How to blow the Irish whistle: 7 Steps (with pictures)

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How to blow the Irish whistle: 7 Steps (with pictures)
How to blow the Irish whistle: 7 Steps (with pictures)

The Irish whistle, also known in English as "tin whistle", "penny whistle" or "flageolet", is an instrument with a wooden or plastic mouthpiece and metal body. It is very easy to play and its fingering is similar to that used on the saxophone, clarinet and flute. Irish whistles are a great way to encourage someone to play a musical instrument and have fun.


Step 1. Buy an Irish whistle at a local music store or online

Irish whistles are in all major keys. The most common, a whistle tuned in D, can play the notes of D and G major. The second most common, the C-tuned whistle, can play the notes of C and F major. The tonic is the lowest note of a penny whistle, achieved with all fingers on (on a D whistle the tonic is D).

  • The tone of an Irish whistle is largely determined by its manufacture. The Clarke brand style laminated metal whistles have a smooth, smooth sound, while the Generation brand cylindrical style instruments tend to sound higher and higher. Inexpensive sheet metal whistles, such as those from the Cooperman Fife and Drum brand (which also produce fine instruments), can sound very airy and be difficult to play in the high registers (second octave). Often times, placing a piece of tape over the groove in the bezel (below the mouthpiece) to reduce it will significantly improve the tone and performance of the instrument.
  • Tinwhistles 6848
    Tinwhistles 6848

    Bass, or concert whistles, are longer and wider and produce tones that are one octave lower (or in rare cases two octaves). Most of the whistles in this category are made of metal or plastic tube, with a tuning barrel head. The term "soprano whistle" is sometimes used for higher whistles, when it is necessary to differentiate them from low whistles.

Daughter 3200
Daughter 3200

Step 2. Hold the whistle correctly

It should go down at a 45 degree angle. Place your dominant hand on the bottom and the other on the top of the tube. The little fingers are not used except to hold the whistle while certain notes are being played or when the longer (or smaller) Irish whistles are blown. The thumbs hold the whistle from below. Cover all six holes with your fingers. Place the tip of the mouthpiece between your lips, not between your teeth.

Step 3. Learn to play the notes

The standard range of a whistle is two octaves. For a whistle in D, this includes notes from the second D above middle C to the fourth D above middle C (it is possible to produce sounds above this range by blowing hard enough, but in most musical contexts, the result would be high and out of tune). As you go up the grade on a whistle, you have to lift one finger. Read the tablature below for a whistle in D. The white circles indicate that it is not covered, the black ones indicate that it is, and the plus signs indicate an octave higher.


Step 4. Play the lowest octaves

Hold the whistle covering all the holes (you don't have to press hard - just make sure each hole is completely covered). Blow out a steady stream of air, keeping your mouth shaped like you're saying "Tooo." This will produce the tonic (a D on a whistle in D). If you blow very softly, you will produce a very airy or non-existent note. If you blow too hard, you will produce the upper octave or a squeak. By blowing correctly, you will produce a steady, low tonic sound. Remove your fingers one by one, beginning by uncovering the last hole at the end and working your way up until you've played the note with all the holes uncovered (C #). You can use the little finger of your dominant hand to help hold the whistle when none of the holes are covered.

Step 5. Play the highest octaves

Cover all the holes and blow harder than before for a higher tone. If you're having trouble getting the note, uncover the top hole (the one closest to your mouth) a bit and try again. This will help you get all the notes in the highest octave. As before, discover the holes one by one until you reach the highest note (C #). As you go up the notes, you will have to blow louder to get them, but if you blow too much, the whistle will produce a squeak.

Step 6. Play

Learn to read music if you don't already know.

  • Image

    A "D" whistle If you have concert music transposed to an instrument with defined intonation (violin, flute, piano), you can play it in the correct key. Usually, an instrumentalist blows the whistle only in its tonic clef and possibly in clefs beginning in the fourth (for example, G on a whistle in D). Almost all clefs are possible, with the pitch becoming more difficult to maintain as the player moves away from the pitch of the whistle according to the circle of fifths. Thus, a whistle in D can be used to play the treble clefs and A, and a whistle in C can be used to play in F and G without any problem.

    To play a natural C on a whistle in D or a B flat on a whistle in C, you can either cover the middle of the hole at the top or cover the two holes below it (the latter is more practical for when playing fast)

  • Click on the following images to see some simple melodies.

    Frère Jacques in D
    Frère Jacques in D
    London Bridge Is Falling Down in D
    London Bridge Is Falling Down in D

Step 7. Practice

In addition to looking for clean, constant notes and smooth transitions between them, you should practice the ornamentation or ornamentation:

  • Cuts. Before playing a note, play a higher note for a moment. Take one of your fingers out of the hole for a moment to get the next highest note. It has to be short so that the listener does not determine the height.
  • Strikes or Taps. It's like a cut, but you are going to go to a lower note instead of a high note.
  • Slipped to a note. Remove your finger from a hole, gliding it smoothly for a smooth transition to the next note. It should only take half a second.
  • You can achieve vibrato by varying the air speed a bit. A fast air produces a higher tone and a slower air produces a lower tone, so by pressing the air using your diaphragm, you can achieve vibrato. Don't blow too hard or the instrument will play the next partial. Vibrato can also be achieved by opening and closing the second open hole counting from the mouthpiece. For example, on the note a, play a normal a and then move your finger quickly over the hole with your first finger of your dominant hand.


  • The sensitive note is a seventh before the tonic. In most Irish whistles, the sensitive can be achieved by using the little finger to partially plug the hole in the tip of the whistle, keeping the rest of the holes covered as is done with the tonic.
  • If the whistle or bezel fills up a little bit of saliva (which is normal after playing), you will hear a strange little noise, instead of the normal tone. To remove saliva, cover the hole in the bezel with a finger and blow as if you were playing (covering the bezel will silence the whistle, so no touching is necessary). Make sure to blow away from anyone or anything so that you don't fill anyone with saliva (better blow toward the floor).
  • Octopus Tin Whistle 1094
    Octopus Tin Whistle 1094

    Irish whistles are fun to experiment with. You can try playing with someone else's hands, as in the picture. You can also play two notes on two different whistles at the same time. To do this, put two (or three) whistles in your mouth, cover as many holes as you can, and play. You can even play an entire chord if someone gives you a hand.


  • If you share your whistle with someone else, clean the mouthpiece with disinfectant before giving it to them.
  • Use some type of cotton swab to clean the whistle after playing or it could become unsanitary. A piccolo swab, which you can find at your local music store, will work.
  • You can also use a piece of cloth (it can be from an old shirt) and a drumstick to clean your flute. The flute and piccolo sticks resemble large needles that can be inserted like cotton swabs.

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