Left-handed whistle playing? How “bad” is it to play whistle backwards?

Left-handed whistle playing? How “bad” is it to play whistle backwards?

A spinoff from the left-handed fiddle thread, sort of…

One of my kids learned to play the whistle with his right hand on top and left hand on bottom. He taught himself and I was clueless, unfortunately, and didn’t pick up on it until he was well on his way to proficiency. He’s 10.

Until the left-handed fiddle thread, I had no idea this was common at all.

My thought was that he should switch to the “usual” fingering because if he doesn’t, it won’t be as easy for him to switch to flute later if he chooses. But he doesn’t want to switch, and I’m wondering which is worse…letting him continue as-is, or prodding him to change? What are the pros and cons?

Re: Left-handed whistle playing? How “bad” is it to play whistle backwards?

Backwards….so all the sound comes out to his chest…… I just tried it and couldn’t get a decent sound at all.

Seriously, if I remember my kids, he won’t want to change. As a parent how could you possibly know what you were talking about! I think I’d explain the options (stick or change) with reasons and let him make his mind up. At least then it’ll only be partly your fault……

An unkeyed flute won’t be an issue, but a keyed flute (or any other wind instrument) might be. Is he a budding saxaphone/oboe/bassoon player?

Re: Left-handed whistle playing? How “bad” is it to play whistle backwards?

If he wants to play the pipes he’ll be in trouble.

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Re: Left-handed whistle playing? How “bad” is it to play whistle backwards?

In a session it generally helps to play the tune from the beginning to the end as it facillitates coordination with the other players. They don’t, as a rule, play it backwards on their instruments!

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Re: Left-handed whistle playing? How “bad” is it to play whistle backwards?

When I was first taught whistle, I was told to have the left hand on top since my teacher knew I wanted to play the pipes and he said that would make life easier. Presumably though you could play a chanter backwards if you only ever wanted to play a half set for the rest of your life. You can also get left handed sets.

Re: Left-handed whistle playing? How “bad” is it to play whistle backwards?

I’ve encountered this dilemma with new pupils a few times over the years and the pros for changing are as mentioned above: progression to pipes and flute (it may even create some difficulties with an unkeyed flute as embouchure holes aren’t always exactly symmetrical), and being the mirror image of other whistle players (only really an issue if he ever takes lessons or plays with other more conventional whistle players). I don’t know enough about orchestral instruments to come there. Certainly he doesn’t have to change, I know of a good few “goofy” whistle players. What I can add is that my experience, at his age, practicing say an hour a day it takes no more than 3 - 4 weeks to make the change and get back to the same standard of playing.

Re: Left-handed whistle playing? How “bad” is it to play whistle backwards?

Sorry, I probably should have added that the couple of ten to eleven year olds that I’ve helped make the swap were playing pretty solidly from the age of about seven. It might be that your son’s proficiency allows him make the transition in a couple of weeks. Either way it’s not really a long, drawn out and painful process (save perhaps in the mind of a ten year old boy!).

Re: Left-handed whistle playing? How “bad” is it to play whistle backwards?

Compared to other instruments, the really handy (groan) thing about whistle and keyless flute is that each hand is doing the same thing. It’s not like fiddle where one hand bows and the other fingers. So it won’t be that big a change for him to swap hands. And that will ease any future adventures into other instruments.

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Re: Left-handed whistle playing? How “bad” is it to play whistle backwards?

it’s no harm at all to play left-handed. of the 5 other flute players that I play along with from time to time, I’m the only right-handed one!
And I had two leftie teachers as well over the past few years 🙂

If you’re ordering a flute at some point in the future, you’d just have to specify the kid plays left-handed. should be no problem to a good maker, as far as i know.

Actually, while i was typing all that, I thought of another 2 players i know that are left-handed. Jeez….maybe I’m the odd one out!! 😉

Re: Left-handed whistle playing? How “bad” is it to play whistle backwards?

“How ”bad“ is it to play whistle backwards?”

It sucks.

Re: Left-handed whistle playing? How “bad” is it to play whistle backwards?

If he wants to play the pipes he’ll be in trouble.

# Posted on March 9th 2010 by gam


I KNEW there was a reason I was not a famous piper.

Re: Left-handed whistle playing? How “bad” is it to play whistle backwards?

Mike McGoldrick plays left-handed flute, and he isn’t the only good one around. It doesn’t seem to have held him back!

Re: Left-handed whistle playing? How “bad” is it to play whistle backwards?

So good to hear that there are many left-handed flute players around. He very much does not want to switch hand positions, but may someday want to play the flute.

He also adamantly does not want to play the pipes, “ever.” So as far as I am concerned, if he ever decides otherwise, he can apply this very same stubbornness directly to sorting out the which-hand-is-which dilemma.

He is happy and I am relieved. Thank you.

Re: Left-handed whistle playing? How “bad” is it to play whistle backwards?

For what it’s worth, there are a few (very few) Scottish pipers who play “switch handed.” Doesn’t seem to be a problem for them--it just looks a little odd. So, yeah, if he’s getting good, leave him be.

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Re: Left-handed whistle playing? How “bad” is it to play whistle backwards?

Watch Seamus Eagen (sp?) of Solas. He plays whistle “backward” and flute the normal way. Drives me crazy how he can be so good both ways.

So, it seems to me that this difference in way to play is not worth worrying about. Your son may be in the minority, but there’s no reason to feel he can’t become a fine player.

Re: Left-handed whistle playing? How “bad” is it to play whistle backwards?

Mike’d be the first to tell you not to copy his grip!

Re: Left-handed whistle playing? How “bad” is it to play whistle backwards?

I play the pipes with the left hand on top and the whistle with the left hand on the bottom. I picked up the whistle the wrong way and actually, put the pipes on back to front too until I was corrected.

Give me a break! I was five!

The only thing is that I play crans with the pipes with my right hand obviously but on the whistle it takes a lot more consintration to play them with the left. But, that’s the only problem.

Leave him at it, he’ll get round it if the problem ever comes up.

www.digitaldarragh.com/musicroom

Re: Left-handed whistle playing? How “bad” is it to play whistle backwards?

Cathal McConnell and Vincent Broderick both play/played left handed and their legacy seems more or less secure.

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Re: Left-handed whistle playing? How “bad” is it to play whistle backwards?

Davy Spillane is right-handed, but plays left-handed

Re: Left-handed whistle playing? How “bad” is it to play whistle backwards?

If your teacher is face-to-face with you, it’s really easy to learn “backwards” fingering. This is what happened to me, don’t know why my teacher didn’t pick up on it, but twenty years later I’m still playing left-handed. At the Meitheal concert in Dublin last August, there were equal numbers of flautists playing LH and RH.

As for switching to the pipes, the fingering for the uilleann pipes is sufficiently different to require re-training anyway. However, someone gave me a Galician gaïta to try out a few years ago. The basic fingering is the same as the whistle, and I found it “just worked” with my hands the right way up/down. The breathing, now that was (and still is) another thing altogether …

Re: Left-handed whistle playing? How “bad” is it to play whistle backwards?

I find it scarcely credible that Seamus Egan plays whistle one way and flute the other, but he’s a musical freak, so we forgive him…

I have a friend who can play flute equally well either way and another who plays Uilleann Pipes (and flute and whistle) left handed, but Border Pipes right handed.

I can’t even play the bodhran and sing at the same time -;)
m.d.