YouTube Lessons

YouTube Lessons

Hi Everyone,

My name is Ryan Duns and I am teaching a course entitled "Introduction to the Irish Tin Whistle" at Fordham University. Some of you may have already seen the videos I have posted to YouTube.

I am preparing to teach two sections of the course next semester: beginner and intermediate. In hopes of making the course better, I was wondering if I might solicit feedback from some of the people here.

If you have seen or have the desire to see these videos, you can go to

and look at the various videos I have posted. The teaching videos - "Fordham University’s Intro to the Irish Tin Whistle" - are the ones I would love to hear back about.

The basic areas:
1. Is the teaching clear?
2. Are the tune selections appropriate?
3. How could the videos be improved?

I’ve put the videos on YouTube with the two-fold hope of allowing my registered students easy access to the weekly lessons AND to make available to a wider audience a class that might help to introduce them to Irish music.

Any suggestions/feedback would be most appreciated!


Ryan Duns, SJ

Re: YouTube Lessons

the only advice i would give you is to leave the videos as they are recorded and not add the echo effect. It sounds so much better without it IMO.

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Hey there Ryan,

I’ve been watching your videos.. Lovely playing! And yes, I do think you should do without the echo.

By the by, if I’m correct, you know Paddy O’Halloran? If so, tell him Armand says hi! =P


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Hi Armand,

I do know Paddy - very good kid. Nice player, too.

I used the echo (originally) just because I enjoyed playing with the effects. Now I feel forced to use it due to the construction outside my window — when I edit out the loud noises, it’s so flat that it needs a bit of touch-up to round out the sound.


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First, to start, I listened to your playing without any teaching being the objective. I like it,nNice crisp playing, lovely. You have a nice style and technique. It is of the nature and spirit that would inspire others to want to learn from you. Now to start ~

The following is only after viewing #1 and the first bit of #2 in your lessons series… I’m operating on automatic, so please forgive any side rambles or misspellings that may result…

Video 1.) Intro to the Irish Tin Whistle at Fordham University

I recommend always starting with the most secure holds, not all fingers off which you begin with, the c. I think it is wiser to begin with the B on a D whistle… You want to promote confidence and the c is a bit too close to having not having ahold of the whistle at all. Also, I would not work up from the low D, going up the scale from D to c. Again, I think for confidence it is better the other way around, beginning with the focus on the top three fingers first, B-A-G, and then the bottom three, F-E-D, only after getting familiar with those. The low notes tend to be the most problematic with beginners, remembering that you have a whole lot more fingers to make sure you’ve got a decent close on the six holes with, and the low D, even with an excellent whistle without any quirks, can be a ‘handful’ for a beginner to get comfortable with. Always take the easiest path and work slowly up in challenges. The high d and the c can wait till later and I would work within the limitations I’ve mentioned so far. Leave c and d for lesson 2.

Discussions about hold and fingers ~ "the big challenge" ~ the challenge is to do this in a relaxed way, not tense or clutching…. Also, you cover some of that more clearly, in video examples and description, in lesson 2, and you should have (please forgive the ‘should haves’) had that in lesson 1.

Then, all that aside and the student confident, you can then progress to adding the d and c, but I think that should be in lesson 2, personally… There are excellent first tunes that are limited in scope, even with just, for example, B A G, or F E D, and B A G F E D… You use one too, well chosen, something pretty much universally recognizeable. "Mary Had a Little Lamb" ~ good basic example, something that most people and of all ages will be familiar with, but there are equivalent Irish tunes, though the melodies might not be so universally familiar.

For beginners, or any level, it is also good to mention that as an instructor you are raising your fingers high off the instrument and removing the free hand just for demonstration purposes, to make it easier for a beginner to see what you are doing ~ that ~ this is not proper technique. You might show a passage played naturally and showing how little movement off the whistle is necessary to play it, is actually ~ good technique.

Tongueing ~ a quick introduction, and probably a good idea to avoid it if possible to start, except with repeating notes, making your fingering the focus for defining a crisp and the clear note separation, articulation…to start with. I have found that leaving the discussion of the tongue and articulation till late, is too late… All that is required is some awareness to start with. Part of what you are after is education the ears too.

Video 2.) "The Dawning of the Day"

~ this is a better section visually, showing the side view of the whistle, and the thumb placement, these bits should have been in the first lesson. The black whistle is not the clearest colour for showing examples in contrast to the holes fingers and hands. (I only allowed myself to watch this up to the point of the tune being taught…)

In general, the whistle and fingering should be more featured than the full view of chest and head, except for talking… I think this should be more so especially in the first few introductory lessons, but I think it is good practice anyway. It is a distraction otherwise, as what you are trying to do during playing is show technique, not your face. It is natural for the eyes to be drawn to the face and its expressions. That can be left for the asides, when you are saying something, but when you are showing something, show that, not everything, focus, and remove any distractions. We don’t necessarily need to see you talking when what you are trying to convey is technique with the whistle. So, show us the whistle close up.

Fingering, and hold, you could do the old standard of squeezing your fingers to the instrument, in you regular relaxed hold, until the circles of the holes show on the pads, thand show us the fingers, palms up and closeup, so we can see where for you the fingers close down on the whistle holes. Of course, the types of hands in the world are wide and varied. Here the emphasis should be on ‘relaxation’, mostly traditional musicians don’t push it, they take the easiest and most relaxed way with a thing. An example with the whistle is to shake your hands out and then let them go limp, to see the natural curve that your fingers would take. Then lie these on to the whistle and gently bring your thumbs naturally to somewhere between the whistle body and your fingers. A way of showing how you can cover all the holes adequately and play with minimal pressure would be to play a phrase and then immediately turn the whistle to present the head to a friend and have them remove the instrument. If you are holding it naturally it will easily slip out from your grasp. If there is too much tension, it will drag or won’t move at all without considerable effort on the part of your friend. Throughout the acquisition of this craft, avoiding tension is paramount. Too many musicians have been scared from building tensions into their playing, whatever instrument they’ve chosen, including the voice.

A little aside, tool of the trade, is to introduce beginners to how they can mute their instrument, in this case the whistle, and there are a couple of ways to do that, which are featured in other threads on site here.

* Suggestions for Beginning ~ you could be inspiring by example to start, your excellent playing, say with you playing something short but sweet with your titles showing and that eventually leading into a voice over introduction to the penny whistle, the tune coming to a decent close and then you say your hellos and we go to first principles, which above all should be a good strong basis for a healthy future and respect for the music and the instrument and the musicians and the self. Something about the ‘ears’ would be nice too, to listen to as much as you can, and you could mention some of your favourite recordings of the whistle and of Irish music in general, since that is your focus…

Whew!, sorry Dennis, it is an admirable thing you have set for yourself, and you have my best wishes. I hope others will come here and add more for the benefit of us both and the rest of the community of musicians here…

Re: YouTube Lessons

You could use a better microphone set-up, which would focus in on the instrument and cancel out the outside interference. Echo, or reverb, is a serious distraction in itself, and, speaking personally, irritating… I’ve done sound, including processing music for commercial ends, but only a bit ~ and too much electronic diddling with the music can spoil it, especially acoustic music, which this tradition generally falls under. Some commercial recordings are so heavily fiddled with that I find it gets in the way of what is sometimes excellent technique and music otherwise… Be wary of all the lovely tricks you can do or add to a thing…in the end it could take away from the thing you love or are hoping to achieve…

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Reverb is the antithesis of clear…

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Couldn’t agree more with the above two points - for video the general principle is that you go for a sound which matches the closest video shot - most YouTube videos are let down by the sound quality.

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Thank you for your insightful comments and observations. I’m limited by a little "vow of poverty" so I’ve had to make do with my webcam and a handheld owned by my friend Drew (another Jesuit). We’re hoping that the attention the videos have received will help to convince our superiors to give us a budget to invest in better equipment so that the lessons can really help people to learn.

I’m definitely taking this all to heart. I can handily admit that I know very little of technology and that I gladly receive any and all advice!

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By the by,

The first video I did as a "trial run" sitting at my computer. The second and subsequent "teaching" videos were all shot by a digital video camera and edited using Final Cut

Re: YouTube Lessons

The joys of being attached to a university is that they usually have a tech department, audio-visual, and people who are in the know, resources that are alive, as well as the kit they specialize in. Even if not your exact university, maybe someplace nearby. Also, university sometimes have sound rooms and departments that specialize in such things ~ like journalism departments or media studies. They all need the kit and usually you can check things out, or even get someone to take you on as a ‘project’, someone to help. Help is always a good thing, sometimes all we need to do is ask. Check around, I think you might be surprised. Any university or college I’ve ever worked with had, for one example, an arsenal of microphones. Knowing which is best is sometimes just a case of asking the person behind the desk, and then checking it out and giving it a trial… ‘Media’, in you line of work, is an important thing to get to grips with…

Best of luck…

Re: YouTube Lessons

Nice playing. I also think it’s very generous of you to put your knowledge out there for the benefit of all. Makes me want to get to grips with the whistle ceolachan gave me not so long ago…

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I had two for you, but you left the other one behind… You’ll just have to come visiting and this time we will have to hunt down showaddydaditto, or whatever he’s calling himself, whether or not he responds to emails… 8-)

Oh yeah, Ryan, I wouldn’t have rattled on so if I didn’t admire your generosity of spirit…

I’ve recently added a march here, in the comments, a transcript where you never have to remove your fingers to play it, this one c-free by design. Marches are a great and easy way to instill a solid rhythmic base in teaching the tradition, and allow for some great fun there too:

"There was a Lad was Born in Kyle" ~ as a march
Key signature: D Major
Submitted on March 11th 2007 by Falkbeer.

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Not wanting to be solo here, I quickly grabbed ahold of a few tutors on this subject, and since you’ve a vow of poverty you might not already have these, but here are just a few with their way with how they order their introductions to the tin whistle, there are tons, so this isn’t fully representative, and there are videos and DVDs and CD-Roms too nowadays. Anyway, I’ll see if there is something else to add but for now, to try to achieve balance of some sort, other ideas, to hold up against my earlier ramble:

“Tutor for the Feadóg Stáin”
Micheál Ó hAlmhain & Séamus MacMathúna
1.) Introducing the instrument
2.) How to hold the tin whistle
3.) Basic elements of music
4.) Notes
5.) The scale of D Major ~ D – E – F – G – A – B – c – d
6.) Exercise on the scale of D
7.) First tune: “Deoindi”

“Irish Pennywhistle taught by Cathal McConnell”
1.) D Major scale
2.) First tune: “It’s Not Yet Day” in D
3.) G Major scale
4.) Tune: “O’Donnell Abú” in D & G / “It’s Not Yet Day” in G

“Geraldine Cotter’s Traditonal Irish Tin Whistle Tutor”
1.) Music notation, highness and lowness
2.) Holding the tin whistle & covering the holes
3.) The scale of D ~ D – E – F – G – A – B – c – d
4.) An exercise
5.) The scale of D ~ d – e – f – g – a – b – c’
6.) Tongueing
7.) First tune: “Ailiú eanái”
8.) Second tune: “Ím Bím Babaró”
9.) Third tune: “Peg Ryan’s” / “Eagan’s” ~ polka
10.) Notation ~ Time & Rhythm, note values, time signatures, etc.
11.) Fourth Tune: “The Milltown Jig”

“The Complete Irish Tinwhistle Tutor”
L.E. McCullough
1.) Forward
2.) Some remarks on Irish music
3.) Historical Notes on the tinwhistle
4.) Choosing a Tinwhistle
5.) Holding the Tinwhistle ~
6.) Embouchure
7.) Fingering
8.) Articulation (tonguing, etc.)
9.) Ornaments
10.) Putting it all together

“A Complete Guide to Learning The Irish Tin Whistle”
Clare McKenna
1.) Holding the Tin Whistle
2.) Notation
3.) Notes on the Whistle D – E – F – G – A – B – c – d, the D scale
4.) First tune: “This Old Man”
5.) Second tune: “ Weile Weile Waile”
6.) Third tune: “O Dear, What Can the Matter Be?”
7.) The high octave d – e – f – g – a – b – c’ & 2 octave scale of D
8.) Fourth tune: “Silent Night”

Re: YouTube Lessons

Hi Ryan:
I think the fact that you are trying to improve this really great. But you should know that what you have done up til now has been just wonderful and very inspiring for a novice player like myself. I watch for your lessons each week and really enjoy you playing

BB (in Canada)

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I really enjoyed watching your movies, it seems like this is a great resources for beginners (and classical flute players looking for remedial ornamentation help) I really can’t wait to see your intermediate videos.

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Re: YouTube Lessons

Really great lessons so far. Technically, they’ve gotten better with each lesson. I hope you tackle breathing and skipping notes in some detail. In the intermediate lessons, could you point out where and when it might be appropriate to put in a particular type of ornament (and where it isn’t.)
Do I have to go all the way to the Bronx for your classes or is the Manhattan campus a possibility?

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Hi Ryan, ‘tis me again… Thinking outside the box, but not far outside, I checked over some other tutorials, including some from way back when, the 1800’s and earlier ~ for winds. Quite a lot of them roughly approach the basic breakdown I’d given above. Here follows one example roughed out from some early tutors for the flute, a certain German one being the basic guide ~ the same ideas and fingerings. What is interesting is the number of pages that can be given over to the hold and then the fingering, so the following is by pages for one particular and very old tutorial. In some cases these early tutors had a seperate insert that showed the fingerings for the simple system transverse flutes (plural needed) or blockflute / recorder:

Pages (approximate)
4 ~ the Forward
5 - 11 ~ The Left Hand, meaning the upper hand, B - A - G
12 - 13 ~ The Right Hand, the lower hand
14 - 18 ~ The two hands in the lower octave
19 ~ Playing two octaves

I have found several early tutors that follow similar lines, for flute, recorder and other instruments…

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Here’s a last synopsis, this is a ‘book’ intended for both teachers and students, but it raises some interesting elements and offers another sequence for basics. It is a brick of a text. What I like, and would have forgotten to mention, is a question that often comes from students, about practice, but more later. Some folks hate the whole idea of a metronome, but for some who are not born to music, sometimes it is a blessing to getting them on track and in control of their rhythm, anything that helps raise their understanding and appreciation, and as you will know Ryan, every student is a different order of needs and considerations. The more angles you offer, the more success you will have, including with those who may learn best from different means than the ones we usually take for granted. Anyway, here’s the last book / tutor synopsis I’ll be offering for now, short, and just the very first introductory parts before the text goes into exercises and tunes, etc., following similar ways as the one just previous:

* Acknowledgments

* Introduction

* Technique: it’s importance / breath / tongue / fingers & hold / fingering the notes

* Putting it all together: posture / how to take a breath / the mouth / articulation for phrasing and expression / dynamics /

* How to practice:
without notes (tone-scales & patterns-by ear-improvising) /
with notes (exercises-tunes-practicing with a metronome) /
sight reading /
how much and how often

* Ornamentation

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The question of ‘practice’ ~ I always stress, that if you feel stress ~ put it down and leave it alone… The last thing you want to practice is stress. As well, I always insist they take any new exercise or tune, whatever the instrument, as slowly as necessary for them to play it without stress or other problems. I always, sometimes to their irritation, remind them that ‘speed kills’… If you can’t play it with control and feeling slowly, then you aren’t doing that fast. Too often speed is an excuse to cover up a myraid of things that add up to poor playing and bad technique.

For some people, one tune may t ake longer than for another, don’t compare yourself to others. Be patient with the one person we are usually the most impatient with, ourselves. Take it as you need to, and it will come with time, and that time will differ from person to person. I have known some fine players in Eire who learned slowly, and who kept to a few tunes compared to your average session repertoire, but they played the few tunes the knew beautifully….

It is an easy part of this tradition for us to take for granted and to miss, but a good start is priceless. A bad start is damned hard to undo ~ speaking from personal experience… ;-)

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Interesting Anna, thanks for the link. Is there any more information on this project? Have any podcasts been finished that are accessible online?

For thought, here’s just a couple of bits cut-and-pasted from Viki Swan’s work ~

Viki Swan ~ "Welcome to my Masters in Education Website" (?)

"Research Proposal - An enquiry into the teaching and learning of folk music through podcasting" ~ two extracts:

"To teach traditional music online podcasts will be recorded and performed with participants able to feedback and socialise by means of a blog and / or forum. After the podcast is completed feedback will be presented, reflected upon and discussed before recording and broadcasting a new podcast. In between the podcasts an area for peer review will be made available, where findings can be published and discussion taken place. Data will be gathered using blog comment entries, e-mails, questionnaires and post event discussion."

~ "There is a strong embedded culture in the traditional music world that participants must learn “folk tunes” aurally. There is a resistance to the use of technology, amplification and even to the use of written notation. These are barriers to overcome, so reflective practise carried out will be needed to gradually win musicians over to the new techniques. The technology needs to be transparent and allow the music to be played with no hindrance. The use of questionnaire and follow up discussion is vital to glean whether or not participants have found the experience a positive one and have either learned new music or gained more confidence in already known tunes. This is vital to discovering how the podcasts can be improved."

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These could easily be seed for further discussion here on site…

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Hang on a moment:

"There is a strong embedded culture in the traditional music world that participants must learn “folk tunes” aurally. There is a resistance to the use of technology, amplification and even to the use of written notation. These are barriers to overcome, so reflective practise carried out will be needed to gradually win musicians over to the new techniques."

Is Viki Swan really suggesting that learning aurally, the resistence to the use of written notation, is a barrier to be overcome?

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All the podcasts are available here:

There was a link on the page.

I don’t think she was suggesting that that learning aurally was a barrier to be overcome at all. I think that she was suggesting as a piper there can be resistance to learning from dots, but that dots can be used. Er, or was that not your question?

You must all have come across it, "you can’t learn traditional music from manuscript" I certainly have heaps of times! That was how I read it anyway.

This podcast was mentioned on a while back, I’ll see if I can find the link…


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Sorry Anna, wasn’t suggesting that, just cut and pasted those bits to lure more people over to check out the rest of the content and then maybe generate some discussions on some of the content ~ taking various sides of the issue. I was considering something like that myself but am ‘waiting’ for later… Thanks for the links, much appreciated…

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Yes, you can learn tunes from manuscript, but you can’t learn how to play them if you can’t already play. Lets get this clear, you can only learn the music aurally. This includes videos, audio recordings of course, even if it is better one to one.

I thought the point of this thread was to see how you could improve the teaching of it remotely, and fair play. But Viki Swan did say that the resistence to the use of written notation was a barrier to be overcome. If that’s not what she meant, that’s OK then

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That’s OK then

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