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 Post subject: D and C
PostPosted: Fri Jul 10, 2020 4:05 pm 
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Whistle tutorials always seem to use a D whistle. Harmonica tutorials, a C. Are there musical or other reasons for the these instruments to be based in their respective key?

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 Post subject: Re: D and C
PostPosted: Sat Jul 11, 2020 2:22 am 
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Most music for beginners will be in the key of C too, it's the easiest key to play in, as most instruments for beginners are in C.

But, it just so happens that most of your ITM, & a lot of other Celtic tunes, are in the key of D, & as most whistles tend to be bought by ITM players, that D became the norm.

Personally, I find it very annoying, as I've grown up with C notation. :lol:

(Before that, it was the C whistle that was the norm, especially when first introduced in England by its maker).

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 Post subject: Re: D and C
PostPosted: Sat Jul 11, 2020 3:21 am 
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fatmac wrote:
Most music for beginners will be in the key of C too, it's the easiest key to play in,

It's the one with no sharps or flats, but not necessarily the easiest.

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as most instruments for beginners are in C.

Clarinets, saxophones, most of the brass family?

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But, it just so happens that most of your ITM, & a lot of other Celtic tunes, are in the key of D, & as most whistles tend to be bought by ITM players, that D became the norm.

Also debatable...
http://forums.chiffandfipple.com/viewtopic.php?f=8&t=109767

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Personally, I find it very annoying, as I've grown up with C notation.

D whistles use C notation, i.e. the notes sound at their named pitches. You play a D and you get a D, or play a C and get a C; that's C notation. Unless you mean you grew up calling the six-finger whistle note C and the three-finger note F?

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 Post subject: Re: D and C
PostPosted: Sat Jul 11, 2020 9:22 am 
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Location: Surrey/Hants border, England
Beginner instruments, such as the recorder, are used when teaching music basics, which are in the key of C, normally, as is the music used to teach with - even the piano uses the key of C.

That's why having whistle music written in the key of D is awkward to play for someone used to the key of C, the key of D has C# & F#, whereas, the key of C has none, therefore, trying to play music written in the key of D makes one have to half hole to get the sharps when you are playing a C instrument mentally.

P.S. Clarinets, saxophones, most of the brass family, are not commonly starter instruments when learning music.

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 Post subject: Re: D and C
PostPosted: Sat Jul 11, 2020 11:16 am 
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Afraid there's just so much wrong there I'm not even going to try sorting it out for you this time!

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 Post subject: Re: D and C
PostPosted: Sat Jul 11, 2020 12:42 pm 
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fatmac wrote:
Beginner instruments, such as the recorder, are used when teaching music basics, which are in the key of C, normally, as is the music used to teach with - even the piano uses the key of C.

That's why having whistle music written in the key of D is awkward to play for someone used to the key of C, the key of D has C# & F#, whereas, the key of C has none, therefore, trying to play music written in the key of D makes one have to half hole to get the sharps when you are playing a C instrument mentally.

P.S. Clarinets, saxophones, most of the brass family, are not commonly starter instruments when learning music.


Yes, but in part the soprano ("C") recorder is used for kids because it's the size most geared for kids. I think I've heard many adults beginners tend to start with the alto ("F") recorder, but that one could be a bit much for child hands. And while a sopranino (also "F") is small, even the most masochistic person in the world wouldn't put one of those in the hands of a kid-- soprano is bad enough.

As far as whistles, I picked up D whistle faster because of having played recorder as a kid-- accidentals aside, the fingering is largely the same (six fingers down is D, five fingers down is E, etc.)

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 Post subject: Re: D and C
PostPosted: Sat Jul 11, 2020 12:47 pm 
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There's a series of reasons that we play in sessions around the keys of D,G,A and related modes, and it's got nothing to do with "the celts" because it's not celtic music.

The fiddle played in first position is what has dominated folk music in Britain and Ireland in the last couple of hundred years. With the rise of sessions the tendency to play in D (and therefore G and related modes) has solidified since we need a common ground in this informal communal music making.

There is nothing about the music that means it must be played in these keys, and it very often has not and still is not. Bagpipes for instance come in various tunings, and if you look at the notebooks of English country musicians (The Village Music Project) of the 18th and 19th centuries you'll find quite a variety of keys used.

If you take buttons accordions (melodeons) then you'll see that the tuning that we use today only started to settle down relatively recently. ie. 1940s and 1950s. When one-row instruments first came to Britain and Ireland they were in C.

Still, we come back to the "D" whistle. And why not? It fits well to that This is not classical music and doesn't use the conventions of classical music.

By the way a "C" soprano/descant recorder is the same pitch as a "D" whistle. If you stuck it into classical orchestral role then it would be regarded as a "C" instrument. Is this confusing? Not really, because because folk and traditional music just does its own thing.

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 Post subject: Re: D and C
PostPosted: Sun Jul 12, 2020 8:06 am 
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It's just "the way it is". Different communities have decided their "non transposing" notation for various reasons, and there doesn't seem to be much rhyme or reason. Whistle has chosen the key of D, but I can't read it as I came from other traditions where key of C was the norm. In recorder, both soprano and alto (and by extension, most other sizes) chose key of C which means that the same fingering has two different notations depending on which size you are holding. Other instruments like saxophone, clarinet, trumpet, etc. chose key of C for their notation even though their base scale is something different (typically Bb or Eb). I also play Native American flute where one common notation system is in the key of F# Dorian (4 sharps - I'm not kidding) - which I also cannot get my head around and invented my own based on key of C.

Bottom line is that if you want to communicate with members of a particular musical community, you have to learn their language.


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