Tin Whistle A nd B rolls

Tin Whistle A nd B rolls

Sorry if this has been answered a hundred times.

OK so I’m intermediate with the tin whistle. I still have a hard time with the top hand rolls. Getting the tap after the cut, there just isn’t the muscle power on my single hand to really hit the tap hard, with a bounce - so far. Is it a question of muscle memory or muscle strength or both. Any tips or directions to other threads.

Bro Steves Tin whistle site is great, but if anyone else has personal tips I’d like to hear them. Some people seem to angle the fingers of the top hand - non-perpendicular to the tin whistle shaft. I don’t know if this is relevant.

I was thinking of hooking my ring finger to a pair of high Voltage electrodes connected to a foot pedal to force a spasm when a tap was needed.

Thanks a lot

Posted by .

"Rolling in my sweet baby’s arms" ~ A rolls & B rolls & Chelsea buns

The A roll is understandable, the third finger (G), next to the little finger, has a shorter tendon than the rest. You just need to isolate that finger and work on that tip, but not to exaggerate it. You aren’t wanting to drive nails with it or build tension in.

As to a basic hold, you need to get the right first too, so hopefully you’re not on finger tips, a common misconception that piano teachers teaching recorder repeat too often. Shake your hands and then let them go limp, completely let go of any control. Now notice the gentle curve. That’s the hold you want, and you don’t want a ‘grip’, you want it to be like holding something gently. Let the pad of the finger find its best seal and don’t try to accomplish that by applying pressure. If your hold is right I should be able to come along and pull your whistle from you without any effort. It should just slide free. If you are gripping t - quit! You need to get the hold right first.

Yes, these things have been discussed before. You’ll benefit by doing some surfing through the comments here.

Back to those tips. One way to imagine it is that you’re tapping down on a hot stove. But it is and should be a light tap. If the seal is right, not blowing through the fipple, you’ll get a little popping noise. When blowing through the whistle and making a note, that’s as much value as that tip should have, a ‘pop’, quick and clean, at least that is one ideal. There are fine players that do it sounding as a note, and there are folks who don’t do rolls at all. They aren’t a necessity, despite it being almost religion for some folks.

While the A roll, tipping on that short-tendon finger, is a problem for some, it will come eventually, with care and not pushing it. But the B roll and tipping with that A-finger is not usually a problem with the whistle, though it often is for the flute.

You slap the hole, but not with any force… Some players actually do a double-tip roll, without a cut…

Re: Tin Whistle A nd B rolls

I was taught this timing; 123 4, ABA,ga or ACA GA 123 4 . If thats any help? start slowly.

Re: Tin Whistle A nd B rolls

h, and if you dont blow and just tap your fingers you should be able to hear the pop.

Re: Tin Whistle A nd B rolls


That’s really helpful. Appreciate it

Posted by .

Re: Tin Whistle A nd B rolls

I mainly play flute, and have found the upper rolls to be much harder than those lower down. But time and practise do work!

Re: Tin Whistle A nd B rolls

Anyhow reading your post strength is hardly needed, Id say you might be trying too hard . Try this exercise put yr hand flat on the table and push down with each finger one at a time,; isometric exercise. this will strengthen the fingers then place you other hand over and push up against the other hand. dont be surprised if you find more than one finger trying to lift but do slowly try to isolate the mental control for each finger πŸ™‚

now what you dont want is these 2 muscle groups working at the same time! you might be trying to return the finger before youve landed. Slow down and use the new brain finger coordination you will gain from this simple exercise.

You can also isolate each finger with out the counter pressure and simply exercise them;
As a guitarist in my younger days I was taught to use every opportunity to practice and maintain rasgueado by practising on a pocket full of coins. aThat same approach can pay off for other finger techniques for many instruments, taping fingers in time and with different combinations; rhythmic fingerwork.

Re: Tin Whistle A nd B rolls

For me, it’s a matter of muscle memory. Rolls don’t take strength, they’re all in relaxing enough to let your fingers move fast and bounce off the whistle.

Tendon length isn’t what makes your ring finger harder to control. Your ring finger and pinky share their extensor muscle. (This is why you can’t make a fist and extend only your ring finger.) Your ring finger can’t "bounce" unless your pinky is relaxed and free to move a little. Some people get into trouble with A rolls because they’re trying to keep their pinky still, hold it on the whistle, or even tuck it under the whistle.

This is going to sound strange, but to get my left-hand rolls going I practiced them on the steering wheel of my car at stop lights or in heavy traffic. Doing the movements over and over got the rolls into my muscle memory better.

All fingers are not created equal

Here’s a way to understand that difference mentioned before. Close your hand in a fist. Now, one finger at a time, first point your index finger, now be rude with your middle finger, keeping all other fingers curled into that fits. Now try your little finger and pint with that. Lastly, try the one finger left, the one next t othe between the middle and the little, keeping all other fingers curled into hat fist. πŸ˜›

As we’ve all said, it isn’t about strength!!! The finger exercises given are all good, but should be relaxed, not rushed, not forced. You can practice tapping eays finger with your hand relaxed, in that gentle curve mentioned before, and your fingers on a flat surface, or on a steering wheel. Over time you can learn to move all fingers independently. But, as Elaine has said, it has to be relaxed. You’re not driving nails, and you don’t want to build tension into your technique. Take things slowly and at ease. The control will come in time.

Re: Tin Whistle A nd B rolls

A really handy πŸ˜‰ thing is to avoid hyperextending the thumb which will effect the entire structure of your hands Rather than useing the pad of the thumb use the side. Takes a little bit of getting used to buts its worth while keeping at it. try to keep your fingers straight and relaxed . I know some flute and whistle players use bent and twisted fingers but I dont recommend it however good a player they might be.
Also place the thumb,side in contact not pad, opposite the second finger not the first.

Re: Tin Whistle A nd B rolls

Do you naturally pick up a pencil or other light object with the side of your thumb, Will? My hand doesn’t work that way at all, though I’ve seen people whose hands do. Best way to hold a whistle is however you naturally grip a light object, which can really vary from person to person.

Re: Tin Whistle A nd B rolls

Most folk I know tend to hold the whistle something akin to how Will has explained it, with fingers roughly at a right angle to the whistle, and the whistle resting lightly to the side of the thumb. That isn’t the same with the flute, and there tends to be more of an angle the further apart holes are, as with a low whistle, tending to angle downwards. The thumbs, along the lines of how Will explains it, with the whistle, tend to fall between the index and middle finger or under the middle finger. Also, using the pads and not the tips, the middle fingers generally tend to be slightly more forward of the fingers either side of it. But it does tend to depend in part on the individual, their hands. One general rule still holds out - shake out your hands, then relax completely. That’s your best hold, that natural arch. You could shake out the left hand and then take the whistle in your right and bring it to that hand and gently move things around till the top three holes are covered (for the more usual hold / opposite that if you have decided to go with what some call a left-handed grip.)

With the transverse flute the upper hold tends to be considerably different, and the reason why those upper ornaments are a bit more demanding, cuts, tips and rolls.

One doesn’t write with a whistle…

The descriptions are taking for granted this is the more common high D whistle…

Doing it live

with very little muscle left, Donncha had a very light touch, his fingers just resting on the whistle, and just lightly lifting up and executing the ornaments.

Re: Tin Whistle A nd B rolls

Thanks for the help. Really good, and note a single joke posted,

Posted by .

Re: Tin Whistle A nd B rolls

"(This is why you can’t make a fist and extend only your ring finger.) "

I can! Is that from too many years playing pipes and whistle?

Re: Tin Whistle A nd B rolls

Me too Doc. πŸ˜€ We’ll have to finger wrestle, with the ring fingers…

Ring finger ~ Wikipedia


However confusing my dyslexia might cause things to be, in the end it is about ‘length’…

Why can’t you lift your ring finger when your middle finger is flexed palmward?

Our ring fingers are the least independent digit (hence the most suitable for rings). Folding the middle finger tightly underneath the hand tensions the interosseous ligament connected to the capitate bone in the wrist. The capitate is the largest of the wrist’s carpal bones and is aligned with the middle finger, but its carpal distal neighbor the hamate bone must do double duty anchoring ligaments for BOTH the ring finger and the little finger. Tensioning ligaments to the capitate restricts movement of adjacent ligaments connecting the ring finger to the hamate.

Why can(‘t) i move my ring finger and middle finger independently?

Piano World
Pinky and ring finger connected movements

Talk Bass
Middle and Ring Finger Development

Journal of Neurophysiology
Article: Human Finger Independence: Limitations due to Passive Mechanical Coupling Versus Active Neuromuscular Control
Catherine E. Lang and Marc H. Schieber

Causes of mechanical coupling between the fingers

Anatomical structures that mechanically couple the fingers include the finger web space, the intertendinous connections of the multitendoned extrinsic finger muscles, and the muscle bellies of the extrinsic finger muscles. ~

The intertendinous connections of the multitendoned extrinsic muscles likely contributed to the observed mechanical coupling ~ etc…

How a tendon to one finger exerts passive force on a tendon to another finger is mechanically complex, and depends on mulitple variables including the slack of the tendons, the insertion angle of the connections, and the stiffness of the connections (Leijnse 1997). ~

tension imposed on the tendon to one finger could pull on adjacent regions of the muscle belly, thereby unloading the tendons serving other fingers. Such unloading of the tendons to a noninstructed finger, resulting from movement of the instructed finger, could cause movement in the noninstructed fingers, driven by the existing tension in the tendons on the opposite (flexor vs. extensor) side of the finger.

Re: If I bend my pinky, why does my ring finger bend too?

Quantifying the Independence of Human Finger Movements:
Comparisons of Digits, Hands, and Movement Frequencies
Charlotte Hager-Ross and Marc H. Schieber


Re: Tin Whistle A nd B rolls

@ Elaine, not at all, I had to relearn my grip of 20 yrs after being taught the approach I recomended. I still have to readjust every now and then. Suffice to say that grip is taught by a world class player probably the top living player in his field, definately one of them anyhow! , its not something I made up πŸ™‚ The resultant improvements are well worth the effort IMO .

There are playes that use the twisty finger flute and whistle grip [for want of a better description,] and they can play excedingly well. But for how long?
Hyper extension of any joint can have serious repercussions and is to be avoided. Its also common to see fiddlers with a hyper extended wrist. again they can be superb players but at what long term cost? These are not issues I am an expert on, but you can ask the experts for confirmation, which I recomend.
For me, as a piper, the side on approach has seriously improved my ability to use the thumb for repeated triplets and freed up the hand in other ways.
So I speak both from personal experience and from the teachings of my instructor and an interest in biomechanics .

As an example of a player with the twisty grip one of my favourite players which goes to show that there are many ways to ’ skin a cat’ πŸ™‚ ;http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SqqAoRL2eSo

Mary Bergin’s whistle hold

Having shared music with Mary, and learned from her too, her angled upper grip isn’t really that extreme, and she tends to teach others to hold it more the other way, if memory is serving me right. Probably from mirroring her my upper fingers do have a slight downward angle to them when playing whistles, and naturally more so with low whistles, and the usual with flutes…

As to all that dependency ~ muscles, tendons, ligaments… There’s usually someway to build in more independence with a little effort and time…

Re: Tin Whistle A nd B rolls

Another good example, Mr. Kilduff also tends to play out slightly to the side too. πŸ˜€

The joke used to be that you could play the whistle out to one side while smoking a cigarette out the other…

A few more whistles’ worth ~

Cathal McConnell

Sean Ryan


Joanie Madden

Laurence /Larry Nugent

CanΓΊintΓ­ Ceoil 5 - Tuaisceart Chonnachta - (The accents of music - North Connacht - Episode 5)
Vinnie again ~ 1:05 - & 1:54 - & 8:30
Breda Smyth ~ 22:55

Re: Tin Whistle A nd B rolls

Regarding the little finger, my piping instructor (who was also a physiotherapist - very handy if you’ll pardon the pun) recommended that you don’t try to do anything with it, either move it or keep it still, but just to let it move with the ring finger.

I notice that people have mentioned ‘bounce’, which of course fingers don’t do. It can feel and look as if fingers are bouncing, but it’s actually two muscles working in rapid succession. It is this change in signal from the brain (or spinal cord if I remember my biology correctly) from one muscle to the other that give you the crisp tap / lift that feels like a bounce.

I’ll repeat what I’ve said before on these pages — it is the lifting off of the fingers as much as the putting down that produces the notes. You are not playing the piano.
Practise tapping your finger nails in any order or rhythm you choose against a vertical surface, each finger separate and under control, without moving any of the others (except the pinky of course).

Posted by .

Re: Tin Whistle A nd B rolls

PS tap with the flat nails, the backs, with the fingers relaxed and straight, not with the ends of the nails.

Posted by .

Re: Tin Whistle A nd B rolls

Nicely put gam ~ and of course ~ "two muscles working in rapid succession" ~ "it is the lifting off of the fingers as much as the putting down"… That’s also the reason for the hot stove analogy, that when you touch something hot you get a reaction from muscles to pull quickly away. and ‘tap’ or ‘tip’ is a more appropriate word for it than ‘bounce’…

Nice links Will…

Tin whistle hold

I see we both got the same Sean Ryan YouTube clip, down twice, and why not, eh? πŸ˜‰

Mary a few more times for good measure ~


This particular recording is rough, so prepare yourself ~

"The great whistle player Mary Bergin with an air and reels, also talking about infleunces on her music."

Great memories. Her hold is very much a flute grip, and, as you’ve noted ~ right hand high. I only wish that second cut was complete and better quality. Maybe someone can offer a link to a better take on that.

& a bit more ~ courtesy of TG4
Faoi LΓ‘n Cheoil - 04 - Macdara Γ“ FΓ‘tharta & An FeadΓ³g

Mary Bergin teaches and talks about teaching too ~ πŸ˜‰

I should have said so. I think you’ll especially enjoy that last link.

Mary’s hold ~

Mary’s hold ~ I’m damned sure that more than once she did explain it, gave some history, but I can’t for the life of me remember. 😏

Macdara Γ“ FΓ‘tharta & An FeadΓ³g - - - Faoi LΓ‘n Cheoil - 04

I love this programme, and it does start to make the eyes fill up a bit ~ Inis Meain, Connemara, Spideal, and Wicklow by the lake - a great place for picking wild berries till your hands go purple with the juice, or hiking up high till the mud fills your boots ~sigh!, all places dear to our hearts, as is this music. And I’ve not seen Joe & Antoinette McKenna for years. I almost feel like the programme itself would start a new discussion all on its own. I really enjoyed seeing this again, and for many reasons it touches the heart deep, for so many reasons.

As to dear Macdara, he would benefit from further guidance on breathing and tonguing, and to not lift his fingers up so high, a common problem following a teacher who does this to show where the fingering is. Sometimes we forget to say that isn’t how we generally play, with our fingers splayed out and a long way from the whistle. Watch the playing of Donncha again. πŸ˜‰

There’s a place there for the breath!" ~ Mary

Well done Macdara, may the neighbourhood dogs learn to appreciate your efforts, you accomplishments and you music, as I do! I’m sure you’ve come a long way since. And cheers to those who put this lovely programme together…

http://www.tg4.ie/ ~ go raibh mile ma’agat ~ ‘c’

Re: Tin Whistle A nd B rolls

Well I wouldn’t go zapping yourself, although you could try slightly sliding the last note in an A roll (G) instead of a cut as you are describing. Or I find it easier sometimes to half cover the G.
Best of luck. πŸ™‚

Re: Tin Whistle A nd B rolls

@Will I know what you’re talking about because most of my music students naturally go to the grip you’re talking about. (That tendency is giving my clarinet student fits in fact.) My hand does not work that way, really. To get my thumb so the pad is facing down, I have to put cock my wrist into an odd, uncomfortable position. My thumb naturally goes at about a 45-degree angle to the whistle on the edge of the pad and my fingers are NOT twisty.

You just can’t make assumptions about people’s hands on a message board. Grip the whistle lightly and naturally with fingers curved and wrist relaxed and all will be well.

Re: Tin Whistle A nd B rolls

<<You just can’t make assumptions about people’s hands on a message board. Grip the whistle lightly and naturally with fingers curved and wrist relaxed and all will be well>>

Couldnt have put it better myself Elaine though my fingers are pretty straight, but not hyper-extended! πŸ˜‰

Im glad to say anyhow the OP has found that ’ side approach’ advice to be rewarding and Its not an extreme posture just a general tendency to aim for IMO, Im still adjusting my own thumb position when I notice.


Re: Tin Whistle grips / holds

"Grip the whistle lightly and naturally with fingers (gently & naturally - relaxed) curved and wrist relaxed and all will be well."

~ ElaineT

Ditto! ~ though one shouldn’t have to say the whistle is neither a flute or a clarinet… Wrong assumptions made by the ‘classically’ influenced, especially recorder players, are very common… One can make recommendations by way of a message board, especially when such good examples visually can be presented as backup. We ALL have something to learn and should do our best to remain open and flexible, as true with our playing whatever grip we end up with ~ relax…