Tin Whistle Ornamentation – Full List and Description of The Different Types
Ornaments, or embellishments, in traditional Irish music refer to changes in how a note is played or articulated. Basically, you could say it’s what you add to the melody to jazz it up by tinkering with the notes. The tinkered notes are often called ‘grace notes’. The recommendation is always to master the basics of the whistle first before even considering introducing ornamentation.
Cuts are played by very briefly lifting the finger that’s above the note being played. For example, if playing the scale of D major you can cut the first note of D with the next note up, E. This has the effect of shifting the pitch upward for that brief moment. It’s important to remember here that you’re not sounding the full upper note, it’s just a brief interjection or hit. That’s why it’s called a cut, you’re cutting into the higher pitch very quickly. You can play a cut either at the start of a note or after the note has begun to sound.
Taps, or strikes, are like the opposite to cuts where the note below the current note is briefly introduced. For example, if you are playing the scale of D major and you play the note E, you can tap to the lower note of D by simply quickly covering (tapping) the bottom hole of the whistle. Again, like with the cuts, you are not creating a separate note but you are creating a little wobble in the note being embellished that shouldn’t be perceptible to the listener as a new note. If it is perceptible you haven’t mastered the art yet.
Putting the cut and tap together you get what’s called a roll. A roll can also be considered as a group of notes of the same pitch and length but with different articulations. You can have a long roll and a short roll. The long roll is a group of 3 notes (really they are three variations of the one note being ornamented): first the note is played as normal, then a cut is added to the note and it is then finished with a tap. The short roll is simply a cut followed by a tap.
Cranns (or crans)
On the tin whistle, cranns are generally only used for notes where a roll is impossible, for example, the lowest note on the whistle. Cranns are actually embellishments from the Uilleann piping, Irish bagpipes, tradition. Only cuts are used creating a crann, not taps.
A slide is like a slower version of a cut and tap which is meant to be perceived by the listener.
Vibrato is achieved by quickly opening and closing one of the open holes normally two holes below the note being played, because of this it is only possible for some notes.
Bounces are a way of adding some style to the transition between different notes. An analogy would be like the difference between walking and skipping. Sometimes they are referred to as double-taps. As with all ornaments, descriptions fall short of hearing and seeing them in action. Master players develop their own unique ornaments, which is then heard as their own style of playing. So while it’s nice to learn what’s possible, the goal ultimately is to develop your own original style.
In Tin Whistle Foundations, Kirsten covers cuts, taps, rolls and slides. If you’re ready for more advanced tin whistle ornamentation techniques head on over to Thomas Johnston’s Expert Whistle Skills #1.
The course begins with how to play “the long roll” using the tune Paddy Taylor’s Jig. An exercise is taught to demonstrate how to play the rolls fluidly and percussively. Then the tutorials move on to teaching how to introduce tin whistle ornamentation variations like, how to use slides, how to create the melodic cut, how to use triplets, syncopation and the “short roll”. The tutor also includes a discussion on the different types of whistles because as your playing improves, you’ll demand more from your instrument. Breathing issues are also discussed as are methods to master the when and how of breath-taking while playing.
All the above techniques are taught by means of a new tune per lesson, giving you a total of 13 new Irish traditional tunes to add to your, now growing, repertoire:
The Cat That Ate The Candle
The North Road To Tralee
The Toormore Slide
The Burren Reel
The Fairy Slip Jig
Dances At Kinvara
Tam In Arrears
Maid Behind The Bar
Johnny O’Leary’s Hornpipe
Sí Bheag Sí Mhór
By the end of the course, you will be more comfortable playing tin whistle ornamentation, you will have a broader repertoire and a better knowledge of Irish music and, best of all, be ready to progress to more advanced tunes and tin whistle ornamentation techniques in the next course Expert Whistle Skills #1.
Sheet Music and Mp3s available to Download for each Tune
Sample Sheet Music
Sample mp3 of Paddy Taylor’s Jig
Recommended Tin Whistle
Kirsten recommends Cillian Ó’Briain’s D tin whistle for this course.
Advice Progressing with the Tin Whistle
It is highly recommended to be familiar with the tune you are learning before learning how to play it on the tin whistle, so download the mp3 file for each tune and listen to it frequently first before picking up the whistle to learn to play it. This is particularly true when it comes to developing your style and adding embellishments and ornamentations. You have to be comfortable playing the simple melody first before adding style. If you need a refresher playing the tin whistle, we recommend going back to the Tin Whistle Basics course before jumping in at this level.
Frequently Asked Questions
More detailed questions and discussion on the course can be found in the Community Forum, available to paying members only.