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Which Key of Whistle?

02 Oct 01 - 06:55 AM (#563287)
Subject: Which Key of Whistle?
From: Stu

I want to learn the tin whistle to play in Irish sessions. Which Key should I buy it in? Any other things to bear in mind?

02 Oct 01 - 06:57 AM (#563289)
Subject: RE: Which Key of Whistle?
From: CharlieA

Depends where/who u're playing with - if with Melodions then a D/G. if not then whatever you want. Cxxx

02 Oct 01 - 07:40 AM (#563297)
Subject: RE: Which Key of Whistle?
From: McGrath of Harlow

Most tunes in sessions in my experience tend to be in D,G, a minor or e minor. Keys that fit with the open strings of a fiddle.

02 Oct 01 - 07:44 AM (#563300)
Subject: RE: Which Key of Whistle?
From: Ella who is Sooze

The handiest whistle to have... and the one used (generally) the most is a D whistle. So start off on one of those...

The one's that are handy to have now and then, to accompany a song etc, may be a C whistle, and a low A whistle.

I start all my learners off on a D whistle. Ella

02 Oct 01 - 08:09 AM (#563311)
Subject: RE: Which Key of Whistle?
From: IanC

I concur. Get a D whistle, which will allow you to play easily in both D and G. You should know that the best key to play a whistle in is the one with three fingers down (i.e. G on a D whistle). This is because

(1) Most tunes go below the key note (usually no more than 3 notes)

(2) The top of the range on nearly all whistles is a bit squeaky, so it's hard to play the full 2-octave range evenly


02 Oct 01 - 09:20 AM (#563360)
Subject: RE: Which Key of Whistle?
From: Bob Bolton

G'day stigweard,

IanC has it basically right ... except that, a good player - on a good whistle can get the top notes of the second octave plus 3 more ... with some trickier fingering (taught to me by a flautist). This is helpful when you need thos extra notes to play in the upper octave - useful for getting over loud and high instruments (even if it doesn't always make friends!).

Anyway, the Irish style of whistle is built around the 'D' whistle, playing in the keys 'D' and 'G'. You only need other whistles for playing with people who don't believe God wrote it ALL in 'D'.


Bob Bolton

02 Oct 01 - 05:23 PM (#563685)
Subject: RE: Which Key of Whistle?
From: weepiper

You can play in most keys on a D whistle with a bit of practice, except for some odd ones like E flat...I also have a C and next purchase will be an F.

02 Oct 01 - 08:20 PM (#563818)
Subject: RE: Which Key of Whistle?
From: Hilary


As already said, D & C will cover a lot of tunes, on CDs as well as in sessions. . I like Shaw (Clarke's) whistles as much as the tin whistles, but they are harder to locate, especially in the wierder keys. I've recently found an E flat Shaw whistle which I love. . I've seen other whistle players with B flat - but never seen one actually used.

I can play a G below C with a bit of concentration & stretching of fingers, but Low D is out of my reach (both fingers & finances ). A top G tin whistle is great fun, but I haven't found a serious use for it yet. . Playing the same tune in different keys doesn't just alter the pitch ( and loads of guitar players can cope with just about any key) but affects the feel of a song. Compared to D, C seems calmer/quieter/sadder, while E flat is cheerful & lively & the tunes just float out. . Have fun, & keep practicing, . H

02 Oct 01 - 08:57 PM (#563845)
Subject: RE: Which Key of Whistle?
From: Snuffy

I quite often play D tunes on my big Shaw A whistle - gives a completely different feel to it.

03 Oct 01 - 03:21 PM (#564377)
Subject: RE: Which Key of Whistle?
From: weepiper

Hi Hilary,
I too struggled to cope with the spacing on a low D until I thought 'sod it' and started playing the "third finger holes", that is D and G, with my pinkies and missing out my third fingers entirely. This gets me some weird looks from other whistle players but it works for me.

03 Oct 01 - 04:09 PM (#564411)
Subject: RE: Which Key of Whistle?
From: iRiShBaBe


03 Oct 01 - 07:18 PM (#564531)
Subject: RE: Which Key of Whistle?
From: Willa

I use my right hand 'pinkie' for the low D whistle, but hadn't thought of using left too; I'll try it. Thanks

03 Oct 01 - 11:37 PM (#564683)
Subject: RE: Which Key of Whistle?
From: Bob Bolton

G'day weepiper,

I presume the first part is more signifant in your choice of name ... I am a bit shorter than current Australian average, at 165 cm, and have short broad hands.

My very traditionally spaced Overton low D needs me to use "piper's hold" fingering ... placing the 1st pad the third finger normally over the hole and skewing the right hand round to use the inner pads on the 2nd and 3rd holes. I don't need to skew the left hand, because the spacing is not problematic ... nowadays.

I made a series of low Ds with variant positions of the lower 3 holes and these are somewhat better to play without resorting to "piper's hold" - but I have recently played a Colin Goldie Overton low D where Colin gets the lower holes closer at no appreciable loss in tonality, volume of flexibilty! I'd love to buy one like it ... if the Aus$ : Deuthscmark didn't look so dire. (Of course, I might get round to knocking out a few more om my low Ds after looking very closely at how Colin acheived what he has ...


Bob Bolton

04 Oct 01 - 02:28 AM (#564746)
Subject: RE: Which Key of Whistle?
From: MudGuard

Bob, just wait a few months till the end of February 2002, and the Aus$:Deutschmark is out of existence...


04 Oct 01 - 02:45 AM (#564750)
Subject: RE: Which Key of Whistle?
From: Bob Bolton

G'day Mudguard,

Irrespective of whatever happens over there end of February 2002, I still have the problem of the Australian dollar ... whenever the US$ rises, the Aussie$ drops because the market sees us as part of Asia. Whenever the US$ drops, the Aussie$ drops because the market sees us as linked to the US economy. When the Euro was struggling ... the Aussie$ drops because markets felt we had European links!

We keep being told that our economy is growing - bucking world trends ... and the Aussie$ drops because the markets are nervous about us not performing the way they predict!

Excuse me while I measure up a length of 25.4 mm od x 1.6 mm wall thickness alloy tubing ...


Bob Bolton

04 Oct 01 - 03:27 AM (#564762)
Subject: RE: Which Key of Whistle?
From: Sarah the flute

Get a D for starters but if you are competing with bagpipes then an Eb is very useful. Also find an E very useful as fiddle players have a nasty habit of playing in strange keys that demand one of these. G whistle cuts nicely over the top of other more growly instruments!

04 Oct 01 - 04:35 AM (#564781)
Subject: RE: Which Key of Whistle?
From: Stu

Thanks for all the help folks.

Went and got a D cheapie to try out.

This is so I can learn tunes in places where I wouldn't take my mandolin.

Looking forward to doing 'The Sally Gardens' - my first tune!



04 Oct 01 - 02:16 PM (#565057)
Subject: RE: Which Key of Whistle?
From: weepiper

Hi Bob,
Both parts of my name are significant! ;-)
I use a Howard low D which has huge holes so there's no way I could play it without using piping hold. This means that if I used 'normal' first 3 fingers each hand I'd be trying to cover the 3rd holes with just the tip of my 3rd finger, but if I use pinkies then they hit the holes on the 2nd pad.
Maybe my hands are just a weird shape!

04 Oct 01 - 02:42 PM (#565077)
Subject: RE: Which Key of Whistle?
From: Hilary

Thanks snuffy, I shall keep an eye out for an A whistle

And thanks weepiper - I've written all that down. As for funny looks, in the half dozen folk venues I go to, there are only 3 or 4 other whistle players.


04 Oct 01 - 02:53 PM (#565092)
Subject: RE: Which Key of Whistle?
From: Peter T.

I found some really cheap East Indian wood whistles in great colours in G and A and all sorts. Anyone play these? They sound pretty O.K., but I have no idea, not being an expert in tinwhistles. Are they identical to what Irish players would use for lower whistles (I mean before you get to the low D behemoths)?

yours, Peter T.

04 Oct 01 - 11:28 PM (#565403)
Subject: RE: Which Key of Whistle?
From: Bob Bolton

G'day Peter T,

Most ofn the Eastern flutes and whistles we see, here in Australia, are a bit dodgy in pitching ... particularly instruments from India, which seem to be accurately pitched ... in old British Philharmonic, where A = 454 Hz, not 440 Hz. This means they are a good quarter tone sharp and this is too much to make you welcome in anybody's session.

I don't know how your East Indian whistles compare. Other than that, I presume they are the deep G and A ... and these are very nicely pitched whistles to play. G allows you to easily play C and A allows a simple D. They have a nice mellow tone and don't get you stretching your fingers the way low Ds (and Overton offer a C ... and even a Bb ... below low D!) do.


Bob Bolton

16 Nov 04 - 08:17 PM (#1329284)
Subject: RE: Which Key of Whistle?
From: GUEST,sue

I need a quick course in playing this C tin whistle. Can't find the fingering, am on my own. I am a piano teacher at school, play flute and pic in church orch. Help!

16 Nov 04 - 10:28 PM (#1329429)
Subject: RE: Which Key of Whistle?
From: Bob Bolton

G'day Sue,

I: The whistle ought to have come with some sort of 'fingering chart' ...

2: The best place for all sorts of info on whistles is Dale Wisely's "Chiff & Fipple" site: Chiff & Fipple.
Thjis should even have links to basic ... even learner sites ... if you dodge round all the interesting "expensive whistle sections".

3: The whistle is really a simple form of the 'block-flute', as is its cousin the recorder. There are less fingering tricks to the whistle ... essentially the same fingering for both octaves, the octave played being controlled by the playing pressure.

If you start with all fingers firmly placed and play softly, you get the bottom (key) note. Raising the fingers of the bottom (usually right) hand, in order - then the those of the upper (left) one takes you up to the subtonic (say, 'b' on the 'C' whistle). put all your fingers back ... except the top one ... and play harder and you'll get the octave of the first note.

Put the top finger back down and play on and you will get the notes of the upper octave (same 'top finger off' for the highest note).

Practice (and make sure the fingers are always well seated) and you have basic, diatonic, 2-octave whistle playing.

Semitones, third octave, decorative figures ... are later lessons!



16 Nov 04 - 10:39 PM (#1329438)
Subject: RE: Which Key of Whistle?
From: Bob Bolton

G'day again Sue,

I did what I ought to have done first time ... actually looked at the front page of Chiffe & Fipple site!

Scroll down as fair as the "Binkie the Wonder Possum" and you will get this (except that it looks better ... and the links work!):

Running contrary to the great Internet tradition of vicious abuse of newbies, chiff & fipple loves newbies. The following areas on the website will be of special interest to new players.

visit the message board

where you will find people anxious to answer your questions. And bring you into the horrifying world of Whistle Obsessive Acquisition Disorder (WhOA)

    faq (it's obligatory. it's here.)

whistle tutorial

an introduction to the types of whistles, keys, costs, and other fundamentals. I would have thought this to be the only web page on the Internet which contains both the words "whistle" and "morphology." But I was wrong.

deciphering whistle keys

Whistles come in a variety of keys, but each key whistle can be used to play in other keys, with various degrees of difficulty. It's confusing as hell. But, on this page, I explain it all to you.

fingering charts

I used to have some fingering chart files here, but Chiff & Fipple's own Richard Gross has a website which deals with this so well that it seems redundant to do anything with this here. So, this link will send you off to Richard's site, The Tinwhistle Fingerings Research Center. Just remember to come back! Richard has a way of grabbing people and not letting them go.

proper whistle posture

So ... Enjoy! (Well, for one thing it's a lot more portable than a piano ... )



16 Nov 04 - 11:11 PM (#1329466)
Subject: RE: Which Key of Whistle?

I've made some pretty decent little whistles out of discarded ski poles; use the bottom end where they are tapered for "D" or "C", and the larger upper sections for lower pitches.

When building a low "G" or "Low D", it's time to switch off to brass floor lamp tubing, PVC water pipe, or aluminum tent poles.

The local dump has produced material for a number of flutes and whistles over the years!

The "Clarke" traditional whistles are made the same way they were in the 1840s, and I use 'em for Civil War Reenacting, as well as with Sea Chanties.

Sand the end of the wooden block or "fipple" smooth and soak it with mineral oil to keep it from swelling up while being played.

Those tinplated plastic-fipple "Generation" whistles are cheap, but most of them need serious tweaking before they will play decently. A good one can sound really good for the price though.

A whistle can be a lot of fun and is, as someone has mentioned, very portable.