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Learn How to Play the Tin Whistle

I've been writing about music on HubPages for over six years. Singing is my greatest passion and my articles help others learn about music.


Playing the Tin Whistle

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

Tin Whistle Notes

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 tin whistle and come back to follow this step-by-step.

  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 play.

Make sure that all of the holes are thoroughly covered, fold your lips over your teeth to protect the mouthpiece from tooth damage and blow. (If you hear a 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 following 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 following 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.

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.


singnmiss (author) from Southern US on May 28, 2012:

Thanks, Susan! :)

Susan Zutautas from Ontario, Canada on May 28, 2012:

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.