Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Tin Whistle

The tin whistle is a simple wind instrument with six holes and a mouthpiece. The working principle behind a tin whistle is similar to that of a flute except that you blow directly into one end, like a referee’s whistle, and not from an angle, like a normal flute. The tin whistle is a popular instrument in traditional Irish music.

The tin whistle is also known as the pennywhistle. It is commonly made of a molded plastic mouthpiece attached to a cylindrical brass tube with six holes set in it. Different sizes of tin whistles will play in different keys. The tin whistle is also normally diatonic although accidentals can be played by half-covering the holes. Mass produced tin whistles vary a lot in terms of quality so it is wise to check out a tin whistle before you buy it. Play the tin whistle to check the tone. You can even compare it to another instrument or an electronic tuner to make sure that the tin whistle is operating at its normal pitch.

You can also opt for a more expensive handmade tin whistle with which you are guaranteed to get excellent construction, good tuning, clear tone and volume.

Notes from a tin whistle are selected by fingering combinations over the six holes. When all the holes are closed, the tin whistle gives out its lowest note. Opening the holes from bottom top progressively brings the tin whistle up in the scale. When all the holes are opened, the tin whistle produces its highest note. Higher notes on any scale of the tin whistle can be achieved by blowing harder into the mouthpiece.

Although popular in traditional Irish music, the tin whistle is also used any many other music forms throughout the world. The Kwela from South Africa is a music type that is dominated by the jazzy sounds of the tin whistle. The bluegrass is another type of music that sometimes include the tin whistle in its number as well although not as pronounced a role as those of the Irish traditional music and the Kwela.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Irish Tin Whistle Demonstration

Feadon Irish Tin Whistle Demonstration - The best video clips are right here

How To Play the Tin Whistle

The tin whistle, also known as the pennywhistle, Irish whistle, or just plain old whistle, is an instrument with a plastic or wooden fipple, or mouthpiece, and a metal body tube. They are fairly easy to play and the fingerings are similar to that of the saxophone, clarinet, and flute. Tin whistles are a great way to introduce someone to playing a musical instrument and lots of fun!

  1. Purchase a tin whistle at a local music store or online. Whistles are available in all the major keys. The most common, a D whistle, can play in the keys of D and G major. The second most common, a C whistle, can play in the keys of C and F major. The lowest note of a penny whistle, with all the fingers covered, is called the tonic - on a D whistle the tonic is D.

    • 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.
    • Whistles are pitched in different keys and octaves.
      Whistles are pitched in different keys and octaves.
       Low whistles, or concert whistles, are longer and wider and 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, with a tuning-slide head. The term soprano whistle is sometimes used for the higher-pitched whistles when it is necessary to distinguish them from low whistles.
  2. Hold the whistle correctly. It should face downwards and away from you at a 45 degree angle. Place your dominant hand at the bottom and your other hand at the top of the tube. Pinkies are not used except to support the whistle while playing certain notes, or when playing the largest (and lowest) tin whistles. Thumbs hold up the whistle from below. Cover the six keyholes with your fingertips. Place the tip of the fipple between your lips, but not between your teeth.
  3. Learn how to finger the notes. The standard range of the whistle is two octaves. For a D whistle, this includes notes 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.) As you go up a note on a whistle you generally lift one finger. Read the tablature for a D whistle below. White holes indicate that it is uncovered, black indicate covered, and plus signs below the fingerings indicate the higher octave.

  4. It looks easy and is easy!
    It looks easy and is easy!
    Play the lower octave notes. Hold the whistle with all the finger holes covered. (You don't need to press hard, just make sure each hole is completely covered.) Blow a steady stream of air, with your mouth shaped as if you were saying "toooo". This will produce the tonic (a D on the D whistle). Blowing too softly will make the note airy or nonexistent. Blowing too hard will produce the upper octave or a squeak. Blowing just right will create a steady, low tonic pitch. Progressively remove a finger at a time, starting by uncovering the hole at the end and working your way up to your mouth until you're playing the note with no holes covered (C#). You might need to use the pinky of your dominant hand to help support the whistle when none of the holes are covered.
  5. Play the upper octave notes. Cover all the holes again and blow harder than before to get a higher pitch. If you're having trouble hitting the note, slightly uncover the top hole (the one closest to your mouth) and try again. Doing this might help with all the notes in the higher octave.[1] Like before, uncover the holes, one at a time until you get to the highest note (C#). As the notes get higher, you'll have to blow harder to reach it. If you overblow, however, the whistle will squeak.
  6. Play music! If you don't know already, learn how to read sheet music.

    • A "D" whistle
      A "D" whistle
       If you have music transposed for a concert pitch instrument (violin, flute, piano) you can play this if it is in the right key. A player will usually play a whistle only in its tonic key and possibly in the key beginning on the fourth (e.g. G on a D whistle), but 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.

      • To play a C natural on a D whistle or a B flat on a C whistle you can either half cover the top hole of the whistle[2] or cover the two holes below the top hole. (The latter is more practical for faster playing.)
    • Click on the thumbnails below to see a few simple tunes.

      Frère Jacques in D
      London Bridge Is Falling Down in D
  7. Practice! Not only should you be looking for clean, steady notes and smooth transitions between them, but you can also practice ornamentation:

    • Cuts - Just before you play a note, play a higher note for an instant. Snap one of your fingers off a hole momentarily to hit the next higher note. It should be so short that the listener can't determine the pitch.
    • Strikes - This is like a cut, except you go one note lower instead of higher.
    • Sliding up a note - Slide your finger slowly off a hole so that you ease into the next note. It should only take about half a second.
    • Vibrato can be achieved by varying the air speed slightly. Faster air means a higher tone, and slower air means a lower one, so by pulsing the air using your diaphragm, one can achieve vibrato. Don't blow too hard, or the instrument will play the next partial. Vibrato can also be achieved by opening and closing the second open hole counting down from the mouthpiece. For example, on the note A, play a normal A and wiggle your finger over the hole at the first finger of your dominant hand.

The meditations of Brother Steve: on learning Irish music

This is the theory (OK, long-winded rambling) section. If you're in a hurry to learn, you'll probably be tempted to skip this page in favour of the topics with practical tips. But come back some time. Distilled here is some of the wisdom - if such it be - I have gleaned over many years spent walking on the same path you are on.

Yours pedantically, Brother Steve

PS I've heard reports of people feeling discouraged after reading this page. If you're of an overly serious turn of mind, don't forget to take some of what I say here with a wee pinch of salt - or at least turn your sense of humour on.
What is it that you are trying to learn?

If you're learning the tin whistle to play Irish music, chances are you are learning two things at once: one is the tin whistle, the other is Irish music.
The good news is that the tin whistle part is easy (there can hardly be an easier melody instrument, in fact). So rest assured that with sufficient application, and maybe a little help from teachers, tutor books and other players, you can master this simple instrument.
The other news is that learning involves as much listening as playing - actually much more listening than playing. Read on!
Why all this insistence on listening?

As a beginning tin whistler, you'll find that teachers and experienced players will recommend that you spend a lot of time listening to good players. Most of you ignore this advice. So why is it given?
Each musical genre has its own conventions, its own stylistic rules. To take an example: for better or worse, you've probably heard a fair bit of country music in your lifetime. If you heard a classical violinist playing the fiddle break in a country song, or an operatic soprano singing "Stand by your man" to a Nashville backing band, you'd immediately know something was wrong. This is because you are familiar with the stylistic conventions of country music, and you can tell that the violinist and the soprano don't know them.
Irish music has stylistic features that do not occur in the types of music that most of us have grown up with. If you don't listen carefully to discover these features, and work to copy them, you could easily have the same effect on discerning listeners as the operatic soprano singing in place of Tammy Wynette - or worse, as the late Johnny Cash trying to sing opera.
That's why you have to listen, to learn the conventions.
Unfortunately, it takes time. I know you're impatient to play. You're in a hurry to learn 50 tunes or 500 tunes or 5,000 tunes so that you can sit in in the local sessions. But please, besides learning tunes, make sure you set aside time to listen to good players and absorb the "rules of the language" (see the next topic, Speaking the lingo), and hear the subtle things that are going on.
If you are lucky enough to have good players in the area where you live, listen carefully to them, learn what you can. Watch and observe. Make sure you have recordings that feature good traditional whistle playing, preferably solo. Listen actively, notice, compare.
Don't stick with the first player you are exposed to or whom you saw in concert and whose playing you have fallen in love with. Listen to different styles, different approaches. Don't just stick with whistle players. But also listen to fiddlers, fluters, pipers. They all have things to teach you. (Even accordionists.)
Speaking the lingo

I live in Quebec, and I often think it's a shame to hear French-speakers who express themselves very well in English but totally spoil the effect because they don't pay attention to the rules of English pronunciation. (The same is of course true of English-speakers speaking French.)
For example, French-speakers tend to say things like "I 'ave to do dis and dat". Why? Simply because the sounds "h" and "th" don't exist in their language. So they've never learned to make these sounds. Also, in many cases they will not even hear these sounds, because their ear is not attuned to them. So it's natural that they never think to make them.
In the same way, you can listen to Irish music but not hear things that are blindingly obvious to "native speakers" of Irish music.
Here's an example from my own experience. I had been playing fiddle enthusiastically for some time and thought I was doing pretty well thank you very much, when a top-class fiddler from Donegal, after hearing me play a jig, kindly took me aside and gently let me know that I had the rhythm all wrong. At first I was mortified, and couldn't understand what he meant, but eventually, by listening hard, and after a couple more hints, I began to get the picture. But it took me months before I started to play jigs in a more acceptable fashion. With the right accent, if you like.
Now when I hear enthusiastic beginner fiddlers playing jigs exactly the way I used to, I give a prayer of thanks to that kindly fiddle player. And with my students, I ram home the importance of learning to hear these subtle rhythms in a jig by constant, conscious listening. Because until you hear them, you won't be able to reproduce them in your playing.
On learning from sheet music

As far as Irish music is concerned, I think that learning to play through reading music is rather like teaching a baby to read before it can talk, and then expecting it to learn to speak by reading the newspaper.
OK, I'm exaggerating slightly. I do use sheet music in my classes at Siamsa, because some students -- mostly those who have played a classical instrument -- can't seem to get on without it. But it's like learning Spanish from a book: at some point, you have to lay down the book, get out into the street, and start listening and talking. There's so much stuff that's not on the page that you can't afford to miss. And as long as you're staring hard at the paper, part of you isn't listening to the sound you're making.
If you can only learn from sheet music, do yourself a favour. Start learning to develop your ear now. Throw away your crutches! Yes, you'll be hobbling for a bit, but soon you'll be walking and then running.
Your best teacher

I know a prominent fiddler who gives lessons but actually believes that teaching is a waste of time. He is self-taught, and thinks that those who are unable to teach themselves never really get anywhere.
I agree and disagree. I think that teachers can be useful: a good teacher can help you along, save you time, tell you when you're on the wrong track. But I also believe that you must become self-motivated, and not depend on a teacher. (This means becoming a True Believer.) Ultimately we all teach ourselves to play an instrument, and how do we do this? By using our ears.
Learn to trust your ears. They're your best teacher. You may read about a certain technique in a book, or have someone explain it to you. But you'll never make it sound right unless you hear it right. If you can hear the sound or the effect you want in your mind, sooner or later your fingers will find a way to do it.
On rhythm and ornamentation: the good cake theory

One of the first things you'll notice about Irish traditional music is the infectious dance rhythms. Another thing you'll probably notice is the unusual quality of the melodies, which is often the result of their "modal" nature (the scales they use, if you like).
But when you start playing the whistle you will surely start to notice the intricate ornamentation that most good players use. And in tutors, and workshops, and talking to other players, you'll soon hear terms like "cuts" and "rolls" and "crans" being tossed about. You'll quickly form the idea that these devices are an essential part of playing Irish music. And so they are.
But -- and this is a very big but -- rhythm is far, far more important than ornamentation. Make no mistake about this. By and large, ornamentation should serve to enhance rhythm. But it is no substitute for rhythm. It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing!
Put time into mastering all the ornaments, by all means. But make sure your rhythm is good. And that means, one: make sure your rhythm is steady (you keep a constant beat, without speeding up or slowing down), and two: make sure your rhythm is acceptable for the type of tune you are trying to play.
You can play great Irish music with next to no ornamentation. There are many fine players who do. But you cannot play good, or even mediocre, Irish music without good rhythm. If your rhythm is good, everyone will enjoy listening and tapping their foot, even if they know nothing about Irish music. If your rhythm is not good, nobody, but nobody, will enjoy listening to you.
I often compare the situation to a cake. Your rhythm is the basic cake, your ornamentation is the icing. A good cake can be delicious without any icing at all. But putting icing on a bad cake won't hide the fact that it tastes awful.
So make sure your cake is good. How can you be sure? If you've done enough years of listening, you'll know. If you haven't been listening for years, politely ask good players to give you feedback. Ask them in private, so they'll feel free to give you an honest opinion. ("So, Joanie, how is the rhythm of my jigs coming along?")
The apparent-speed paradox

Have you ever listened to a recording of top Irish musicians playing a dance tune at a nice speed and decided to play along, only to discover that they are playing much faster than you thought? The music is fast, and yet it doesn't sound hurried, which lulled you into thinking you could keep up with it.
At other times you might be listening to less experienced or less skilful players, and notice that their playing sounds rushed, hurried. They may not be playing especially fast, and yet the tune seems to be tripping over itself. This is not very enjoyable to listen to.
Part of the art of playing Irish music -- and most types of music, in fact -- lies in creating a feeling of space inside the tune, so that the notes fall in just the right place, no matter what speed you're playing at, and nothing is hurried. Largely this is a matter of being very sure of the rhythm you want to create, and feeling confidence in your ability to do so. Of course you need appropriate technique, too.
Strive for this feeling. When it comes, you'll really start to enjoy the music you're playing, and so will others. You won't sound hurried. In the meantime, and afterwards, resist the temptation to play too fast for yourself.
Are you a True Believer?

When you start playing Irish music late in life (say over the age of twelve!), you're taking on a tough assignment. You can start slowly and gently, but sooner or later, if you want to break through to a higher level, you're going to have to become a little obsessed. There'll be a period of at least two years, and maybe much longer, when you start acting a little strangely. You'll be found listening to Irish music all the time (when you're washing dishes, walking the dog, driving your car). You may lock yourself in your room and practise the whistle the rest of the time, with an intensity that your friends and family just cannot fathom.
You will probably take to attending sessions with devout regularity, and sooner or later, festivals. You'll start coming home with obscure recordings of people with names like Willie, Miko and Tommy. Pretty soon you'll be making pilgrimages to Doolin and Miltown Malbay and other holy sites in the west of Ireland. You have become a True Believer.
There are two types of people who take up Irish music. Those who become True Believers, and those who imagine that they will crack this music without going through a period of obsession. In my experience, it is very hard for the latter to reach the promised land. Camels going through needle's eyes have an easier time of it.
For the classically trained

Here's a note for anyone who has played an instrument in another style of music, and particularly for those who are reasonably accomplished classical musicians. My thoughts are based on my own experience -- I learned classical violin as a child before taking up Irish music on the fiddle -- and on observing a number of players who were already proficient or highly skilled classical players before they came to traditional music. Some of these players have been students of mine.
Classical players usually have an excellent command of their instrument and can easily rattle off any traditional tune they put on the music stand. Many traditional players, particularly fiddle or flute players, may have what classical musicians may see as faulty technique, and many read music slowly or not at all.
Seeing this, many trained players, as I did myself, fall into a simply enormous trap, which is this: they imagine that since reading traditional tunes is easy for them, and that since they have excellent technique, they will automatically play traditional music well. In other words, apart from memorizing tunes, they have nothing much to learn. Folk music is simple, and classical is sophisticated, right?
The truth is that there is a huge amount to learn, and also a lot to unlearn. Folk music may be relatively simple, but it has its own rules and subtleties. You will have to learn to hear rhythms that don't exist in classical or rock music, and then to find a way of reproducing them on your instrument. You will have to realize that the written music is only the barest guide to a tune, and makes no attempt to notate rhythmic subtleties. You will have to understand that the tune on the page is only one example of how this tune can be played -- an "instantiation", if you like. And so on and so on.
If you're a violinist, you'll have to learn to bypass, suppress or unlearn ingrained bowing instincts, and learn new and counter-intuitive bowing patterns. If you're a recorder or flute player, your tonguing, phrasing and breathing instincts will require similar reevaluation. And so on and so on.
The sooner a classical player realizes all this and -- forgive me for being blunt -- learns to eat humble pie, the better. Sadly, some never seem to get the point, even after many years. (If you're in any doubt, a trip to the Holy Land and a conversion to True Believer status is in order.)
Here are a few examples to make you smile and illustrate my point:
Long before I came across genuine traditional music, I heard the folk-rock popularized by bands such as Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span. In the early 1970s my brother gave me a Steeleye Span record for Christmas containing a set of reels beginning with Dowd's favourite played on fiddle by Peter Knight. I bought a Steeleye Span music book and found Dowd's favourite and, with the sheet music and the record, set about trying to play the tune. (Some beginner reel, I hear you saying.) I remember thinking to myself, "If I work at this, in six months I should be as good as this Knight fellow!" Twenty years of fiddle playing later I put that record on again and realized I would probably never be able to equal that performance of that tune. A humbling experience! But it had taken all those years of learning and listening for me to understand just how well "that Knight fellow" had mastered the style.
A few years ago a conservatory-trained violinist started appearing at sessions in our city. Seeing that, despite his enormous command of the violin, he hadn't really understood what traditional music was all about, someone suggested he consider taking classes at the Willie Clancy summer school in Co. Clare, which he was planning to visit with friends. After attending an opening concert at which many of the fiddle teachers performed, he reportedly announced that he hadn't signed up for classes because he "couldn't find a teacher who could play in tune."
Yesterday (18 February 2001) I heard a young violinist aged about 19 busking in my local métro (subway or underground) station. Since I had to wait for a connecting bus, I could listen to him for about 10 minutes. Among other things, he played The teetotaller's fancy at a quite incredible speed -- like Nomos on steroids. Of course, his rendition had zero swing, no ornamentation, and varied not one iota in repetitions, etc. He then proceeded to play a piece of Bach, languidly and quite beautifully. No doubt he imagined his performance of The teetotaller's was masterful. I considered whether to tell him that though his Bach was lovely, his travesty of Irish music was actually offensive to my ears. But then the bus came...
Put some croutons in the soup!

Nearly a quarter of a century ago I was consorting with an accomplished classical flautist in London. Seeking to impress, I took her along to see "The Mulligan Roadshow", a concert in Fulham or somewhere featuring Matt Molloy and other artists of the Mulligan label on a promotional tour. To my consternation, she stayed resolutely unimpressed, snooty almost, with the playing of the king of the wooden flute. But when Kevin Burke came on and started to play fiddle, accompanied by Micheal O Domhnaill, playing sultry cuts from "Promenade", she was utterly captivated.
A week or so later, hurtling down the Bayswater Road in her car (she was an insane driver) listening to a cassette of "If the Cap Fits", she exclaimed, "I love this violin playing. It's so wonderfully smooth and flowing, and then all of a sudden there's these little crunchy bits that are just delicious!" Now I was pretty big into that album at the time, but I hadn't thought of Kevin Burke's playing in quite that way. Somehow her description brought to mind a thick velvety soup, with crusty croutons floating in it...
The "crunchy bits", of course, were the explosive ornaments in the fiddle playing - short, rapid-fire "trebles", rolls, cuts and so on. Ever since then I think I've associated shaping tunes with the art of cooking. Without wishing to flog the analogy to death, a tune is something like a recipe. You need to try it and practise it and see how much savour you can put into it, flavour it to suit your own taste. The techniques of traditional playing that you acquire become like so many jars of spices and flavourings that you can stir in whenever you want to give the tune the flavour you want. This is what I mean when I sometimes refer to your "ornamentation spice-rack".
The best recipes are always slightly improvised. Who wants to serve up exactly the same dish every time? When you first learn tunes, you'll be keen to "get them down pat", to learn them exactly as you heard them on a record, or from a tune book, or from another musician. This is good! But as you develop, and are exposed to the playing of more and more players, you'll start to realize that....
...A tune is quite a fluid thing

The tune is present, is represented, in any performance of it, in any written version of it. But the tune is generally much more than any one performance. Especially the old, well-worn traditional tunes that generations of musicians have loved and shaped and made their own. I always enjoy listening to master players of an older generation, like Séamus Ennis and Bobby Casey. Very often you'll find the same tunes on several different recordings by such a player, and the various performances will be surprisingly different. Listening to musicians like these taught me to see that any playing of a tune as what you might call an "instantiation" - an example, an incarnation, a rendering, of something that could be very different played by a different player, or by the same player on another occasion, and yet remain unquestionably the same tune.
So, as you develop, use all your croutons, spices, flavourings, all your understanding of a tune, to play it with a certain freedom, with the joy in creating a new dish every time, never quite the same, even if it always bears your signature.

Ceolas Tin Whistle Guide

1. Introduction
2. Tutors
3. Recordings
4. Buying, Brand Comparison
5. Tuning
6. Sources

1. Introduction:

The tin whistle or pennywhistle is a simple and cheap wind instrument used
widely in Irish traditional music. The most common type has a moulded
plastic mouthpiece attached to a cylindrical brass tube with six finger
holes. It is diatonic though accidentals can be played by half-covering
holes, and is available in different sizes for almost every key. Sometimes
it is played in the key a fourth above the tonic (e.g. G for a D whistle).
The most common key is D (an octave above middle C) and the fingering is
standardly referred to as though for a D whistle. Mass-produced whistles
are very cheap (less than US$10) and there are several tutors availble that
make it an easy instrument to start off on for playing traditional music.

2. Tutors

There are several good beginners books. The most reccomended include:

* "Geraldine Cotter's Traditional Irish Tin Whistle Tutor". Ossian
Publications, Cork. 1983, reviesed 1989. ISBN 0 946005 12 5. Includes
notes on ornamentation and 100 Irish tunes. The Ossian catalog lists it for
IR6.50 (about US$10) with a companion tape for IR3.99. Ossian also
publishes Tom Maguire's "The Tin Whistle Book" for IR2.25; this is much
more simple and basic than the Cotter book.

* Robin Williamson: "The Penny Whistle Book". Oak Publications, New York.
1977. ISBN 0 8256 0190 8. Not as detailed on ornamentation as the Cotter
book but has a good description of the modal basis of traditional music.
Has many international tunes, though some of the arrangements are a bit

* Cathal McConnell, flute and whistle player with Boys of the Lough has a
book+tape set available from Homespun tapes (Box 694, Woodstock, NY 12498).
I've heard good reports about it.

* John and Eithne Valley: "Learn to play the Tin Whistle" books 1-3. Armagh
Piper's Club. 1976 (7ed.).

* Traditional Highland Tin Whistle is a tutor based on Scottish tunes,
including some transposed bagpipe tunes.

For more advanced players, probably the best book around on the whistle,
including lots on ornamentation, phrasing and articulation is:

* L.E. McCullough: "The Complete Irish Tin Whistle Tutor". Silver Spear
Publications, Pittsburgh, PA 15217, first published in 1976, revised since
then. (see his website:

3. Recordings

These are all recordings featuring solo whistles.

Mary Bergin Feadoga Stain Gael Linn 071
Shanachie 79006
Mary Bergin Feadoga Stain 2 Gael Linn 149
Cathal McConnell On Lough Erne's Shore Flying Fish 27058
Paddy Moloney/Sean Potts Tin Whistles Shanachie 79033
Donncha O'Brien Donncha O'Brien Gael Linn 083
Various Artists Light Through the Leaves Rounder 6014
Sean Ryan Take the Air Gael Linn 142
Micho Russell The Man From Clare Trad HC 011

4. Buying a tin whistle

Most of the mass-produced tin whistles vary a lot in quality, so it helps
if you can try out a few before buying. Check the mouthpiece for bits of
plastic left over after moulding, play it to check the tone and bring
another instrument or an electronic tuner to check that it is at normal
pitch and that it is in tune with itself (if the holes are badly bored,
then just some notes will be out).
If you end up with a dud that has left-over plastic on the airway or wedge,
you can try to remove it; a jewelers flat file is a good tool for the job,
a sharp thin knife will also usually work.

Brand Comparison

There are three categories: cheap cylindrical whistles, the older-style
conical whistles, and high-end whistles.

Cylindrical Whistles

This is the most standard tin whistle, cheap and very popular. Many of the
top players, such as Mary Bergin chose this one over all the fancy
expensive models. It is cheap, comes in almost every key and is available
in brass or nickel-coated brass, which looks fancier but makes for a rather
slippy surface. About $7. Red plastic mouthpiece. Their precise, sweet tone
is often mentioned. The nickel-plated versions reportedly have a shriller

Made in Ireland. Like the Generations, some say sweeter-sounding than them.
Brass, with green plastic mouthpiece, which is said to be more comfortable
than that of the Generation.
Cillian O' Briain in Ceardlann na Coille (craft centre) Dingle, Co. Kerry,
is a pipe maker who adapts Feadog's, by "voicing and boxing". producing an
instrument which is quiet, but clear and in tune. Cost is about 12 punts,
up from 5 for the original feadog. He does business by mail order; I'm not
certain, but the above address should get to him.

American made, (difficult to get in Ireland), nickel-plated, with black
mouthpiece, several people say this is their favourite. Gives a mellow tone
in lower register, but harder to play in upper register.

Irish made, with green head and a 2-part brass body, which dismantles into
less than 6" long.

This is a plastic whistle (less likely to be crushed), with a removable
headpiece, about $18. Tuning is not always reliable.

This is a very cheap-and-cheery brand, only about $4 and made of very thin
metal which easily dents. They are coloured a rather ugly bright orange but
have a clear, bright sound that many like.

Green mouthpiece, brass or nickel-plated body. Low notes harder to get,
require more air than the Generation or Feadog brands.

This Dublin music store has recently come out with a matt black whistle,
cheap and very similar to the Gererations. They are very light (aluminium)
and visually striking, a bit on the quiet side

Conical Whistles

The only two inexpensive conical tin whistles made these days are Shaw and
Clarke. Both of them have a wooden block set in the mouthpiece and taper in
from there on down. Compared with cylindrical whistles, they are easier to
play, with a soft, breathy tone which requires more air and tonguing,
especially in the second octave. The Shaw seems to be the better made and
liked of the two. In the US, Clarke's are availabe in C and D, ($6-13) and
the Shaws in D,C,A,F and low G, low D for about $15-50.

High End Whistles

Expensive pennywhistles may seem a contradicion in terms, but there are now
several brands of handmade whistle, running up to several hundred dollars.
For your money, you get excellent construction, good tuning (usually
adjustable), volume and clear tone. Some swear by these instruments, but
some of the best players, such as Mary Bergin and Cathal O' Connell stick
with the cheap and cheerful Generation brand.

Makes whistles of blackwood, with a silver mouthpiece and tuning slide.
These also have a conical bore and are much louder than cheap whistles,
standing up well in sessions. Round sound. He makes some with a C natural
hole in the back, like a recorder. Cost is about $200.
Chris Abell, Concord, MA ph. 617-369-7114
Chris Abell, 111 Grovewood Road, Asheville, NC 28804, ph./fax 704-254-1004

Brass whistles ; run about $130-180. Very clear, loud, tunable. Some say
the loundness detracts in slow airs and solos. One person had one whose
fipple blocked frequently.
Michael Copeland, 609 Pine St. Philadelphia, PA ph. 215-545-5574.

Steve Harper of Buckingham also make aluminium whistles like the Overton,
but are louder and tunable. Makes a C and D body that fit the same head.
Sold through Hobgoblin.

O' Riordan makes a tunable brass-lined whistle with a wood or imitation
wood finish. Good volume. I have heard both that it's a little harsh and
that it is pure and sweet, maybe it's variable.

Aluminium line of whistles by Bernard Overton of England. The low D is
popular, played by Davy Spillane. Soft tone. There is one report that they
tend to 'wear out' with time and start to sound fuzzy.

Sweetheart flageolet
Sweet as the name. Look and sound more like recorders than whistles, made
of different woods. Requires fairly careful attention to breath pressure.
I've heard of two people who's Sweethearts had poor tone and didn't like
them, so there may be variablilty in the quality.
Ralph Sweet, 32 S. Maple Street, Enfield, CT 06082, ph. 203-749-4494

Thin Weasel
Wooden, with steel mouthpiece, tuneable, handmade by GA Schultz. About

5. Tuning Tin Whistles

The pitch of a regular tin whistle can be altered by sliding the barrel in
and out of the head. Many whistles have the head glued or securely jammed
into the barrel. To loosen the head, you can try holding the joint under
running hot water and twisting; holding it with a dishcloth will help for
traction. Be careful not to overheat, or the plastic head will melt. If you
get the head off, smear it with vaseline or grease to make further tuning
easier. Another possibility is to hold a lighter under the joint while
turning it, for 5-10 seconds. The plastic will blacken, but this can be
cleaned off later. Both of these techniques have been used successfully
with the glued-together Generation whistles.
To flatten individual notes, you can tape over a little part of the hole in
question, or close it down with a little glue or varnish. To sharpen, you
could try to file away and make the hole bigger.