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PostPosted: Thu Jan 16, 2020 1:24 pm 
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Hi.

I am a viola/mandolin player but played concert flute as a kid.
I have the flute - I pull it out sometimes, but that kind of music doesn't do it for me anymore.

I like the fingers-on-open-holes sound of Irish flutes and whistles, but am a little intimidated about attempting to switch from flute to whistle (or possibly Irish flute).

I have been browsing the websites of the mass manufacturers (i.e. affordable for someone who isn't sure) but I can't quite understand the jargon.

For whistles I see "low" "high" and "alto".
1) Are the low and high an octave apart?
2) Is "alto" well defined, or just in keys/ranges at the high end of "low" and the low end of "high"?

For some flute manufacturers I see "Low and High", for others I see "flute" and "piccolo".
3) Is one maker's "low" equivalent with another's "flute", and "high" with "piccolo"?
3b) or is piccolo even higher?

4) How do these rangers compare to a concert flute?
4b) If I take a concert flute range, and chop off the lowest C (middle C), and the top octave, is that about the range of a "D flute" in Irish flutes?

I've heard "high D" or "pennywhistle in D" are the best places to start.
5) is this also true for someone coming from flute background, or would a flute be better to start with?


I'll probably have more questions - but thank you
-Heather


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PostPosted: Thu Jan 16, 2020 2:09 pm 
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1) Are the low and high an octave apart?
Normally yes. A low D whistle is one octave lower than a "normal" or high D.

2) Is "alto" well defined, or just in keys/ranges at the high end of "low" and the low end of "high"?
Alto is not well defined when it comes to whistles. Your thinking is about correct. Often just A and G are considered alto while Bb is still a "high" whistle and F already a "low" whistle.

3) Is one maker's "low" equivalent with another's "flute", and "high" with "piccolo"?
I'd say yes.

3b) or is piccolo even higher?
It can't possibly be because it would be too small. The highest whistle AFAIK is in G one octave above alto G. So you normally only have Eb to G above the normal "high D" whistle. I am unsure if there even are transverse flutes that high or only whistles.

4) How do these rangers compare to a concert flute?
You mean a boehm flute, I guess. It's similar to a flute from the romantic period minus the C-foot. Some models still have the C and C# hole but no keys to use them.

4b) If I take a concert flute range, and chop off the lowest C (middle C), and the top octave, is that about the range of a "D flute" in Irish flutes?
Yes.

5) is this also true for someone coming from flute background, or would a flute be better to start with?
If you already play the boehm flute, IMO you could try a simple system flute. Main difference is the finger stretch. The embouchure is slightly different but should not be much of a problem to adapt. Most players of simple system flutes or keyless flutes used for Irish trad turn the head further inward to blow more into the embouchure hole than across it like on a boehm flute. That produces a stronger more "reedy" tone.


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PostPosted: Thu Jan 16, 2020 2:19 pm 
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Thank you so much for answering all of these questions :)


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PostPosted: Thu Jan 16, 2020 2:43 pm 
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The major concern is the hole spacing - low D is quite a stretch on the whistle & simple system/keyless flutes.

You need to learn the 'pipers grip' for playing the low ones, from about an F down, but some have to also play a low G that way too.

Piccolo is normally a high D or high C keyless flute - I like them. :thumbsup:

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PostPosted: Thu Jan 16, 2020 3:01 pm 
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fatmac wrote:
The major concern is the hole spacing - low D is quite a stretch on the whistle & simple system/keyless flutes.

Noticeably less so on the flutes, so long as they're conical bore. If a simple system flute has a cylindrical bore, the stretch will be greater, and comparable to that of a low D whistle.

fatmac wrote:
You need to learn the 'pipers grip' for playing the low ones, from about an F down, but some have to also play a low G that way too.

Again, if we're talking conical bore simple system flutes, not everyone uses "piper's grip". I had to, but I cite my having small hands as the reason. That said, I know a petite woman who uses full Rockstro grip, and I don't know how she does it. It's not unusual for people to use a combination of both.

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PostPosted: Thu Jan 16, 2020 3:36 pm 
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Just some thoughts and observations from making a number of whistles and flutes myself.
- It is theoretically possible to make a cylindrical flute with about the same stretch as a conical bore. BUT (and it is a big but) -- the lowest hole gets rather small when moving it further up the tube while the second hole from the bottom becomes rather large when moving it further down. I made flutes with 7 or 7.5 mm and 13 mm respectively for those two holes (the E sounds slightly weaker because of those dimensions). The downside is that you still need large fingers to close the large hole but the stretch is reduced (I don't use piper's grip to play that one) -- actually the same as on a Walt Sweet "Shannon" (the one flute maker that actually posted the dimensions of the stretch for both hands) even though the hole dimensions are rather different. The tuning between octaves can be corrected by using a tuning rod inside the head (an idea I adapted from the marching band fifes sold in Germany by the company Sandner) which simulates a tapered head and is adjustable. But I also managed to get the hole size and stopper distance just right to make a cylindrical bore flute without any tuning issues up to the third octave D. Good enough for practicing, at least for me. But the bore is large and the embouchure rather small -- I like it because it is not very loud but probably not suitable as a session instrument.


Last edited by Sedi on Thu Jan 16, 2020 3:55 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Thu Jan 16, 2020 3:39 pm 
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A good point illustrating that there are always exceptions.

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PostPosted: Thu Jan 16, 2020 4:52 pm 
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As a flute player for decades, my experience shifting to the Irish flute and whistles in general create a lot of curiosity as to how they can be played. The silver flute of course has a lip plate and relatively tall chimney (and no structural mouthpiece windway apart from the organic and adjustable embouchure), while the Irish flute typically has no lip plate but the thickness of the wood creates a chimney dimension which varies according to how the maker wants to design that area of the headjoint.

If the Irish flute you've chosen is responsive, it should be a successful transition for you. Losing the lip plate takes a minor adjustment (and you may be used to a lip plate helping you anchor to a position) but depending on the size of the tone hole, you might adjust quickly and find it easy to play. There are variations in design and variations in Irish flute response. I find any flute without a lip plate takes more discipline in holding it in place and finding that edge of contact to play off of. Trial and error. This is a parallel to playing the bamboo flutes of Indian style, which also have no lip plate. Then you can again find the ways the Irish/Indian flute responds to variations in air steam angle and attack dynamics.

With a whistle, you can't vary the air stream angle on the blade/tone hole at all (unless you watch the video by Sarah Jeffery who goes above and beyond the call of snoring academia to find opportunities. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=la7k04Tddo8 ). There are still options on a whistle from how you work the attacks and pressures though, and different whistles respond with quite a range of reactions. Some of the simple small bore pennywhistle style whistles have very limited possibilities that way and others like the larger bore full-throated wide-window whistles seem to allow more expressive possibilities.

I also like the wide windway and wide window whistles more, because the added area in there helps delay the build up of condensation, spit. They'll require a little more lung work over time, but well worth the tradeoff if you ask me. On that issue, I also understand why some top players go for whistles like the Killarney, so they can do long musical runs and phrases with relative ease. Each to their suited instrument.

Doesn't Stanley Clarke play a piccolo bass?


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PostPosted: Thu Jan 16, 2020 6:30 pm 
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The wooden, simple system flute is typically in the key of D in the same range as a Boehm flute. Sometimes it comes with keys and a C-foot so it is fully chromatic. Keyless flutes play perfectly fine in the keys of D & G, which are typical of ITM. Saying that it is in the key of D, means that the F# is unkeyed, and the F-nat has a key. There might be some other Boehm vs Simple system things, but I'm not a Boehm player. Antique dealers and eBay always call old wooden flutes "C-flutes", but that's incorrect.

A well-designed wooden flute can be played from low C "easily" up to G in the third register. People more skilled than I am can go higher. But, in the ITM tradition, you don't often go above B in the second register. Sometimes, tune arrangements might go to high C or D, but that isn't common.

Trying the whistle first is not a bad idea because
- It's cheap
- You can get used to the fingerings for the key of D

An even more useful thing might be:
- It is easier than flute to play quickly and build your skill with the articulations (cuts, taps, rolls)


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PostPosted: Thu Jan 16, 2020 8:37 pm 
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Heady wrote:
For whistles I see "low" "high" and "alto".
1) Are the low and high an octave apart?
2) Is "alto" well defined, or just in keys/ranges at the high end of "low" and the low end of "high"?

For some flute manufacturers I see "Low and High", for others I see "flute" and "piccolo".
3) Is one maker's "low" equivalent with another's "flute", and "high" with "piccolo"?
3b) or is piccolo even higher?

4) How do these rangers compare to a concert flute?
4b) If I take a concert flute range, and chop off the lowest C (middle C), and the top octave, is that about the range of a "D flute" in Irish flutes?

I've heard "high D" or "pennywhistle in D" are the best places to start.
5) is this also true for someone coming from flute background, or would a flute be better to start with?


Other posters have given some good answers. I'll add a little.

1&2: You need to pay attention to the key in addition to high, alto, or low. The standard d whistle is always a high whistle, a low-D is an octave below that. The standard Generation set goes from g to Bflat, and those whistles are often taken to be the high whistles. The A below that may be taken as high or low, but the G below that is usually taken to be a low whistle. The alto whistles would generally be from something like the A or G down to maybe E or F, so the G between high and low D could be a low-G or alto-G. C below high d down to Bflat or A may be referred to as mezzo. The low D or E might be called tenor. The key plus should tell you what the whistle really is.

3. Flutes are less complicated than whistles, because most manufacturers only make a few keys. A piccolo is usually the equivalent of a high d whistle, i. e., an octave above a D flute. A piccolo might be in C or Eflat. One in the key of high Bflat is usually called a fife. (To a purist, a fife is a different instrument, being a cylindrical-bore instrument optimized for the second and third octaves.) A few makers make G or F flutes, between high-d and low-D. Unlike whistles, these wouldn't be alto, as an alto (or low) flute would be in low Bflat or A, or occasionally G.

4. a standard D flute is the equivalent of a Boehm flute.

5. It really depends on what you want. If your goal is to play the flute and you have the embouchure down (mostly, since it's different for a wooden flute vs. a boehm flute), you might want to start on the flute. OTOH, if your funds are limited and/or you're not sure you'll wind up on the flute, the whistle is inexpensive, portable, fun, and easier to play than the flute. I thought it was a good way to introduce myself to playing Irish music.

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PostPosted: Thu Jan 16, 2020 9:39 pm 
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Why not get both? The fingerings are the same and I enjoy going back and forth between them.

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PostPosted: Fri Jan 17, 2020 7:17 am 
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About whistle size terminology, I posted this a while back on a related thread:

You'll hear different people using different terms for various whistle pitch ranges. It's inconsistent, and mostly unnecessary.

When I started playing all there were few whistles available:

Generations in (from lowest to highest) Bb, C, D, Eb, F, and G.

Clarkes in C.

And that was it.

These whistles were all called, simply, "whistles". There was no need for any other denominators.

Then, according to Finbar Furey

"Bernard and I, over the summer of 1970, designed and manufactured the first of the Overton flutes."

The title "flute" didn't last long, and soon enough people starting calling these "Low Whistles". Then the backformation "High D Whistle" was coined to avoid confusion.

Even today many/most people just use "high" and "low" because usually it's sufficient.

High: Bb, C, D, Eb, F, G (the old Generation keys)
Low: Bb, C, D, Eb, F, G (some of the new Overton "low whistle" keys)

"A" whistles could just be called that at first because there were no others. But then Overton started making huge Low A whistles, a fourth lower than the Low D.

And Overton started making huge Low G whistles, a fifth below the Low D, so now you had THREE octaves of G whistles.

(Here are G whistles in three octaves by Alba)

Image

So what to call all these things?

Some continued to call the one in the middle the "Low G" and the huge one the "Bass G".

Some called the huge one the "Low G" and the one in the middle "Mezzo G" or "Alto G" or "Tenor G" or what have you.

I think some of the names are borrowed from Recorder naming practices, which is logical if you're a recorder player, but potentially mystifying if you aren't.

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PostPosted: Fri Jan 17, 2020 7:31 am 
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Heady wrote:

For whistles I see "low" "high" and "alto".
1) Are the low and high an octave apart?
2) Is "alto" well defined, or just in keys/ranges at the high end of "low" and the low end of "high"?


See my post above explaining the history and present inconsistency in the naming of whistle sizes.

Heady wrote:
If I take a concert flute range, and chop off the lowest C (middle C), and the top octave, is that about the range of a "D flute" in Irish flutes?


Yes, you have it more or less.

Keep in mind that the "Irish flute" is a relatively recent invention.

From the 19th century well into the 1960s Irish fluteplayers played vintage orchestral flutes, which have exactly the same notes and range as the Boehm flute (from low C up three octaves). Generally these were English 8-key flutes, the standard orchestral flutes throughout most of the 19th century.

Since the keyed notes weren't necessary for the bulk of the traditional Irish flute repertoire, starting, what, in the 1970s makers started making copies of the 19th century orchestral flutes but leaving off some, or all, of the keys. This created the so-called "Irish flute".

The standard range in the bulk of Irish traditional flute music is from "Bottom D" to B in the 2nd octave, with a small number of tunes going up to the C above.

Much of the fingering of a "D Irish flute" is the same as a "C Boehm flute"

xxx xxx D
xxx xxo E
xxx ooo G
xxo ooo A
xoo ooo B

the only differences being the changes Boehm introduced, F# and C natural.

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PostPosted: Sat Jan 18, 2020 7:39 pm 
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Thank you everyone - I was a little under the weather and completely forgot that I'd posted a query here - so I wasn't checking back for new replies.

This is a very welcoming group in deed :)


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PostPosted: Sat Jan 18, 2020 10:46 pm 
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So here's a keyed simple system item that I could afford - if this is my price range, is flute too "iffy"? I'm thinking given financial limitations I'll heed the advice above and go for a whistle.

https://www.ebay.com/i/233375704795?rt= ... %3D2386202

I don't know if this is "traditional", but it's got fewer keys than my Boehm and it appears to be made largely of wood. The three factors that had me look at this are "cheap", "wood", "not as many keys as my 'regular' flute".


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