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Flute/whistle dynamics

31 Dec 04 - 10:15 PM (#1368615)
Subject: Flute/whistle dynamics
From: Gypsy

Okay, for anyone out there who plays tinwhistle/recorder/silver flute i have this question. Can you control the volumn on your instrument? Or do they have one level? I realize that some instruments cannot do subtle all that well, such as bagpipes. Or accordions. Are wind instruments also in this catagory?

31 Dec 04 - 11:37 PM (#1368638)
Subject: RE: Flute/whistle dynamics
From: Leadfingers

Breath control is the MAIN thing with playing whistle , Fingering is relatively simple !

01 Jan 05 - 12:21 AM (#1368654)
Subject: RE: Flute/whistle dynamics
From: GUEST,Anne Croucher

I have four different sizes of recorder and they can be played at different volumes - but there is a lower and upper limit and the difference is not all that great.

With the Tiny One low volume is a real exercise in breath control, the Big Ones - I can't overblow them for more than a second or two (even though I have lung capacity about 20 percent higher than expected) because they need a lot of air just to make them sound right. They are the ones with the lowest note covered by keys - I forget their official title.

It is usually possible within a group of four players for the parts to be given dominance one after another as a tune is repeated, so the one required sound louder than the other three together.

I have known one person who could/would only play at full bore but I think that was more a mental than physical problem.


01 Jan 05 - 02:21 AM (#1368681)
Subject: RE: Flute/whistle dynamics
From: JohnInKansas

If you have good control of "mouth volume" so that it controls the switching between registers, you should be able to get significant changes in how loud you play. The problem is that blowing "real hard" tends to induce harmonics that "trip" the note into a higher register.

Beginner instruction books, in fact, tell you to get the upper (second) register/octave by "blowing harder." Although that "sort of" works, the instruction has always been a little irritating to me. If you continue blowing as you pull the whistle away from your lips, the escaping air should have the same pitch as the note you were playing. (It doesn't have to "whistle" to have a pitch.) If you do that, the "oral cavity resonance" is tuned to the same pitch you're fingering on the whistle, and the two resonances, mouth and whistle, work together. In addition to making the pitch more stable, it gives a "kinder, gentler tone."

If you can "double tune" your notes by holding good agreement between the pipe pitch and the oral volume pitch, you can produce a significant variation in loudness, although at best it's nothing like you can get with a reed (or lipped/brass) instrument. Most beginners find they can produce more loudness change in upper registers, simply because they can't "scrunch down" the mouth enough to back up the next harmonic that the whistle "wants" when it's overblown, especially with the smaller whistles. I have some problem with the larger whistles in my collection because the "oral volume" needed for the lower octave exceeds what I can provide (i.e. I don't have a big enough mouth) [no comments please]


01 Jan 05 - 02:34 PM (#1368855)
Subject: RE: Flute/whistle dynamics
From: Bernard

Anne, I believe the 'official titles' you can't remember are (from tiny to biggest) Sopranino, Descant, Treble and Tenor...

Sorry! Just had to stick me nose in!!

John - I'm glad someone else is irritated by the 'blowing harder' advice!! ;o)

01 Jan 05 - 07:21 PM (#1369036)
Subject: RE: Flute/whistle dynamics
From: Gypsy

Thankee kindly, specially JinK! We occasionally play with whistle players, who don't seem to be able to control the volumn of thier instrument...............takes alot, but they can drown out hammered dulcimers, and even fiddles. Was just wondering if it was a whistle/etc thing, or just lack of experience.

01 Jan 05 - 07:49 PM (#1369048)
Subject: RE: Flute/whistle dynamics
From: Bob Bolton

G'day Bernard,

Of course, your list of four leaves out Garklein (ultra-small ... lowest note is the C above that of the Descant ... but highest note only two or three above the Sopranino) at one end ... and a Bass ... and even a rare Great Bass at the other.



02 Jan 05 - 12:50 AM (#1369174)
Subject: RE: Flute/whistle dynamics
From: Kaleea

Depends upon the instrument, which flute, which whistle! There are many kinds of whistles! The most common ones in Ireland tend to sound more "air-y." These do not seem quite as loud. The key is to blend in with the ensemble with which one is performing, and to trade off the lead. I have played with some fiddle players who drown out bagpipes! I have never drowned out a piper with a whistle.
   There is a total & complete difference between the whistle (feadog) and a flute. There are differences between flutes. I have some bamboo flutes which are not at all loud & vice versa. Same with wooden flutes. If by silver flute you are referring to the flute as in an orchestra, yes, the volume can be controlled by an experienced musician. Some flutes are of different qualities and the upper register will stick out more. Out of tune higer pitched instruments will stick out horribly.
    Instruments which have higher pitches will always seem to stick out more. Also, many American whistle players tend to prefer whistles which have a solid, flute-like sound and seem louder. I have whistles which are at varying degrees of volume. The higher the pitch, the louder it will sound. Some whistles are in high keys which I will only play outside-literally.

02 Jan 05 - 01:49 PM (#1369465)
Subject: RE: Flute/whistle dynamics
From: *Laura*

I think everything I could say has been said - I play flute and it is all down to breathing. It takes some practice to get it right though - if the breathing isn't quite right the low notes will sound 'fluffy' and the high notes will be squeaky! I suppose the way they describe it in books as 'blowing harder' is sort of right - in the simplist form anyway. But it's also to do with how you position your lips and how you control how fast or slow you are breathing out. I sort of do it automatically by now but I think it's if you blow faster it tends to be louder.


02 Jan 05 - 10:23 PM (#1369778)
Subject: RE: Flute/whistle dynamics
From: Leadfingers

Addition to my earlier post ! I have Three sets of whistles - the set
I use for most of my Amplified Gigs are all Aluminium Straight bore Chieftens which seem to work nicely into a microphone . The next option is a set of Tony Dixon PVC whistles which (I think) sound better but are a lot quieter and fit in more with acoustic stuff . I
also have a set of Shaw Tapered whistles which are more 'Breathy' and
I find harder to blow . This again is down to personal taste and usage. I also carry a number of Generation D whistles for when I am
doing a workshop - The number of people who turn up for workshops with totally unplayable instrumentys is FRIGHTENING so I can supply a whistle which WILL work for less than the Music Shops who (MAYBE) are
in attendance .
   A whistles volume CAN be adjusted by the way they are blown but there can also be a variation in the note - blow TOO soft its flat ,
blow too hard its up an octave !!
Who started this Idea that whistles are simple instruments for playing simple music on ?

03 Jan 05 - 11:41 AM (#1370065)
Subject: RE: Flute/whistle dynamics
From: Gypsy

Kaleea, i blush to mush such varied instruments into one category. My apologies. Yes, the silver flute i refer to is the orchestra type. The whistles are standard, el cheapo, tin whistles. Also would be records, running from soprano to the really big, long one. All three types seem to have a problem with dynamics..........not gonna be able to change anything, just wanted to know if it was possible to have that kind of control. Such as, i CAN drown out everyone with my hammer dulcimer, but i chose not to. It just sounds better if everyone is at about the same volume.

03 Jan 05 - 01:10 PM (#1370150)
Subject: RE: Flute/whistle dynamics

Its all to do with the control of blowing and fingering

03 Jan 05 - 06:15 PM (#1370417)
Subject: RE: Flute/whistle dynamics
From: The Fooles Troupe

The only real way to adjust the volume of such instruments relative to to others is to change the instrument - there are many different instruments with different properties and the physics of these instruments works against giving much volume variability.

04 Jan 05 - 01:01 PM (#1371036)
Subject: RE: Flute/whistle dynamics
From: Gypsy

Aha! so you CANNOT control the volume, yes?

04 Jan 05 - 06:40 PM (#1371455)
Subject: RE: Flute/whistle dynamics
From: belter

I find that there is fairly limited variation in volume with my tin whistles. Especialy at the highest notes. Of caurse if you go for the theird octav, take it outside. Whith my bambo and wood flutes, playing quietly is a thing that took me years to learn. To play a note, the air has to move acrost the flute at the correct speed (my own theory anyway). to play the higher notes softly, you need to get a small amount of air moving fast enough. That takes not only control, but lip strength. you may need to work up to it.

04 Jan 05 - 07:26 PM (#1371515)
Subject: RE: Flute/whistle dynamics

With whistles there are many differences. Some have more room for variation in how loud they are. For example my Copeland can be played very soft or fairly loud, same for my BUrke and to some degree my harper. My Shaws are NEVER loud. My Silkstone has less variation than the copeland but more than the shaw. My Generations whistles I can not control the volume. It is best to pick a whistle that is about the volume that you need for the situation you are playing in. That said, on the low end you could have Clarks for soft, and Generations or Feadog for a little louder etc. OR spend a ridiculous amount of money as I have for "penny" whistles.

04 Jan 05 - 08:21 PM (#1371567)
Subject: RE: Flute/whistle dynamics
From: Kaleea

Perhaps one needs to consider the fact that there are certain instruments which will tend to "stick out" from the others, and therefore make adjustments for such. In most Ceoli bands, there is a certain instrumentation & a certain sound. I think it is fun to alternate instrumentation so as to provide more flexibility for the band as well as the listening pleasure of the audience.
   If you are experiencing the extra loud whistle playing at a session, then perhaps you might consider sitting in a different spot--like to the left of the Bodhran player.

05 Jan 05 - 09:16 AM (#1371970)
Subject: RE: Flute/whistle dynamics
From: Vixen

Can't resist throwing my $0.02 into the pot...

I've been playing whistles (C, D, G, and Low D) for about 6 years and and orchestral flute (one student-quality closed-hole Gemeinhardt) for about 3 years and recorders (wood and PVC Sopranos and Altos, wood tenor, PVC bass) for about 20 years.

My experience has been that on the fipple instruments (recorders/whistles) only VERY minor changes in volume can be controlled with air flow. The way to get more volume is to use an instrument with a larger bore. For example, Yamaha plastic soprano and alto recorders are good and loud (as compared with some that are loud but not good!). This also holds true for pennywhistles--the larger the bore, the more volume.

The transverse instruments (eg orchestral and bamboo flutes) have a more dynamic range. The more air you push across them, the louder they get. If the pitch shifts sharp or flat because of the increased or decreased airflow, the embouchure can be modified to correct it.

Hope that helps...your mileage may vary...


05 Jan 05 - 11:45 AM (#1372121)
Subject: RE: Flute/whistle dynamics
From: Gypsy

LOL, Kaleea! will take yer advice!