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Irish Instruments: The Tin Whistle.

Updated on November 12, 2014

The beautiful sound of a slow air from the whistle and uileann pipes.

The tin whistle ("Feadóg" in Irish), also known as the penny whistle, is a traditional Irish musical instrument which stems from the ancient bone whistles of the Celts. There are forms of whistles from every continent of the earth, unique to many different cultures from ancient times, yet none has evolved more beautifully in sound than that of the Irish. The whistle is a very popular instrument and is taught in many schools all over Ireland and I would say that most Irish citizens have been taught the whistle at some stage in their lives.

Whistles come in many different sizes and can be made of different materials, not necessarily metal. The size of the whistle depends on its key. The higher the pitch, the smaller the whistle and likewise the lower the pitch the bigger they get. The most common whistles are in the key of D which is what the majority of Irish traditional music is played in. Although with a D whistle you can also get away with playing in the key of G and if you are quite skilled the key of A also. The whistle is a very diverse instrument with a range of 3 full octaves.

My collection of different tin whistles.
My collection of different tin whistles. | Source

Why I love the whistle.

I have been playing the tin whistle since I was ten years old. I began learning it in school like most other children in the country and I just picked it up better than most. Outside of school i attended a traditional school of music which increased my love of the instrument. The whistle was my introduction to music and music theory. I now play an array of instruments but the whistle will always have a place in my heart.

Here are some reasons why I believe a whistle would be the right choice of instrument to learn for a beginner:

  • It is easy to learn and you can teach yourself from a book up to a good level within a matter of months, regardless of no musical experience.
  • Whistles are small and easy to carry around, so bringing it to a bar to join in a session s a piece of cake.
  • The tin whistle is one of the cheapest instruments you can buy.
  • The sound of the whistle, even the most basic of songs, is very impressive to people who have never heard it or those who love it most.
  • Learning the whistle can open you up to learning many other instruments, which is how many Irish traditional musicians started out.

As you can see the low whistle is pretty big compared to the normal tin whistle.
As you can see the low whistle is pretty big compared to the normal tin whistle. | Source

The low whistle.

Also known as the "Ghost whistle" is a variation of the tin whistle and is the lowest key you can go with the instrument as it becomes almost impossible to stretch your fingers wide enough if you bring the key any lower.

The low whistle is also traditionally in the key of D, an octave lower than the standard D whistles and the sound it produces is deceivingly similar to that of a traditional woodwind flute. It has a very ghostly low sound that is chilling to the bone, hence the nickname "ghost whistle", yet it is very soothing to listen to and has been used in tracks for meditation and relaxation.

Dixon Traditional D Whistle
Dixon Traditional D Whistle

In my opinion, the best whistles on the market have to be the Tony Dixon range. They even come with a hard case for protection.


A fine example of how it's supposed to be played!


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    • MelRootsNWrites profile image

      Melody Lassalle 3 years ago from California

      I didn't realize there was an Irish flute. Thanks for introducing me to it. That guy in the last video is incredible! He plays so fast.

    • kevin murphy-87 profile image

      kevin murphy 3 years ago from Ireland

      Thanks LA Elsen. The Corrs are amazing! No finer example of using Irish traditional instruments to make beautiful music.

      Ps: I love chicago! I used to go there every summer when i was a kid. :)

    • LA Elsen profile image

      LA Elsen 3 years ago from Chicago, IL

      Amazing. I was playing the Corrs music for my children last night and they just asked me about the "flute" the lady was playing. I didn't know the real name for it, but now I can show them your Hub when they wake up.

    • kevin murphy-87 profile image

      kevin murphy 3 years ago from Ireland

      Thanks Vellur and ThelmaC. It really is an awesome instrument. :)

    • ThelmaC profile image

      Thelma Raker Coffone 3 years ago from Blue Ridge Mountains, USA

      Loved learning about the tin whistle. Beautiful pictures. Loved the picture of the little boy with the whistle that is as big as he is. Nice post. Up and interesting.

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 3 years ago from Dubai

      Interesting and informative hub about the tin whistle.

    • kevin murphy-87 profile image

      kevin murphy 3 years ago from Ireland

      Thanks guys :)

    • William F. Torpey profile image

      William F Torpey 3 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.


    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you for sharing the lovely music and the interesting information about the tin whistle.

    • ladyguitarpicker profile image

      stella vadakin 3 years ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

      Enjoyed it very much. Never played a tin whistle, looks interesting.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 3 years ago from The Beautiful South

      Wow; hard to believe so much music from such a small instrument. I love it! Very good. Up and shared.