How did you learn to play the whistle?

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How did you learn to play the whistle?

Post by ltwhistle »

Curious to know how did you learn to play the tin whistle, or how you made any progress further on. Did you watch YouTube videos, got a tutor book, had a personal teacher or a course?

What is one thing you were (or still are) struggling with the most as a tin whistle player?

P.S. Based on my experience, I wrote a couple of free tin whistle lessons for beginners (there are several videos included too). Feel free to check it out and let me know if you can think about any improvements that I can add to the website.
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Re: How did you learn to play the whistle?

Post by facet »

ltwhistle wrote:.... I wrote a couple of free tin whistle lessons for beginners (there are several videos included too).....
Nice site with good info for beginners, I'll share it.
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Re: How did you learn to play the whistle?

Post by Byll »

I came to the whistle many years ago, from being a professional classical musician, and being a secondary level public school and university instructor. I also performed in a pseudo-Celtic band, playing hammer dulcimer, and wanted to branch out. Whistle intrigued me. Two more bands - and many years - later, and whistle has become an integral part of what the current band does... Hopefully, we can all get back to giving concerts in the next year. We cancelled so many, in 2020.

While I used every whistle resource I could find, including much written material, and the expertise of many on C&F, my real education began after one of my band 's concerts one evening - far away from home - where the musician hired to play during our break, was a harpist and whistle/silver flute player. We talked afterwards. I asked her how she liked the band, and what she thought of the whistle work. She told me that I 'faked it' better than most people who attempt iTrad whistle.

Ouch. And so we talked some more. And then, some more, over the following weeks... She lived a state away, but I was intrigued. I decided to invest in a real whistle education, and for many years have made the 2.5 hour journey, once every two weeks, and have had 45 minute lessons, with solid technique instruction being amplified by much new repertoire. It is an investment in time, money, and energy, that has been totally worth everything we both put into it.

My teacher is tough, and like me, comes from a classical background. As for her toughness, I would not want it, any other way.

Bottom line: For me - especially coming at it from the perspective of an educator, myself - there Is nothing like real-time, hands-on instruction. When Covid hit around us, we had to cease in-person lessons, and probably would have shifted to Zoom, or some such platform, even though I am not a fan... However, I ended up having medical challenges for the last 21 months, and lessons ceased. We fully intend to work together again, when the fates allow. I have a lot of learning left to do...
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Re: How did you learn to play the whistle?

Post by An Draighean »

ltwhistle wrote:Curious to know how did you learn to play the tin whistle
Had a friend ages ago that had a stack of Seán Ó Riada/Ceoltóirí Chualann records, and we listened to them a lot and began to play along with them.
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Re: How did you learn to play the whistle?

Post by Narzog »

I mostly learn with youtubue tutorial's. But its very important for other beginners to know that a lot of the youtube tutorials are bad information. So anyone learning with youtube should make sure to have several sources, hopefully reputable ones, to make sure that what they are learning is accurate.
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Re: How did you learn to play the whistle?

Post by pancelticpiper »

I really never set out to learn the whistle.

I was a piper first, then I took up the Irish Flute. (This was long before the internet existed BTW.)

Anybody who plays Irish flute can pretty much pick up a whistle and play it due to the fingerings etc being more or less the same, and sooner or later they will end up with a whistle in their hands.

What I did have to learn was the rather different style most High Whistle players use, which involved rather more tonguing than most Irish flute players use. The whistle style came slowly to me, perhaps because I spent so little time playing whistle.

When Low Whistles came onto the scene, being a new instrument there was the question of how to approach it stylistically.

Should it be played as a flute? Or as a whistle? I myself float back and forth, but as I've played Low Whistle more and more (and stopped playing flute) my Low Whistle style has ended up in a middle ground between my flute style and my High Whistle style.
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Re: How did you learn to play the whistle?

Post by RoberTunes »

I've never thought that I know how to play the whistle particularly well. When I see YouTube performances by the great players like Orlaith McAuliffe, Mary Bergin or James Galway, I know that I CAN now be a good player and control the clarity and expressiveness, and I spend most of my time inventing new music, but have such a long way to go developing my speed, dexterity and all the types of ornaments, which I'm really drawn to.

Many moons ago I bought one of those black Walton "Guinness" whistles, got hold of a finger chart, learned the first two octaves and a few higher notes, and just went to a practice place and explored what sounds the instrument could make. From that I created a few tunes, based on the sound possibilities of the instrument, not any musical "style". I by accident tried Generation whistles in D, high F and high G, and didn't carry on with those at all. They were sold quickly. When I bought a Tony Dixon aluminum DX006 in high D, I realized what a really good whistle could do, and like with other instruments, getting an instrument that responds musically across it's full range, makes a lot of difference in the playability, tone and odds of carrying on playing it.
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Re: How did you learn to play the whistle?

Post by oleorezinator »

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Re: How did you learn to play the whistle?

Post by Nanohedron »

pancelticpiper wrote:Anybody who plays Irish flute can pretty much pick up a whistle and play it due to the fingerings etc being more or less the same, and sooner or later they will end up with a whistle in their hands.
That was me: flute first. TBH whistle terrified me for the longest time, because its very simplicity demands a special touch for the playing to sound really good. But eventually I got over it and was okay with being mediocre. :wink:

I think it's not quite right to call flute and whistle interchangeable; there are things that work better on one than the other. I'd say they're different enough to perhaps be called analogous.
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Re: How did you learn to play the whistle?

Post by bigsciota »

I picked up a whistle because I was going to sessions as a singer and wanted to join in the tunes, too. Had some friends who were very, very patient as I learned my first few tunes, All-Ireland players who let me squeak away on Out on the Ocean and the Kesh again and again. Otherwise, I spent my time listening to them and to anyone else I could, whistle player or not. To be honest, I think this is far and away the most important thing you can do. There are some decent YouTube tutorials (and a lot of really terrible ones), some good books, and obviously a teacher will help your learning a great deal, but if you don't internalize the feel of the music, you'll always sound like a novice.

Eventually I got a flute, and spent much more time on that for many years. However, in the past year or so I've been spending a lot more time on the whistle. It's always in my pocket, so it's easy to play a few tunes here and there. As much as I love the flute, to be honest I just can't get enough of the whistle! I'm sure others here will know what I mean...
Nanohedron wrote: TBH whistle terrified me for the longest time, because its very simplicity demands a special touch for the playing to sound really good.
I used to teach skiing, and we had a saying between us and the snowboarders, "skiing is easy to learn and hard to master, and snowboarding is the other way around."

Anyone who has been up on a snowboard knows that the first lesson or six that you have on a snowboard, you'll spend most of your time on your butt. The balance and everything is tough, and it takes a lot of practice to get good enough to make a few consecutive turns down a slope. That contrasted with skiing, where I could get a class of beginners doing basic turns down a bunny slope in the usual hour and a half's time. However, once you got the basics in snowboarding down, you were essentially good to go, and just needed to refine them. With skiing, you get increasingly technical if you want to improve, and it can take a lot longer to get to a top level.

It's not a perfect analogy, but I think there's a bit of similarity with flute and whistle. With the flute, it's tough to develop a good embouchure, but the reward is that once you have one, you have tons of control over your sound. You can alter dynamics and tone, use your breathing itself as a rhythmic device, and if your fingers are reasonably dextrous you'll sound great. Yes, you won't be Matt Molloy or Seamus Tansey just yet, but a decently competent flute player sounds, IMO, fairly good.

With a whistle, you can make a sound a heck of a lot easier than with a flute, and squawking out a tune within your first few minutes of picking it up is not out of the question. But man, making it sound like anything other than squawking is hard work! I've heard plenty of whistle players who can play loads of tunes at a good clip, have lots of ornaments at the ready, and still sound awful. You've got to know the music inside and out and have a feel for it to really make the whistle sing. True of any instrument, sure, but IMO the line between "incredible" and "unlistenable" with the whistle is a lot thinner.
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Re: How did you learn to play the whistle?

Post by Sedi »

@bigscotia
Those were some interesting thoughts. Because I did actually ski a lot for a few years and never got really good at it. lol. And the points you mentioned about flute vs whistle are more or less the reasons why I switched from whistle to flute (well, that and a longtime love affair with the flute and its sound since childhood).
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Re: How did you learn to play the whistle?

Post by Katharine »

bigsciota wrote:With a whistle, you can make a sound a heck of a lot easier than with a flute, and squawking out a tune within your first few minutes of picking it up is not out of the question. But man, making it sound like anything other than squawking is hard work! I've heard plenty of whistle players who can play loads of tunes at a good clip, have lots of ornaments at the ready, and still sound awful. You've got to know the music inside and out and have a feel for it to really make the whistle sing. True of any instrument, sure, but IMO the line between "incredible" and "unlistenable" with the whistle is a lot thinner.
Are you referring to the sound of the instrument, or the actual structure/feel of the music? As in, "They've got the music down, but the whistle sounds terrible" vs "their technique is okay, but it doesn't sound like Irish music."
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Re: How did you learn to play the whistle?

Post by Gcobean »

Listening, listening, and more listening.
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Re: How did you learn to play the whistle?

Post by pancelticpiper »

Nanohedron wrote: I think it's not quite right to call flute and whistle interchangeable; there are things that work better on one than the other. I'd say they're different enough to perhaps be called analogous.
That's a good way to approach it.

From my own playing experiences I am of the opinion that the Irish flute and High Whistle could be played in the same style.

In practice they usually aren't.

It's the usual "folk music process" where generations of players playing thousands of tunes evolve one or more styles for a particular instrument that maximise what that instrument does best and minimise that instrument's weaknesses.

In Irish trad this process has evolved two rather different styles for Irish flute and Irish High Whistle.

I had always noticed this stylistic dichotomy, but when it most struck me was when a very good Irish High Whistle player, who played in what I think of as the (more or less) "classic" or "mainstream" style very similar to Mary Bergin, took up the Irish flute.

Seemingly from the moment he started playing the flute is was in a style completely different from his High Whistle style, and a style that I think of as the (more or less) "classic" or "mainstream" Irish flute style.

I had to go the other direction and figure out how to make my High Whistle playing sound appropriate, and not like my flute playing.
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Re: How did you learn to play the whistle?

Post by bigsciota »

Katharine wrote: Are you referring to the sound of the instrument, or the actual structure/feel of the music? As in, "They've got the music down, but the whistle sounds terrible" vs "their technique is okay, but it doesn't sound like Irish music."
Both, really, but the latter more so than the former. They are very much intertwined, if you don't have a feel for how to shape the tune your overall sound can suffer. The tone of the whistle can start sounding very dull and same-y, for lack of a better term, in a very grating way.
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