequent one and it’s G– so on via A, B, till C has no holes coated. As a result of the whistle is held in place by ‘pinching’ the fingers and thumbs barely, most whistlers will maintain their backside finger (proper ring finger for proper handed gamers) down while taking part in a C -this has no actual impact on the tone.

When placing the whistle to your mouth, the mouthpiece ought to be held between the lips, however normally not protrude into the mouth far sufficient to bang into the tooth, which might harm each the mouthpiece and your tooth!


Maintain the whistle in D place. With a sluggish regular stream of air, exhale flippantly. If you happen to blow too softly the word is not going to be clear. If you happen to blow too exhausting, it’ll both be D in the next octave or it’ll simply squeak. Apply till the word is a transparent, low D. Apply with the opposite notes, as nicely, till all of them are clear, low notes. Every word takes barely extra air strain than the one beneath it.

For the next octave, you solely need to blow slightly tougher. Nevertheless, it takes a whole lot of apply to maintain these notes from squeaking. Has anyone heard about how apply helps?! You might not consider it however it’s true!


Tonguing is carried out by tapping the roof of your mouth together with your tongue, as if sounding a ‘T’ or ‘D’, in the beginning of your breath -if you had been utilizing your vocal chords fairly than taking part in the whistle, it will provide you with a ‘tooo’ sound. It has the impact of starting the word with a pointy assault fairly than a breathy opening. Whether or not you tongue some, all, or not one of the notes you play is solely a stylistic alternative. Tonguing can be used mid breath to punctuate taking part in, because it momentarily stops the breath. This will particularly be used to interrupt up a run of similar notes.

Irish Ornamentation

Earlier than you attempt ornamentation, ensure you can play pretty nicely and rapidly. And remember- they aren’t guidelines about ornamentation that you need to comply with. What ever is best and sounds greatest is that they technique you need to use. Everybody has their very own type.

The putting of Ornamentations

Some Irish music offers ornaments, however the majority leaves the ornaments as much as you. Utilizing the next gadgets the tune could be made prettier. When ever you suppose one in every of them would improve the sound, use it. Nevertheless, it’s best to not go overboard.

The Grace Observe

The grace word is a really quick word performed earlier than one other, primary word. For the notes D, E, and F, carry the finger that covers the A gap, and rapidly set it down. Let’s use an instance to elucidate this slightly clearer. You’ve got a tune, wherein the sequence of notes goes like this:

A G grace word E F grace word D

First play the A, then the G, then put you fingers within the place of E, however with the A gap uncovered, play, and rapidly exchange the A finger. (tongue solely the grace word, not the principle word). Subsequent play the F, then type the D, with the A gap uncovered, play, and rapidly exchange the A finger.

For the notes G, A, and C, they identical factor is finished, solely it’s not the A gap that’s uncovered for the grace word, however the B gap. You need to use different holes as nicely for grace notes. Keep in mind, there usually are not guidelines. What sounds greatest is greatest.

The size of a grace ought to be solely lengthy sufficient to be distinct. Hold it as quick as potential with out the tones mixing.


A strike is easy- simply faucet your finger on the outlet beneath the word you’re taking part in. Just like the tonguing you may separate notes with a strike, which can be utilized nicely if there are two or extra equal notes in row. For instance A A A or G G.


The minimize is one other option to separate notes. As a substitute of tapping the belower word as we do it in a strike, we’re lifting one finger at the next word to interrupt the airflow. Important for this are the forefinger and the ringfinder of your left hand. To chop the notes D E and F you’re lifting your left ringfinger and to for slicing the notes G A and B you’re taking your left forefinger. You may ask what is supposed with “lifting the finger?” and that could be a fairly vital query. It’s not a lifting in any respect however fairly a extremely quick flipping of your finger. As if a beetle is sitting in your finger and also you need to chase it of.


A slide is a gradual transition from one word to a different, versus the peculiar type of rapidly shifting to the subsequent word. Usually carried out by gently rolling the finger onto or off of the outlet, versus the tapping required in faster melodies.

Rolls and Vibratos

Coming quickly!


In addition to the essential how-to of taking part in the whistle, there are inevitably different sources you want, which have been exhaustively coated elsewhere, and will present various opinions/explanations than right here. – Nice animated tutorials and workouts obtainable that can assist you be taught the whistle, together with movies, sheet music and MP3’s.. -An enormous community-based database of people songs. You will see virtually any tune you have ever heard right here -and if not, inform them about it! -an all-round web site together with a big songbook (with midi recordsdata and actual recordings) and an intensive set of critiques of each high-end and cheap whistles.

A 9 week video Introduction to Tin Whistle course provided by Ryan Duns SJ at Fordham College could be seen at . Participantants can be part of the group


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