Penny whistle

penny whistleThe penny whistle is an instrument originally played by beggars on the streets of Dublin in the 14th century.

It's about as cheap as a musical instrument can get, made of tin or bronze.

Penny or tin whistles really belong to the recorder family. They are held vertically and the player blows into the mouthpiece on the end.

If you played a plastic recorder in elementary school music, it's very similar and very easy to play.

There are no keys, just holes for the fingers to cover. As a result, any one instrument can play in just a couple of major keys.

Pitches outside those keys are achieved by "half-holing," or covering just a portion of a key.

penny whistleThis "half-holing" technique lends a distinctive quality to the style of playing that is instantly recognizable as Irish or Celtic flute music.

Irish flutists are masters of drawing out complex tunes from this most basic of instruments.

Whistle masters employ a variety of ornamentation and embellishment techniques to add style and character to their tunes.
Cuts, slides, strikes, rolls - they are all basically sliding off a hole or covering and uncovering one very quickly.

It's quite similar to formal Baroque ornamentation, but Irish and Celtic flutists weren't educated in any type of performance practice techniques.

They did what they could with the little piece of metal in their hands. Younger musicians listened and imitated what was around them.

The metal whistle produced an "airy" sound lends to its appeal. Classical flutists practice very hard to attain a pure, non-airy sound; traditional Irish flutists embrace it.

Penny and tin whistles are easily affordable, often less than $10.


Michael Burke PennyWhistle Company

Whistle and Drum

The Pennywhistler's Press

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