The Tin Whistle

A tin whistle - © uskarp2
A tin whistle - © uskarp2

The Tin Whistle is a small Anglo-Irish flute made of a steel tube capped by a plastic mouthpiece. Very cheap, this instrument is sold for about ten euros, and is very popular among Irish musicians. It is also the companion of many Irish traditional music groups!

The Tin Whistle, a small Irish flute

History of the Tin Whistle

A Tin Whistle - chidorian - cc

A Tin Whistle – chidorian cc

Very well known in the world of Irish music, the tin whistle is a metal instrument (made of copper, brass, tin, or tinplate), composed of 6 holes. Its origin would date back to the middle of the 19th century, when Robert Clarke, a farmer from the village of Coney Weston in England, reproduced a small wooden flute with a new material known as “tinplate”. He liked the sound so much that he decided to set up a factory in Manchester (The Clarke Tin Whistles) to mass-produce this new instrument.

Throughout the creation of his factory, Robert Clarke toured the surrounding villages to introduce the population to this instrument. It was at this time that he sold a lot of tin whistles to Irish sailors, who brought this little flute back to Ireland… On the island, the tin whistle was so successful that it became a key element of traditional Irish music.

Today, the Clarke factory is no longer the only one to produce tin whistles: Waltons or Feadog are now competing with the English brand. As for sales, there are now massive sales to Ireland, much more significant than in Great Britain.

Playing Techniques

In order to adapt to all existing music, tin whistles are available in different keys. Among the most common ones, we can quote :

  • the key of C
  • the treble clef
  • the key in B flat (very useful to accompany the bagpipes)
  • the key in E flat
  • …etc.

Although the tin whistle is a fairly easy to access instrument, it is also characterized by many subtleties of play. It is not enough to know how to blow into a flute to claim to master a tin whistle: quite the contrary! The tin whistle requires the player to control his breath and to give effects to the sound through specific clicks of the tongue.

Average price of a Tin Whistle

The number one advantage of a tin whistle is its price! Count no more than 15€ for a good tin whistle. Bills vary from one brand to another, and everything depends on the desired sound. Some of the most popular brands include Clarke, Waltons and Feadog.

So much more to discover...