Learn Tin Whistle Online - For Beginners

  • Learn Tin Whistle online with 17 simple lessons.
  • Progress at your own pace, pause & repeat videos.
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  • PDF sheet music & mp3’s to download & keep for each tune.
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BONUS:
  • Access our Entire Course Catalogue for Every Instrument.
  • Library of over 150 popular Irish tunes to practice along with.
  • Virtual Reality Sessions for the unique Irish Pub Session experience – a real treat for the Irish music lover.
  • Community Forum of students and teachers, all friends with a love of Irish music.

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.

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.
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Description of a Tin Whistle

chip and fipple of a tin whistleLooking at a standard tin whistle you’ll clearly see the two simple sections.

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 a fingering system similar to a whistle. This is probably the reason many uilleann pipers play the tin whistle, like Thomas Johnston, one of our tutors.
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What Is The Best Way To Learn The Tin Whistle?

Video Instruction

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.
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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 the ability to play 13 notes, spanning almost two octaves.

ABC Notation

ABC notation is commonly used 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!

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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.  The high C and D can be hard to reach on cheap tin whistles.

how to play the scale of d major on the tin whistle

How to Play the Tin Whistle in 6 easy steps

  1. Buy a tin whistle in the key of D.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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 as a song aswell as 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.

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How To Play Mary Had A Little Lamb on Tin Whistle in D Major

mary had a little lamb

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.
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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:

Tips to Learn the Tin Whistle from oaim

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.

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learn tin whistle

Course Structure

First, you will learn how to hold the instrument, proper hand and finger posture and good basic technique. Then you move into a progressive study of scales, articulation and ornamentation. The first tunes taught are nursery rhymes ‘Mary had a little lamb’ and ‘Fréres Jacques’ as these tunes are well known so you can focus on the technique of learning the D scale and producing the proper tone.

After you have mastered these basic tunes in the D scale you will progress to learning the following popular Irish session tunes as well as ornamentation:

The Rattlin’ Bog
We won’t go home until the morning
I’ll tell my ma
Britches full of stitches
Shoe the donkey
The Butterfly
Na Ceannabhain Bhána
Johnny O’Leary’s
Sonny’s Mazurka
John Blessing’s
Sally Gardens
The Ten Penny Bit
O’Keefe’s Dream
The Feakle Jig
Connacht Heifers
Harvest Home

By the end of the course, you will have a repertoire of sixteen popular Irish session tunes, the ability to play cuts, taps and rolls, as well as a deeper understanding of the Irish music tradition. The course has 17 lessons, broken into 3 to 4 tutorials each, where tunes are taught phrase by phrase.
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Sheet Music and Mp3s available to Download for each Tune

sheet music for rattling bog

Sample Sheet Music

Download The Rattlin’ Bog EASY ABC Sheet Music.
Download The Rattlin’ Bog Standard Notation Sheet Music.

Sample mp3 of Rattlin Bog

Download Mp3 of Rattlin Bog.

Recommended Tin Whistle for Beginners

To play the vast majority of Irish tunes, musicians use a whistle in the key of D though there is a wide variety of other keys available. Similarly, there are upmarket whistles for sale too which include the likes of tuning slides and aluminium bodies. An entry-level €5 Generation Brass of Nickel can potentially be as good as an instrument 50 times the price, but they are often under-par in the current market of mass-production. It’s a similar story with any whistles in the price range e.g. Feadóg. You’ll find the tone usually quite shrill, especially in the higher octave. Our advice would be to purchase a whistle in the €25-50 bracket. Tony Dixon manufactures many different kinds of whistles and their entry-level nickel or brass instruments are very good value. They have a very sweet tone albeit lacking in volume slightly. Their model without the tuning slide is still tunable as the fipple is moveable.
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Advice Starting Out with the Tin Whistle

Enjoy the journey. Watch and listen to the tutor and try to copy the notes she is playing exactly. After a while you will be familiar with the notes and how they should sound, meaning you will have trained your ear, to hear if you are playing correctly. This is how Irish music has been traditionally handed down through generations.

It is highly recommended to be familiar with any tune you are learning before learning how to play it on the tin whistle, so download the mp3 file and listen to it frequently first before picking up the whistle to learn to play it.

Your Tutor
Kirsten Allstaff, co-founder of OAIM, is an acclaimed flute and tin whistle player that has played throughout Ireland, Europe, North America and Asia with various Irish dance shows and groups. She has a First-Class Honours Master’s Degree in Traditional Irish Music Performance from the University of Limerick, Ireland. She previously tutored flute and whistle at The Irish World Academy of Music and Dance where she was involved in early online lecturing initiatives. Kirsten’s opening lesson of this course to date has reached over 600,000 views on YouTube and consistently ranks in the first position for those searching for tin whistle lessons, a testament to the quality of her teaching and popularity as a teacher. Read more.

Frequently Asked Questions

I can't get the breathing right, I either have too much air or not enough of it, what do you recommend?
When playing Irish music on the flute or the whistle, it’s all about incorporating the breath into the tunes. Some players have to breathe often and this means missing out notes in the reels or jigs, which can actually add great rhythm to the tunes. Other players like to go for long seamless phrases – more like a piping style. This takes stamina and a strong set of lungs. More detailed breathing instructions are given throughout the Tin Whistle Basics course as Kirsten will recommend the best opportunities to breathe corresponding to the tunes she’s teaching.

Is there any difference between a Tin Whistle and a Penny Whistle?
There is no difference. A tin whistle is the more commonly used term in Ireland at least and is derived from the fact that most were made from tin in the past. In England, the instrument became known as a penny whistle due to its low-cost price but the instrument is no different.
Is the finger setting the same as on the Irish flute?
The fingering for a tin whistle is the same for the wooden flute commonly used for playing Irish Music.
What is the difference between a Low D and D tin whistle?
Low D is a lot lower in tone than the D tin whistle played in these lessons. D whistles are recommended for beginners.
How do you clean a tin whistle?
You blow through the whistle while holding your finger over the square hole. This releases any build-up of condensation in the tin whistle which can distort the tone. Also, you can wash it through with soapy water, but make sure to rinse it very well before playing again.
Why do the notes sound the same, or sound awful?
There is probably a build-up of condensation, try covering the square hole and blowing hard through the mouthpiece. This will improve the tone.
What determines the key of a whistle?
The sound made when all the fingers are down covering the holes.
What key tin whistle should I purchase?
For the vast majority of Irish music, a whistle in the key of D will work perfectly well so this is the essential starting point. If you are playing solo, you can choose to play whatever key you want but it’s likely that this will not fly at a session. However, some other musicians (fiddle, banjo, accordion etc) may play a repertoire of tunes in “flat” keys such as G minor, F and Bb. In this case, it’s worth having a C whistle in your stash as well.
Ok, I have a C whistle...how can I play in G minor or F major now?
The key of C is one key below D (i.e. one note lower). So, if you play the exact same tune (i.e. same fingering) on a C whistle as on a D, the tune will be played one key lower. Playing in G minor on a D whistle is tough because of the amount of half-holing that would be required. Instead, you could play in A minor fingering on a C whistle and the tune will be produced in the lower key of G minor. The same applies for playing a tune in G major, where on a C whistle it would be produced in the lower key of F.
Is there any essential maintenance required for a tin whistle?
If it’s made of some form of metal then the simple answer is no. Just be careful where you store it as the metal is usually light (brass, nickel, tin, aluminium) and can easily be bent or dented. There are some wooden whistles which may require a little more maintenance such as oiling and temperature/sunlight is a bigger factor for these instruments too – especially in extreme climates. There are also carbon fibre whistles now being manufactured which have very low maintenance and are highly durable.
What is the best way to cover the holes of the whistle, with the tips of fingers or the pads?
Always cover the holes with the pads of your fingers rather than the tips.
Can I use the recorder to play Irish music instead?
The recorder is not an instrument which has developed alongside the music tradition in Ireland. The tone of the recorder is entirely conducive to an authentic Irish sound so the short answer is no. However, if you have experience playing the recorder you will find that you possess a distinct advantage in learning the tin whistle because the fingering is similar and you’ll have some rudiments in breath control.
Is it ok if the tin whistle fiffle (mouthpiece) touches your teeth?
Yes, it is, as long as you are not clenching your teeth or biting down even lightly.

More detailed questions and discussion on the course can be found in the Community Forum, available to paying members only.
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Tin Whistle Basics Lessons

Level

The Scale of D Major (Whistle – 1)

Whistle Basics Lesson 1

  • Level 1
  • Melody
Learn Irish Tin Whistle Online

Hand and finger positioning and the scale of D Major.


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The Rattlin Bog

Whistle Basics Lesson 2

  • D Major
  • Level 1
  • Melody
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Exercises on the Scale of D Major

Polka

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We Won’t Go Home Until The Morning

Whistle Basics Lesson 3

  • D Major
  • Level 1
  • Melody
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Exercises on the Scale of D Major

Polka

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I’ll Tell My Ma

Whistle Basics Lesson 4

  • G Major
  • Level 1
  • Melody
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The scale of G Major

Polka

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Britches Full of Stiches (Lesson 5)

Whistle Basics Lesson 5

  • G Major
  • Level 1
  • Melody
Learn Irish Tin Whistle Online

The scale of G Major, exercises for the scale of G Major

Polka

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Shoe The Donkey

Whistle Basics Lesson 6

  • G Major
  • Level 1
  • Melody
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Continuation of the study of G Major

Mazurka

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The Butterfly

Whistle Basics Lesson 7

  • Level 1
  • Melody
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Kirsten will introduce the ornament’ the slide’

Slip Jig

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Na Ceannabhain Bhána

Whistle Basics Lesson 8

  • G Major
  • Level 1
  • Melody
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Ornamentation: Cuts

Slip Jig

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Johnny O’Leary’s

Whistle Basics Lesson 9

  • A Minor
  • Level 1
  • Melody
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Ornamentation: Slides and Cuts

Polka

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Sonny’s Mazurka

Whistle Basics Lesson 10

  • D Major
  • Level 1
  • Melody
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Ornamentation: Slides and Cuts. Kirsten will play this tune in a set with ‘Shoe the Donkey’ a…

Mazurka

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John Blessing’s

Whistle Basics Lesson 11

  • D Major
  • Level 1
  • Melody
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Phrasing and Breathing: Where to breath and what notes to miss out!

Reel

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Sally Garden’s

Whistle Basics Lesson 12

  • G Major
  • Level 1
  • Melody
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In this lesson, Kirsten teaches the well known reel ‘Sally Gardens’. She will continue her stud…

Reel

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The Ten Penny Bit

Whistle Basics Lesson 13

  • A Minor
  • Level 1
  • Melody
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Ornamentation: Taps

Jig

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O’Keefe’s Dream

Whistle Basics Lesson 14

  • G Major
  • Level 1
  • Melody
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Ornamentation: Cuts and Taps

Reel

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The Feakle Jig

Whistle Basics Lesson 15

  • E Minor
  • Level 1
  • Melody
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Ornamentation: Rolls on G

Jig

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Connacht Heifers

Whistle Basics Lesson 16

  • D Mixolydian
  • Level 1
  • Melody
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Ornamentation: Rolls of F

Reel

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Harvest Home

Whistle Basics Lesson 17

  • D Major
  • Level 1
  • Melody
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Ornamentation: Rolls on A

Hornpipe

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