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Adventures in Whistling

After several frustrating days of not being able to play my tin whistle because the lower notes needed radically different breath pressure than the high notes, I asked Google what was wrong. Google said: Your whistle is a Generation brand in the key of D, which is one of the best whistles out there. Tons of professionals swear by their Generation Ds. They're amazing, they're incredible, and here's a forumful of people talking about having to test an entire box of them at the store before finding one that was worth playing. Because while Generation Ds are excellent when they work right, their quality is all over the place. Here are instructions for tweaking your whistle to fix the issues, and here are warnings that unless you know what you're doing, you're more likely to ruin your whistle than fix it. By the way, the known issues have nothing to do with the difference in breath pressure, but do explain why your whistle has angry-hamster overtones.

So I ordered a Clarke, the first ever mass-produced tin whistle and still one of the top brands. They're conical rather than cylindrical, which solved the problem of variable pressure nicely. They're famous for having "chiff," a desirable quality that I have no idea what it is. They're quiet, which is good for us apartment-dwellers. But the quietness brings another issue...

Imagine Pippin singing to Denethor, quiet, sad.

Home is behind, the world ahead.
And there are many paths to tread.
Through shadow,

Pippin throws his arms wide like a diva and belts,


Quiet and sad,

Until the stars are all alight.

The overblown (high) notes are twice as loud as the regular notes. AGH. I've been learning Pippin's song, and TO THE EDGE OF NIIIGHT is loud enough to turn heads in traffic. People have played these whistles for over a century, so there has to be a solution, but damned if I know what it is.

The good news is that I'm no longer afraid of the overblown notes. It's not as difficult as I thought to learn the point where the note jumps octaves. If anything, my problem is that I blow too hard on the next non-overblown note. So: progress!


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 3rd, 2014 03:27 pm (UTC)

also, I am cracking up at the mental image of BillyBoyd!Pippin throwing his arms wide and belting.
Apr. 7th, 2014 03:41 pm (UTC)
Maybe it's what Denethor needed to snap him out of his angst, know what I mean?
Apr. 3rd, 2014 11:04 pm (UTC)
Sounds like fun, overall!

You may not be able to control for both pitch and volume on the tin whistle… I think the traditional solution has been "compose your music to go with the natural dynamics of the instrument." Even with an orchestral flute, playing high notes pianissimo is near impossible.
Apr. 7th, 2014 03:38 pm (UTC)
Hm. Annoying that with all the other controllable variables, volume may be out of reach. One solution may be to get a whistle that's less quiet on the first octave, so the jump into the second octave is less noticeable.

Thanks for the reality check. It's helpful to hear from experienced musicians.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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