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Learn How to Play the Tin Whistle

Updated on June 20, 2012

The Notes

The tin whistle is a wonderfully simple, yet soothing instrument to learn to play (although my dog may disagree--his ears are a little sensitive).

First, let's start out with how the notes are laid out on the whistle. There are 6 holes--this allows you to play the entire major scale. When you put these notes in various orders and play them, you can play a wide variety of songs. Now, the major scale starts and ends on do . You know, just like in the song from The Sound of Music --do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti, do .

Wait a minute!? I can hear you now--that's 8 notes! There's only 6 holes--what's up with that? OK--here's how it works. When you cover up all 6 holes on the tin whistle and blow gently, you get do. Uncover one hole at a time starting at the bottom--each time you uncover the next hole and blow through the mouthpiece, you'll hear the next note in the major scale. When you've uncovered every hole and blow through the mouthpiece, you'll hear ti. How do you play the final do ? Cover up all the holes again and blow through the mouthpiece with more pressure than before--this makes the pitch go up from regular low do to high do --but more about that later.

OK--let's recap this part--6 holes on the tin whistle allows you to play all of the notes in the major scale--do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti, do. The lowest notes are heard when you're covering up more holes and the highest notes are heard when you're covering up fewer holes.

Positioning Your Hands to Play

Let's make this as simple as possible--go get your tinwhistle and come back to follow this step-by-step.

OK--here we go--take one step at a time....

  1. Hold your tin whistle vertically with the holes all on top.
  2. Using your left hand's index, middle, and ring fingers, cover the three holes nearest the top of the whistle completely.
  3. Using your right hand's index, middle, and ring fingers, cover the bottom three holes of the whistle completely.

Playing the Notes

Let's keep going...

Once you've positioned your hands to play, you're ready to actually play.

Making sure that all of the holes are completely covered, fold your lips over your teeth to protect the mouthpiece from tooth damage and blow. (If you hear a really high sharp sound, blow more gently.) Once you hear a good, solid sound you are ready to move on to the next note.

Lift your right hand's ring finger off of the bottom-most hole on the whistle while keeping all of the other holes completely covered. Blow through the mouthpiece--you will hear the next note up. Next, keeping your right hand's ring finger lifted, lift your right hand's middle finger as well. Blow through the mouthpiece. You should hear the next note up the scale. Keep working your way up the tin whistle lifting one additional finger at a time.

Here's how it all correlates with the major scale we discussed earlier....

  • covering all 6 holes = do.
  • 5 holes = re.
  • 4 holes = mi.
  • 3 holes = fa.
  • 2 holes = so.
  • 1 hole = la.
  • 0 holes = ti.

Practice going up and down the scale until it gets easier. If you hear a strange sound, a breathy sound or an unexpected note, check your fingers--likely there's a slightly uncovered hole that's supposed to be covered.

Take a look at the note chart below as you practice.

Tin Whistle Note Chart

Finding High Do

Now that you've found most of the major scale notes, it's time to tackle high do.

For whatever reason, this concept was the most surprising to me when I first learned to play the tin whistle. As mentioned earlier to hear high do, you cover up all the holes again--you know, just like playing low do. The thing that makes all the difference here is your breath pressure. The only thing you do differently to change from low do to high do is to blow harder.

Practice playing low do ( soft breath pressure), then high do (harder breath pressure), low do, then high do. This exercise will help you to develop good breath pressure control.


Learning Songs

So now you know where to find the notes on the tin whistle and you've practiced them--time to apply all this knowledge and learn a few songs!

Mary Had a Little Lamb

Mi, Re, Do, Re

Mi, Mi, Mi

Re, Re, Re,

Mi, So, So

Mi, Re, Do, Re

Mi, Mi, Mi, Mi,

Re, Re, Mi, Re, Do


Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star

Do, Do, So, So, La, La, So

Fa, Fa, Mi, Mi, Re, Re, Do

So, So, Fa, Fa, Mi, Mi, Re

So, So, Fa, Fa, Mi, Mi, Re

Do, Do, So, So, La, La, So

Fa, Fa, Mi, Mi, Re, Re, Do.


Row, Row, Row Your Boat

Do, Do, Do, Re, Mi

Mi, Re, Mi, Fa, So

Do (high), Do (high), Do (high)

So, So, So

Mi, Mi, Mi

Do, Do, Do

So, Fa, Mi, Re, Do.



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  • singnmiss profile image
    Author

    singnmiss 5 years ago from Southern US

    Thanks, Susan! :)

  • Just Ask Susan profile image

    Susan Zutautas 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

    Great instructions on how to play the tin whistle. You make it seem so easy and fun to learn. Thanks for sharing and Welcome to HubPages.