Question about Low D Whistles

Question about Low D Whistles

So, I’m planning on acquiring a flute in a few months. I’ve been learning whistle on my own by ear. I’m getting there, but it’s a slow process. I’m not too concerned about knowing a lot of tunes, I’m just trying to make the few I’m learning sound decent.

The reason I’m waiting a few month is partly financial, and partly because I’m a bit overwhelmed at the moment between young children and finishing a master’s degree. So I just don’t have the time or energy to dedicate to learning embrochure. I’m just fine right now learning whistle at present.

My only issue is that, while I do enjoy the whistle, the whole reason I’m wanting to transition to flute is that the high D whistle is just a bit too shrill for me. I love hearing a good whistle player, but playint it myself, it’s just a bit much on my ears.

So I’m wondering if a low D whistle might be an option for now. I’m not entertaining the notion that it will help prepare me for playing flute, although it might not hurt with the finger spacing, but mostly it’s because the lower octave is a better fit for my ears and personality. However, I’ve never touched on.

Any thoughts on if I should consider it or just wait until I buy a flute?

Re: Question about Low D Whistles

You can purchase a perfectly good Generation Bb whistle for very little money, medium size and much nicer on the ears than a high D. It will be easy to play, and if you are playing on your own, it won’t matter that its not in D. Generation Bb whistles seem to be more consistent quality-wise, than their C and high D whistles. This option also won’t break into your savings for the flute, unlike a low D, which is a bit more costly.
The low D does have issues with finger spacing, much more so than a flute, and you might find the playing of one rather painful at first, so you might not be able to play it for long stretches. There is also the option of a low F or G - nice sound and not so hard on the fingers as a low D. They will also cost a bit more than the higher whistles. My favourite is the low F - similar spacing to a flute, easy to play faster pieces, and a lovely mellow tone.

Re: Question about Low D Whistles

I wouldn’t have thought that the finger-spacing would be more of an issue that with a flute. That’s good to know. Thanks.

Re: Question about Low D Whistles

Yeah finger spacing on lo D can be an issue. It is worse than flutes for two reasons: First, the way you hold the instrument changes the need to stretch and second most flutes are reverse conical bored which makes the holes just a bit closer together (there are a couple of lo D whistles that are that way: the Onyx of Walt Sweet and the Copeland come to mind.)

That said I second the idea of a Bb as a good short term solution for you. Jerry Freeman “tweaks” Generations and though the result is a bit more expensive that just getting a Generation it will guarantee you a good whistle (he also makes a lo A very cheaply if you want a bit lower instrument).

Finally, go ask this question on Chiff & Fipple. You’ll get more opinions than you could possibly want!!

Re: Question about Low D Whistles

I just bought a Generation Bb whistle and I LOVE it!
It has a much sweeter tone than the regular D, and as Bredna stated the Bb whistle is definitely of higher quality than the Generation D (which I don’t like at all - well at least not the one I bought..)

I bought the Bb because I also think the D is a bit to shrill to my ears, so I would definitely recommend it to you!

Re: Question about Low D Whistles

First, high D whistles shouldn’t be shrill, and it’s easy to find one that has a very sweet 2nd register.

You can get a Freeman Tweaked Feadog D which is sweet overall, and exceptionally sweet in the 2nd octave.

Second, yes, cylindrical-bored Low D flutes and whistles have wider finger-spacing on the low hand than conical-bored Low D flutes and whistles. It’s because the progressive constriction of the bore as it gets further from the headjoint on a conical flute/Low Whistle has a flattening effect, meaning that the holes can be both closer together and closer to the headjoint, than they would be on a cylindrical instrument.

You might want to try a Tony Dixon conical-bore Low D Whistle. They’re relatively inexpensive, light, have a pleasant tone, and have closer finger-spacing than most Low D Whistles.

Re: Question about Low D Whistles

I can see where you’re coming from Jimmy. There’s been a good few threads here over the years comparing Low D whistles with flute etc., might be worth reading them.

There are various designs of Low D - we have one which I’d avoid. It’s a ‘Kerry’ whistle I think and has a big black plastic mouthpiece. Just takes up too much space and is unpleasant to play. Other models have more slim line metal mouthpieces.

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Re: Question about Low D Whistles

I’m surprised those who have pointed out the hole spacing haven’t mentioned the size of the holes, which is large. Most players who record with low d whistles are uillean pipers who are used to using the second joint of their fingers to cover the large holes.

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Re: Question about Low D Whistles

That infers that one would struggle to get used to the holes unless you play the pipes. Covering the holes on a low whistle is the easy bit. The harder (I say harder, because it’s not hard really) is learning to blow the thing evenly, consistently and in tune. Low whistles take a lot of air, more than a flute.

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Re: Question about Low D Whistles

To the OP’s original question, I’d suggest just going straight for the flute, without sidetracking to a low D whistle as a stopgap. If you’re waiting to afford a higher-end wooden flute, why not go for one of the inexpensive but playable synthetic flutes like a Tipple PVC?

It takes a while to build an embouchure for flute, and get comfortable with the horizontal hold and fingering. I would think that getting a head start on that learning process would be better than sidetracking to a low D whistle, if the sound of a flute is your ultimate goal.

Re: Question about Low D Whistles

I agree. The only reason to go for a low whistle is if you can’t be arsed

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Re: Question about Low D Whistles

I appreciate the input.

@ Richard - I see your point about conical vs cylindrical bore. I’m playing a Generation now that I just don’t like. I did have a conical Clarke D whistle and unfortunately the wood block got damaged. It had a sweeter tone.

@ Bredna - I’m sure at some point I will look at having multiple whistles. I like the idea of the low G. Keeps right in there with the standard ITM keys.

@ llig - I appreciate your comment about the additional air required for the low whistles. I wonder what the flute’s air demands are. Would any flutists care to comment?

I’m probably just being whiny, and should just pick up another Clarke or Shaw conical D whistle.

Re: Question about Low D Whistles

@ Conical bore - I’ve considered the Tipple route. It makes sense.

Re: Question about Low D Whistles

Once you develop a really good flute embouchure, the hole you blow through is really small and you blow it at exactly the right angle. This makes for a very efficient conversion of the energy in your breath to vibrating molecules of air. Any whistle is a compromise of shape and can never be any where near as efficient. So low whistles are quiet and they sound really breathy because of all that air that is lost

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Re: Question about Low D Whistles

About the air requirements for the flute goes, I’ve been playing one for so many years that I don’t usually even think about it! The joy of ITM is that there is no ‘set’ place to take a breath, in fact you are encouraged to vary it on repeats (yes, I know there are good places and bad places to breathe!). So, if you are like me, and haven’t got a fantastic amount of air available, you just use the next ok-sounding opportunity to get one in, and make it sound like it was done for the benefit of the phrasing you were planning on using. It’s even ok to breathe twice in a short space of notes, if it sounds good. That way you can stock up on lots of air in two bursts, to get you through a longer stretch.

Re: Question about Low D Whistles

@ Bredna - I actually breathe in and out while listening to recordings of tunes, especially when I’m driving, and figure out where I would pause for breaths. I do this almost without thinking. When I’m learning or practising a new tune I’m playing quite a bit slower than full speed and so of course the number of breaths in a phrase increases.

Re: Question about Low D Whistles

Go straight to flute. Low D whistles are great for playing alone, or amplified, but their tone is kind of breathy, and they tend to disappear in the sound of a session.

Re: Question about Low D Whistles

I disagree with Michael (Llig). Covering large holes is not easy. And flute requires more air than a whistle by far. There is nothing inefficient about the use of air in a whistle. Oh, and the word you want is “imply” not “infer.”

I do agree with those who suggest going directly to flute, though.

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Re: Question about Low D Whistles

The return on investment for a flute is far greater - i.e. for what you put in - air, learning effort etc. - you get far more out: Dynamics, variable tone colour, the “hard, dark” tone and, yes, the breathy tone too if you want it.

Flute takes masses of air to start with, mainly because you waste most of it. Things get much more efficient as you get better, but phrasing is still dominated by your breathing - the trick is to use it creatively, not just try to cover it up.

Also, trying to economise on air on a flute while your embouchure is still not really up to it is the best way to achieve a weak and thin tone on the flute that no one can be bothered to listen to. Play the flute with the air that you need to get the sound you want. Sooner or later, you will find that that needs less air than it used to… But the way to learn to use less air is not to try to use less air, but to concentrate on the sound you are making.

Re: Question about Low D Whistles

To those exhorting Jimmy to go straight to the flute, you may care to re-read his OP
“… the whole reason I’m wanting to transition to flute is that the high D whistle is just a bit too shrill for me.”
The solution is to get a whistle that isn’t too shrill, not to change to a completely different instrument.

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Re: Question about Low D Whistles

Low A and low G whistles can be fun though - Really though, accompanying singers is all I use them for, except for Autumn Child on the A whistle…

Not however the main bread and butter of session playing.

Re: Question about Low D Whistles

And why can’t the solution to not liking the sound of a D whistle be to move to a different instrument? I would agree that the flute is a different instrument, but, in my own absolutely personal opinion a better one, both to play and to listen to. (And, yes, I _have_ heard whistle players that I like to listen to.)

Re: Question about Low D Whistles

Don’t waste your money. Wait and get a flute.

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Re: Question about Low D Whistles

Ailin, every good flute player I know has said to me that one of the problems they have with low whistles is that they require more air. Not so good flute players, of course, waste more air.

A lot of people simply don’t push enough air into their low whistle playing. Richard D Cook is a good example .. you really do have to blow them hard to get it right. (and, if you get a low whistle where the sound falls to bits when you blow it hard, it’s just a bad whistle)

But the important thing, as Crackpot says, is to not concentrate on using less or more air, but to concentrate on the sound you are making .. and this is true of both flute and whistle.

But the difference is that there is an optimum sound and intonation out of a low whistle that requires a very specific amount of air, while with the flute you have the option of adjusting tone, air pressure, intonation and embouchure to get a hugely larger variety of sounds.

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Re: Question about Low D Whistles

@ gam - that was bad phrasing on my part. Getting away from shrillnes is not the primary motivation, only a part of it. I love the tonal qualities of flute. I always have. Of all instruments prevalent in ITM, it simply speaks to me the most.

Re: Question about Low D Whistles

And there’s no reason why you can’t do both - they’re very compatible.

Re: Question about Low D Whistles

Jimmy, I cannot help but laugh a bit. Why buy a low whistle at this time? If you remember I offered (& still offer) the loan of a flute until you have one of your own. I tend to agree with those saying go straight to flute.

But, as far as your tin whistle going shrill, I’d second the suggestion for a tweaked whistle. Everyone should have a descent sounding D whistle, & not have to spend too much money.

Re: Question about Low D Whistles

Babs, if you re-read Jimmy’s second paragraph, it will explain why he is waiting a while - not just money.

Re: Question about Low D Whistles

Bredna, I sorted that out with Jimmy a few weeks back. I understand his decision & empathize.

Re: Question about Low D Whistles

Thanks Babs. I knew you were genuine when you offered. I appreciate it. I’m just going to wait for now. I probably will pick up a Clarke for $10. I had one before and it had a rounder, mellower tone, but the block got damaged.

I’m just being whiny.

Re: Question about Low D Whistles

Oh, and yes, I’m still debating between a Burns FF and a Forbes. 🙂

Re: Question about Low D Whistles

Forbes 🙂

Re: Question about Low D Whistles

Burns FF 🙂

Re: Question about Low D Whistles

(Seriously though, I haven’t tried a Forbes yet.)

Re: Question about Low D Whistles

And the Burns’ FF doesn’t have a tuning slide though I can play it in tune about a quarter inch pulled out with no problems or loss of stability in the flute. If you need much more tuning space than that then a slide is probably necessary. Does the Forbes have a tuning slide?

Re: Question about Low D Whistles

Sort of.

Re: Question about Low D Whistles

I too do not like the shrill of the high D either. So I got the Freeman Generation Bb and it’s much better. Just 2 notes lower makes a huge difference. I also got a Guido G which is very nice and to my ears sounds “flute like”. And then I finally went for a Low D. When I first got it I was shocked and thought I’d never be able to play it. That didn’t last long and a few weeks later I can play it with the piper’s grip which is very comfortable once you’re used to it. I love the sound of the Low D.

So all of these are options. I too am interested in flute but I prefer to spend my time playing rather than struggling with a flute embouchure, at least right now. Maybe some day.

Re: Question about Low D Whistles

I think you kind of miss the point there a bit, read your post again and see if you can spot your contradiction:

Low D, “When I first got it I was shocked and thought I’d never be able to play it.”

Flute, “I am interested in flute but I prefer to spend my time playing rather than struggling.”

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Re: Question about Low D Whistles

Bflat and G whistles are not an option if you want to play in sessions. For that you need one of: D whistle, Low D whistle or D flute. And even there most low-D whistles have problems in the session environment (tuning, volume, speed of response to fast fingering passages, crispness of ornaments, etc.)

If you are a multi-instrumentalist who just wants to dabble in the tubes with holes area then fine, go with high or low D whistle. However, if this is going to be your main instrument then get a flute and learn to play it. You’ll get much more out of it.

Re: Question about Low D Whistles

llig leahcim - no contradiction, the struggle on the Low D lasted a week and then it was enjoyable. I think the struggle with a flute would last a lot longer than that. I’ve heard people say that after 2 years they’re still working on their embouchure.

Re: Question about Low D Whistles

lazy blighter

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Re: Question about Low D Whistles

I’m nearly three years into flute, and I’m still working on my embouchure. Will be for some years yet. So far, the people I’ve heard say that they don’t need to are generally people who can’t play. (Even though they think they can.)

I still think Michael has a point here though. So, it takes years. I’ve got years (I hope). I’ll just get on with it, since that’s what I want to do.

Re: Question about Low D Whistles

I play whistles but I’ve thought about taking up flute, I bought a cheap $12 fife to practice embouchure but if it takes years to become proficient then I’m not interested because I plan to take up Uillean pipes when I can afford it and I know that will take up my time and be struggle enough for many, many years!

Re: Question about Low D Whistles

$12? Yeah, it may take years to practice your embouchure on such a cheap flute, Michelle.
Are you serious about wanting to learn flute or still trying to decide?

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Re: Question about Low D Whistles

I’m 100% sure about taking up the pipes so the flute is kind of an after thought. I assumed it would be fairly similar to low whistle, so easy to transition to but really, two many instruments on my mind will be detrimental to my practice time and focus.

Re: Question about Low D Whistles

Flute is not that bad after whistle… Can you give yourself a year?

In a year you can become pretty stable with your embouchure, and mostly overcome the physical issues of the flute, i.e. breath, posture, fingers, arms, & wrists. Achieving real skill with your embouchure will take a bit longer, but you’ll be okay in a year.

I don’t want to divert you from your pipes fetish, as we could always use more pipe players.

Re: Question about Low D Whistles

Yeah, don’t bother with a $12 flute.

$400 for a basic Delrin flute; $800-900 for a good wooden flute.

I think Uillean pipes are a bit more, sorry.