Learn Tin Whistle Online – Getting Started
Few sounds are as distinguishable as the high pitched blast of the Tin Whistle, also known as the Pennywhistle. It is perhaps the most accessible of all Irish traditional melodic instruments as you can pick one up readily, cheaply, and, best of all, travelling with one is a non-issue. It’s also very easy to learn tin whistle online with the right instruction.
Extremely popular in traditional Irish and Scottish music, tin whistle tunes doing the rounds are thus unsurprisingly either of Irish or Scottish origin—with many a debate raging over the parentage of certain tunes, eg ‘Will Ye Go Lassie, Go (Wild Mountain Heather)’, which, by the way, was written by a Scotsman and re-mastered by an Irish author.
You’ll soon discover that the tin whistle is fun to learn and master while offering a great opportunity to play Irish music with the least time and money investment. Our Tin Whistle Basics course allows you to learn tin whistle online with all you need to get started and have you playing 16 tunes by the end of 17 carefully designed tutorials. But first, let’s start with the instrument itself.
Description of a Tin Whistle
Looking at a standard tin whistle you’ll clearly see the two simple sections:
A longer bore with holes for the melody notes called a chiff.
The mouth-piece on top is called a fipple.
It’s worth noting here that there’s a popular tin whistle forum called Chip and Fiffle – so now you know how it got its name.
Why Learn The Tin Whistle?
Often recommended as a gateway instrument, the tin whistle is a great instrument to get you introduced to music. That’s why many schools teach tin whistle to children at a young age. It gives them a feel for music and with only a little help they can play simple tunes in no time, thus quickly building their confidence.
Develop An Ear For Music
With respect to the Irish music genre, the tin whistle offers itself as a great vehicle for getting into the scene. In as little as a few of our lessons, you could carry a tune and join in a live session. Building confidence in playing the tin whistle first helps you to develop an ear for music. Having an ear for music is a vital skill in the study and mastery of the Irish music tradition because it’s very much an aural tradition.
Progress To Other Instruments
So yes, starting out with the tin whistle is actually a very strategic way to build a solid foundation for learning music and learning Irish music in particular. It may be easy to master a few simple tunes, but there’s no end to the levels of mastery you can achieve when it comes to learning expert ornamentation skills that will really impress an audience.
Furthermore, if you begin with the tin whistle, you can make a fairly smooth transition to the Irish bagpipes, known as Uilleann Pipes, as they have open fingerings similar to a whistle. This is probably the reason many uilleann pipers play the tin whistle, like Thomas Johnston, one of our tutors.
What Is The Best Way To Learn The Tin Whistle?
The fact that you’re wanting to learn the tin whistle should really be a function of your love of the instrument. If you don’t love it or you don’t love the tunes that are played on it, then perhaps it’s better for you to consider another instrument.
Your heart has to be in the game, not only your head.
Being a very visual instrument when it comes to playing the notes, it’s easy to learn tin whistle online with clear video instruction if you don’t have access to a teacher. Sure, you can follow a book with written instructions if you’re so inclined, but nothing really beats the effectiveness of good demonstration. With video, the added element of being able to pause and repeat as much as you want explains its exponential growth as an educational medium, not only for music tuition but for just about everything under the sun.
Listen To Recordings
Another consideration when it comes to learning the tin whistle, and any musical instrument for that matter, is to get the tunes you’re learning into your head and your “ear” first. If you’re unfamiliar with a tune, there’ll be no connection to it when you’re learning and thus no feel for whether you’re getting the notes and rhythm right. The whole learning process then becomes very mechanical, a sure recipe for disaster.
Phrase By Phrase
Furthermore, in Irish music, in particular, tunes were always passed aurally down through the generations, that simply means they were learned by listening to them and then repeating what was heard. The technique, known nowadays as the “phrase by phrase” technique has been proven to be a very successful learning methodology and is used by all of our tutors here at OAIM.
Can I Play The Tin Whistle If I Can’t Read Music?
The simple answer is yes you can.
Luckily the tin whistle is a very visual instrument when it comes to the notes. Notes are created simply by blowing into the tin whistle and placing the finger pads over certain holes creates a particular note. With 6 holes on the length of the tin whistle, you have lots of combinations with which to create the scales.
ABC notation was invented in 1993 to notate music in plain text format. It’s now quite common in traditional music circles. You can find out more about its origins here.
What it means for you is that you don’t have to be able to read sheet music! You can jump right in with the notes written out there in front of you. All of the tunes taught by OAIM have the sheet music provided in standard notation and ABC notation, with this in mind.
Listen and Play Back
Having said all of that, really you don’t have to read music in any format to be able to play music. As we’ve said, again and again, the Irish tradition is an aural tradition, meaning the music was never written down but handed down through the generations by simply learning from listening to others play. That’s why we recommend you regularly listen to the mp3 we provide for all tunes taught BEFORE you begin to learn to play it.
Get the tune in your head, before you get it in your hands!
How to Play the Scale of D Major on the Tin Whistle
The scale of D Major is the popular scale for Irish music. The diagram below uses tablature, also known as a fingering chart, which simply shows which holes are covered to create the note. Kirsten demonstrates this scale in the video at the top of the page.
How to Play the Tin Whistle in 6 easy steps
- Buy a tin whistle in the key of D.
- Holding the Whistle:
The top three holes are covered by using the three middle fingers of the left hand normally. The bottom three holes are covered by the three middle fingers of the right hand. This leaves the thumbs to steady the back of the whistle and the pinky of the right hand to steady the bottom of the front of the whistle. It’s important that the PADS of the fingers are used to cover the holes and not the fingertips. Many make this mistake and thus don’t get the correct tone.
- Begin with the Lower Octave of the Scale of D Major:
Using the diagram above play through the scale of D Major. Practice it many times until you are comfortable going up and down the scale. Blow gently through the whistle and get comfortable with breathing while you are playing. This is important to master early, as a slow steady blowing determines the quality of the tone. Don’t worry about speed when you’re starting out, accuracy is more important. Speed can be mastered later, otherwise, you’ll be playing fast and out of tune.
- Now Add the Upper Octave of the Scale of D Major:
Again using the diagram above play through the scale of D Major this time continuing to the higher octave which requires stronger blowing. Practice this often and again, go up and down the scales.
- Play Mary Had A Little Lamb:
Now that you’ve mastered the notes, see if you can play the note sequence for the lullaby Mary Had A Little Lamb. This lullaby is used as it’s so widely known. With the melody already in your head since childhood, you can focus on matching the melody with your note playing. Scroll down for the notes.
- Moving On To Traditional Irish Tunes:
Once you’ve mastered the scale of D major and can play a simple sequence like Mary Had A Little Lamb, you’re ready to start learning an Irish tune. What tune will you begin with? Well, Kirsten Allstaff, tutor of “Tin Whistle Basics”, starts students off with a polka called The Rattlin’ Bog. It’s a very well known tune due to its popularity from being used to accompany a famous Irish ceili/dance known as The Siege of Ennis. Remember, when learning a new tune, break it down sequence by sequence, what we call phrase by phrase. Master a phrase at a time before putting them all together.
How To Play Mary Had A Little Lamb on Tin Whistle
How Do You Know If You’re Playing a Note Correctly?
Are you hitting the right notes? This is where a developed ear really comes in handy. But don’t worry, you will develop your capacity to hear the notes over time. Again this is why we say to listen to the tune you wish to learn over and over before learning, otherwise, you simply don’t know that you’re playing in tune.
Consider A Tuning App
For first time beginners, you might even think of getting a tuning app on your phone and setting it up to see if you are hitting the notes properly as you play the scale. In this way, you could almost say you are tuning your playing, not the instrument.
Tips For Playing The Tin Whistle
Apart from taking our Tin Whistle Basics course here at OAIM, here are some invaluable tips for learning to play the tin whistle from Kirsten Allstaff:
Where Can I Learn Tin Whistle Ornamentation?
We strongly advise mastering the basics of the tin whistle first before moving on to learning ornamentation skills. If you’re ready to move on to ornaments then Kirsten’s Tin Whistle Foundations Course is the place to start.
More detailed questions and discussion on the course can be found in the Community Forum, available to paying members only.