November 30, 2009

Tin Whistles, Penny Whistles, Irish Whistles and Fifes

           I have always loved the sounds of flutes and whistles. I learned to play the flute in Middle school and was so bad, I was asked to leave the band. I have to say, I don't like modern flutes as much I love tin whistles, Irish flutes and fifes. They have such an old-fashioned, simple, and romantic sound. The tin whistle is rather easy to learn. The fife and Irish flute take a little more practice of breath control but they both have the same finger positions as the tin whistle.  Fifes started to be used for military moral-lifting and for military commands in the 1600s and were highly utilized by Napoleon.  Tin whistles (also known as penny whistles, flageolets, and Irish whistles,) have been used at least since the 1500s. They were historically used by vagabonds and urchins in street performances but were not made of tin until 1843. By the 1860s whistles were popular children's toys and an adult amusement popular in Irish music.  

For those who wish to learn, I have charted out the finger positions and some simple songs to start out with. A lot of people have fifes and tin whistles but have never learned to play.

Some good resources to learn online are: 
Whistle Away
Whistle This (A really good site for hearing different renditions and playing styles that does not get updated anymore.)
Tin Whistle This site has videos on how to play.

Resources for Historical songs:
O' Neill's Music of Ireland This site is good because it has the sheet music as well as MIDI files to listen to.

 Old Fort Snelling Instruction Book for Fife With Music of Early America by Donald Mattson and Louis Walz
in whistles, but have never learned to play.

The songs I have diagramed are simple and recognizable tunes that everyone can learn easily. All of them were written before 1870:

Mary Had a Little Lamb is probably one of the most recognizable songs in American history. It was said to have been written by Sarah Josepha Hale (of Godey's Lady's Book) as a poem and later put to music. It was based a true story about Mary Sawyer who took her Lamb to school and the havoc that ensued. It was so widespread that Thomas Edison used the first stanza of Mrs. Hale's poem to test his invention, the phonograph, in 1877.  

Yankee Doodle  is said to originally have been written by British officers to mock the Colonial commanders that they served with during the French and Indian War. The Macaroni mentioned in the song refers to the prestigious Macaroni "Club" in England which consisted of educated, over-fashionably dressed lads with enormous hairstyles who were known for their drinking and gambling. In the song, the British made the remark that the Colonists were so low class that they thought someone who had a feather in their hat was of this elite high society.       

The Rising of the Moon, was written in 1866 to the tune The Wearing of the Green (1798.) The Wearing of the Green described the uprising  in 1798 in County Kildare in Ireland.Green was the color of the Society of United Ireland who wished to end British rule in Ireland. Rebels wore green shamrocks in their hats to proclaim their dissatisfaction with British rule.  


  1. Hello there! Totally helpful Tin Whistle chart. Can I use it for a "for fun" music group?


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