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What does one play on a fife?
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Author:  jim stone [ Wed Feb 27, 2002 11:21 pm ]
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A friend has lent me her blackwood
Sweet D fife. I can play it, sort of,
but I wonder if people will tell me
what such an instrument does. Does
one play whistle music on it, except
it's a fife? Is it supposed to play
hauntingly beautiful music, airs,
or military marches. What's it supposed
to sound like when played well?

Author:  jim_mc [ Thu Feb 28, 2002 2:21 am ]
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As far as what to play on the fife, start with any of the tunes on this site:

When played properly, the fife can sound haunting, beautiful, stirring, raucous, in short, however you want it to sound. I play military marches (British and American, Union and Confederate) early American folk tunes, plus the usual jigs, reels and hornpipes.

American fifers play with a different style than the Irish - much more staccato, with fewer ornaments and more tonguing.

Here are a couple of good recordings:

200 Years of Fife and Drum in America, by the New York Regimentals. Available at:

American Fife and Drum Music, by the Ancient Mariners. Available at:

When you can't play along with these recordings, it will be because both groups play with B flat fifes (as most do). Let me know if you're interested in one and I'll make some recommendations.

Happy fifing!

Author:  jim stone [ Thu Feb 28, 2002 4:25 pm ]
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Thanks so much! Very helpful. What's
a good Bb fife? The D is very hard
to play.

Author:  jim_mc [ Fri Mar 01, 2002 7:03 pm ]
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You asked for it: here's a lengthy description of some of the fifes available out there.

My first choice would be the McDonagh 6-hole from Wilson Woods for $110. It's a redesign of the original McDonagh, which I initially resisted, but have since embraced. Available here:

There is another manufacturer of the McDonagh fife (long story), Larry Trout. The Old Guard plays Larry's fifes. I know of only one vendor for it, Leo Brennan (who is a great guy). You can get Leo's contact information here:

Skip Healy makes a real nice fife for $175. I'd recommend the standard or special models (6-hole) to begin with. Here's his site:

Cooperman makes a wide variety of fifes, but I'd only recommend 2 of their lines. One is the concert series models (about $125.), which they designed (I think) in conjunction with David Migoya. It's the only one-piece fife still being made that I really like:

The other is the plastic tube fife. For $6. it can't be beat:

There are a couple of people making copies of the Ferrary fife, an excellent fife which hasn't been available since the 1970's. The Ferrary was, in essence, a copy of the Cloos, the legendary fife of the Civil War era. I don't have any experience with any of the Ferrary copies. Maybe Dave Migoya knows something about them.

Ralph Sweet makes a variety of fifes, and while Ralph is a lovely man, I don't care much for his fifes. However, Ralph, his wife and his son have each put together fife books which are invaluable. The books are The Fifers Delight, The Fifers Delightful Companion, and The Bread and Butter of Jamming. Check them out:

Jim, e-mail me privately if you have further questions. I would have e-mailed you all of this if I had your address. Some of the fluters might consider our exchange off-topic.

And Dave Migoya, if you're reading this, please put in your $.02 (that's $16.50 Canadian, right?).

Author:  jim stone [ Fri Mar 01, 2002 9:36 pm ]
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Immensely grateful for this interesting
info. Many thanks. Jim

Author:  RudallRose [ Sat Mar 02, 2002 11:02 am ]
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I was/am reading it and shaking my head, asking "who IS this guy?"
I can't imagine someone in NYC who knows all this fifing stuff and I don't know them. I must know you from somewhere!
anyway....all good recommendations.
I'm not sure who is doing the Ferraray fife (pronounced like the car, Ferrari) but I've heard it's being done again. He's about the only one that really matched the original Cloos in design and sound. Good fife for the historically conscious.
I had a hand in the Cooperman one-piece concert fife in design and such. Long time ago while I was in St. Louis. The idea was to make a historically-accurate-looking fife, with the bore that allowed for modern equal temperament scales and, as such, use of complex harmonies in perfomance.
The 200 Years recording is by far the best, although there are many other good ones, this is really the one that launched all the others. Very nice fifing and drumming. I still listen to it on occassion.
The Civil War fanatic should look for the Bruce&Emmett Fifer's and Drummer's Guide, which is pretty much the bible to CW fife/drum music and style. Excellent book. I even believe there's an online .pdf version out there.
My favorite fife: McDonagh. I have several originals (back when Roy Seaman made them), also in different woods. Best is still grenadilla, although I really like how boxwood fifes sound. Padouk wood also responds nicely. Zebra wood is sh*t. Looks great, though, on the wall! :smile:

Author:  jim_mc [ Sat Mar 02, 2002 8:43 pm ]
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The Ferraray fifes are being made (I have heard that it's from the original tooling) by one of two people: either Ed Boyle or Ron Peeler. Ed sells what he calls the authentic Model F fife. Ron calls his a re-creation of the Ferraray. I really don't know who (if either) has Ferraray's equipment, or whose fife is closer to the original. I never bought a Ferraray back when they were being made - I was a dedicated McDonagh player and didn't collect fifes. I'd buy one in a heartbeat if I could find it now, but I don't have much interest in any of the copies.

Ron's fife:

Ed's fife:

Dave - I'll e-mail you and explain who I am. I'm sure it's only 1 or 2 degrees of separation. Our paths have definitely crossed.

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