How difficult is it to be a proficient tin whistle player?

How difficult is it to be a proficient tin whistle player?

I learned a few songs like Dawning of the Day and some other stuff. That is probably a ridiculously easy tune to play right? Considering I learned it in a matter of minutes after picking the tin whistle up.

So how difficult is the tin whistle? I know there are incredibly fast songs with slides, pull-offs, and hammer-on like techniques but how long does it take to go from learning songs like the Dawning of the day to playing like Spider Stacy?? (sorry don’t know any Irish trad players… Can you recommend some?)

Thank you. If you’re not going to be supportive then don’t bother answering. Thanks.

Re: How difficult is it to be a proficient tin whistle player?

I imagine the whistle is the same as all instruments, not as easy as it looks. I play a bit of whistle, but never had the patience to try to master it.

A wonderful instrument. I imagine if you know a bit about music, notes and scales, it would be a help.

But never believe that the whistle is easy. All instruments take practice and patience.

Re: How difficult is it to be a proficient tin whistle player?

Yeah I’ve actually been using Ryan Duns’ lessons LOL. That guy is a good man and an excellent player.

Re: How difficult is it to be a proficient tin whistle player?

Go for it. Sounds like you’re off to a good start. Warning: you’ll soon be looking for a proper flute. :)

Re: How difficult is it to be a proficient tin whistle player?

Mary MacNammara,, Mary Bergin, Sean Ryan, and the absolutely Brilliant Album by Brid O’Donohue. These are some of the best in Ireland. Great to listen to, aspire towards [and play along to as you are a guitarist. ]
Donagh, if your interested in trad let me give you a small pierce of advice; dont worry about how long it will take to ‘arrive’, its the journey that matters. I know your keen to become good, but the more energy you put into where you want to be the less you have for where you are. Be patient, it all takes time and dedication, there are no short cuts.
Saying that a couple of years of focused effort and some lessons and you could be getting to a fair level. But truly, it depends on how much focused effort you put in, how many hours, you practice, what aptitude you have, how much you want it!

Re: How difficult is it to be a proficient tin whistle player?

What do you mean by "proficient?"

Re: How difficult is it to be a proficient tin whistle player?

I dunno. If you tend to pick up instruments quickly, which seems to be the case according to your third sentence, you should be able to get quite good within a couple of years. As in, playing all the fast reels with good ornaments. Just play every day and keep a small repoirtoire. Once you can play a few tunes really well you can learn new ones much faster.

As for difficulty, I found the flute to be quite a bit more difficult to get a nice melody out of than the whistle and the fiddle to be a bit harder yet, so I’m sure you’ll be fine.

Re: How difficult is it to be a proficient tin whistle player?

After about 2-4 years I’d say that all instruments even themselves out in technical difficulty.

At that point, musicality and "irishness" are going to be the difficult parts. That is being able to play interesting music, being able to adjust to playing with different people, putting in variation, adjusting intonation, playing with the correct rhythm and lift.

Fairly quickly you will reach a level with which you are happy, but you will probably never be satisfied.

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Re: How difficult is it to be a proficient tin whistle player?

Please stop calling the tunes "songs".
We know you’re young and naive, but a basic respect for how the more experienced musicians talk about what we do would be appreciated.
You can’t play a song on a whistle - only the tune of it. Or, if you like, the ‘air’.

Re: How difficult is it to be a proficient tin whistle player?

It seems to me, from my limited experience with the high whistle, that the initial learning curve is less than with some other instruments, such as the fiddle or flute. I started playing the whistle in November, and in one working "session" on it was able to play the scales and some tunes- not the case for when I started on the fiddle, although I guess I learned that pretty fast too now that I think about it. The issue I think is less how long it takes to be able to "play" it but more the proficiency part that you allude to. I am finding it loads of fun- even more so than fiddle I am starting to find, and I’m playing a fair number of tunes- mostly reels and some jigs, at a decent clip- but haven’t started adding ornamentation yet. I think there is a fair amount of time between being able to play the whistle and being able to play it such that others will really want to hear you play it- and as for playing like Mary Bergin……..

As for resources, it depends if you are playing by ear or with tune books- there are a number of tune books around to work with if you go that route- I have found that the Irish Session Tunes series- Blue book and Orange book- while not written for whistle, are mostly quite playable on the whistle. There are also some others that are written just for whistle such as Geraldine Cotter’s tunebooks as well as one of the other Irish Sessions books-I think it’s the Green one but check that to be sure.

For ornamentation help, there are a couple of whistle books that have that info including Geraldine Cotter’s and Bill Och’s.

Re: How difficult is it to be a proficient tin whistle player?

The whistle is an easy instrument And this music is easy music. So you have the best of both worlds. I recomend to everyone who is interested in this music that they should be learning the whistle. It gets you in quicker

Posted .

Re: How difficult is it to be a proficient tin whistle player?

Check out www.whistletutor.com, he’s got some good lessons on there.
Also your question is pretty subjective in a couple of different ways and I’m not sure if you actually wanted a straight answer (it takes 4 years, 8 months, 2 weeks and 1.5 days to become a ‘proficient tin whistle player’!) :)
I’m with bodhran bliss, it’s just like learning any instrument. So it all depends on the person playing it, as everyone is different. Your case specifically also depends on what you consider to be ‘proficient.’
A step in the right direction to becoming a proficient player would be to stop calling it a tin whistle and call it a whistle :).
Good luck Donagh, happy whistling!

Re: How difficult is it to be a proficient tin whistle player?

It’s not difficult - as instruments go - to become good *enough*: good enough on the tin whistle to play most dance music fast and proficiently, once you have learnt the basic techniques and got the hang of each actual tune you play, and good enough to please yourself and others. The things to aim for are playing the notes clearly and playing in time. At first you’ll be self-consciously "doing" the techniques at points along a tune, then you’ll find yourself flicking them out naturally as you involve yourself more in expressing the tune itself.

This, of course, takes application and practice. You may or may not get to the level of astounding, brilliant, magical playing that the really good whistlers exhibit - and which may not be pronounced in some of their recordings, as (I imagine) recording is an inhibiting business and inclines people to play rather safe. Starting young, growing up in trad music, having pronounced talent or sensibility and a lot of intense practice - any or all of these - probably underlie the expertise of the really good players. But to enjoy playing and to make progress, the only necessary element in this list is practice.

Re: How difficult is it to be a proficient tin whistle player?

Practice? Someone once said you can’t practice writing poetry; you can only write poems. Same goes for trad; you can only play tunes. It’s not like there are any scales or "exercises" or grades. So you can’t practice. Only play.

You can play badly though, we’ve all done that. It’s just a phase most musicians go through.

Re: How difficult is it to be a proficient tin whistle player?

I’d concentrate on jigs, reels & hornpipes more than airs (not that I have anything against the lovely airs), but if it’s proficiency you’re looking for … . concentrate on jigs and reels. Start slow and build up speed as you can. Learn the tunes you love. Don’t worry about ornamentation too much in the beginning so much as learning the tunes and picking up speed. Ornamentation can come later. Some players use a lot, some not so much. Do this and you’ll have loads of fun and the rest will fall into place when you determine the time is right.

Re: How difficult is it to be a proficient tin whistle player?

Can one practice reciting poetry?
There is a slight difference between writing a poem & reciting a poem.

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Re: How difficult is it to be a proficient tin whistle player?

Good point, Random, bit of a flaw in my analogy. Anyway, I wasn’t really trying to be facetious, there was a serious point; the sooner you get out playing in sessions, the better. Sessions are where you find out how much you have to learn; not internet discussion boards.

And who to listen to: The Sean Potts and Paddy Maloney album is a must, also Brian Hughes, and Gavin Whelan is a great player. I’m a big fan of Sean Ryan but it’s technically very complex stuff, not easy to emulate. Cormac Breathnach is another good whistler, though some of his stuff isn’t the Pure Drop, it’s still seriously good whistling.

Re: How difficult is it to be a proficient tin whistle player?

Couldn’t agree with you more Hammurabi. There’s nothing like a session for really listening & playing.
& Donagh, do listen to recordings of the whistlers’ you see named on this thread. Here is a clip of Donncha Ó Briain;
http://www.rogermillington.com/tunetoc/blackbird.html

Posted .

Re: How difficult is it to be a proficient tin whistle player?

The whistle is an easy instrument And this music is easy music. So you have the best of both worlds. I recomend to everyone who is interested in this music that they should be learning the whistle. It gets you in quicker

# Posted on March 28th 2009 by llig leahcim



Only if you spell whistle the old fashioned way which is "bodhran".

Re: How difficult is it to be a proficient tin whistle player?

I agree that whistle is easier than most to get started on, but I also think it is as hard as any to master. Many of us who also play other instruments can play a few tunes on the whistle, but to really play it well is another story.

Re: How difficult is it to be a proficient tin whistle player?

He Mr Bliss, I appologise for not being specific enough:

The whistle is an easy instrument And this music is easy music. So you have the best of both worlds. I recomend to everyone who is interested in these tunes that they should be learning the whistle. It gets you in quicker.

Posted .

Re: How difficult is it to be a proficient tin whistle player?

llig, Like the whistle, there are a lot of aspects of this music that are easy. But like the whistle, this ‘easy’ music can take a lifetime to master!

Re: How difficult is it to be a proficient tin whistle player?

Yes, mastering it is a different kettle of fish. I’d even go as far as to say it cannot be mastered. To me, "mastering" it sounds like you are kind of "solving" it, like it’s a puzzle or something. But it’s not like that. It’s not like you can ever say it’s corners can ever be completely explored. It is a bottomless pit of potential creativity.

However, the techniques needed to enable you to go and explore the bottomless pit of potential creativity are relatively easy to master. And even more so on the whistle.

Posted .

Re: How difficult is it to be a proficient tin whistle player?

Who would want to ‘master’ anything?
It means the journey is over—no fun at all!

Re: How difficult is it to be a proficient tin whistle player?

Wish they were. Not sure about fast F# Minor bagpipe reels…

Re: How difficult is it to be a proficient tin whistle player?

The whistle is an easy instrument to play badly. But it’s true to say
that compared to the fiddle it’s like falling off a log.

Re: How difficult is it to be a proficient tin whistle player?

To give a complete picture, the fiddle is almost impossible to play well.
Why do I keep trying?

Re: How difficult is it to be a proficient tin whistle player?

Aye, if I’d have had an attitude like that, I’d have given up years ago.

Posted .

Re: How difficult is it to be a proficient tin whistle player?

The short answer is that the whistle is relatively easy as an introductory instrument for Irish traditional tunes.
The long answer requires a discussion of wind instruments, including the timbre (wood) flute, which one
naturally wants after a varying attainment of skill. Once started on the flute, it is probably a good idea to only
play the whistle incidentally, because the effort is so much less that it might interfere with the development
and sustaining embouchure needed for the flute. I’m 74, with congestive heart failure, so I find the effort to
play my wooden flute is a bit more than what I am comfortable with, so it is easier for me to play the whistle.

My own advice is to play with other musicians as soon and as often as they will let you. But do no harm.

Timing is EVERYTHING. You can do almost anything and get away with your own shortcomings
but if you screw up the rhythm few musicians will want you to play with them.

Look into the definition of "synergy", and see how it applies to sessions. When you practice, by yourself,
you can learn to play the tune. When you play it with others, and do it well, then you are making music.
The other musicians will actually help YOU become a better musician. And that is as good as it gets.

Re: How difficult is it to be a proficient tin whistle player?

I think that a good whistle player is doing them self down if they refer to it as merely an "introductory instrument".

Sure, the extra stuff you can bring to the music if you play the flute; tone control, subtleties of intonation, dynamics (especially being able to play the higher notes no louder than the bottom ones), etc. are marvellous. But it remains that all of the music that is the tunes, is accesible on the whistle. The timing, the phrasing, the twiddley bits, the melody, can be right there on that humble little piece of tin and plastic that you can get for under a fiver. It’s a brilliant little thing.

Posted .

Re: How difficult is it to be a proficient tin whistle player?

"introductory instrument for Irish traditional tunes" - I’m afraid that’s a very misleading statement. There is an element of truth, it is a great way in but do Brian Finnigan, Mary Bergin, Cormac Breatnach etc make it sound like an ‘introductory instrument’ ?
It is easier than most to get a tune out of but there are certain things that can’t be taken lightly

Tuning - the whistle takes a lot of practice to have decent intonation, most beginners are miles out of tune. Even experienced players can have problems where there are bad acoustics.

Timing - There is very little difference in having good timing on the whistle than any other instrument.

Tone - you can play in tune and still have a crap tone

Expression - Understanding what gives a tune lift is no easier on the whistle than any other instrument. In fact it’s more difficult than most due to the limited dynamics available to you.

So yes, it’s a good way into trad music but if you follow the outlook of Windybaer then don’t ever expect to be any good at it.

Re: How difficult is it to be a proficient tin whistle player?

"a lot of practice to have decent intonation"
"more difficult than most due to the limited dynamics "
Not a lot of people tell you that so clearly. I wish someone have told me years ago. The crap tone bit worked out for myself.

They emphasise how you have to learn the twiddly bits. But they don’t (or didn’t ) make clear that those twiddly bits are partially because even the best players are expressing themselves within a very narrow volume/pitch ‘slot’ compared to the fiddlers and fluters.

Re: How difficult is it to be a proficient tin whistle player?

as difficult as you make it…

Re: How difficult is it to be a proficient tin whistle player?

Wrong. Only as dificult as you let yourself think it is…

Re: How difficult is it to be a proficient tin whistle player?

You can do a lot with phrasing and rhythm on whistle without using
any ornamentation. There are some E. Clare players I’ve heard doing
that (on the radio - I’ve never been there in the flesh!)
You do it with little surges of air driven by your diaphram and importantly, leaving space or taking a breath at key points in the tune.

You can hear classical wind players, singers and Matt Malloy doing it
(on flute, not whistle).

When you leave out ornamentation it makes you get the tune right; you
can’t disguise the wrong notes any more. That is, the notes you play
that you weren’t planning to play :-)

Personally I prefer the popping Brian Finnegan style though.

Re: How difficult is it to be a proficient tin whistle player?

Harry Bradley uses that pulsing technique all the time.

Re: How difficult is it to be a proficient tin whistle player?

yeah, right, so you don’t just blow it then ?

Re: How difficult is it to be a proficient tin whistle player?

I think that once the basic techniques are learned, all Irish instruments are of equal difficulty.

As a wise old man once told me:

"An instrument is simply a mechanical device. The MUSIC is in the PERSON."

So a supreme musician will sound as such on any instrument, be it pipe organ, violin, fiddle, banjo, pipes, drums, or whistle.

A mediocre musician will sound as such on whatever he plays.

Yes of course the uilleann piper has a lot more to do than a whistler, and in the beginning stages that will make a difference. But a couple years down the road, when the players have put the mechanics behind them, the musicianship itself will out.

Re: How difficult is it to be a proficient tin whistle player?

Sure, but my comment was from the angle of a non-musician in that first two years (and the rest). Thats when I could have done with the info in Bogman’s post..