Whistle Questions: Rolls and Accidentals

Whistle Questions: Rolls and Accidentals

Hey folks,

So I’ve got two questions about my whistle technique, and I figured rather than cluttering up the discussions, I’d condense them into one post. Hopefully you guys can shed some light for me:

1. I’ve been playing pretty much by ear to this point without availing myself of the many helpful teaching resources out there, but now I’m actually learning some things about common technique. I had always just recreated and transplanted my cuts and rolls from the fiddle. For example playing a roll on a G:

xxxooo
xxoooo
xxxooo
xxxxoo
xxxooo
The things I’m learning now seem to indicate that it is more common to play high cuts by lifting the finger above the sounding note, rather than the note itself, like so:

xxxooo
xoxooo
xxxooo
xxxxoo
xxxooo

This makes sense, and as I play it this way, my rolls are sounding much cleaner, but it’s a pretty huge adjustment in my approach to playing, and I’m having a few issues with it (rolling on an A sounds very weird with the high cut note jumping the whole way up to the C#) so before I get any deeper into it, all I want to know is, are there any experienced players who use the first method I described? If so, could you link me to any videos/recordings of players who use it? I’m not looking to rile anyone up. I just want to explore my options. Any thoughts are appreciated!

2:

I have discovered an alternate method of playing accidentals in the low octave and I was wondering a) why I’d never heard of it before, and b) whether it’s considered poor technique. It seems that if I just push my lips up on the whistle, the pitch slides flat. I’ve gotten enough control of this that I can dip the note pretty well in tune a semi-tone below the note I’m playing. Is there a reason others do not use this? It works better on my Sweetone than my original Clarke, but I can make it work on both. I prefer it to half-holing (being able to play the low C# is awesome as well!), but maybe others see it as the more troublesome option. In any case, I assume the fact that I haven’t heard of this before means that it is not a preferred technique, so what’s the story? Does anyone else out there use this?

Anyway, thanks for reading. Let me know if you have any thoughts.

Re: Whistle Questions: Rolls and Accidentals

For your cuts, the way that you are moving toward is likely more beneficial than the way you started. It’s been so long since I paid any conscious attention to it, but here is how I recall being taught by Mary Bergin. For notes on the bottom of the tube (‘F#’,’E’,’f#’,’e’), preform your cut with your left-third (ring) finger. For notes on the top of the tube (‘A’,’B’,’a’,’b’), make your cuts with your left-first (index) finger. For the notes in the middle of the tube (‘G’ and ‘g), use your left-first (index) finger for the lower octave ‘G’. But she felt that using this finger for the higher octave ‘g’ made too much of an undesired chirp, so she recommended using the left-third (ring) finger for that.

In all cases, make your strike as you already noted — with the finger just below the ornamented note. However, there is room for experimentation & personal style here, too, as many players will strike down with the lower *two* (or more) fingers (e.g., the right first & second fingers for a ‘G’ or ‘g’) to get crisper strikes.

I’ve even heard of players lifting up two fingers for some cuts (e.g., the left-third and right-first, when cutting a low’E’) to make them crisper.

Above all else, and I’m guessing you already know this… …these "grace" notes should not have any discernible pitch - i.e., they should not actually make a real note. They should be pitchless percussive separations of one continuous longer note. For example, using the fingers that I suggested, a ‘G’-roll should not sound like: G-C#-G-F#-G, but rather simply sound like one long continuous ‘G’, of length of three notes, with interruptions made by the finger flicks — G ’ G ’ G — where the apostrophes are the cut & the strike.

I’m looking forward to trying many of the other responses you get, as I’m always eager to learn more. These have served me quite well for a long time.

Re: Whistle Questions: Rolls and Accidentals

VERY helpful. Thanks Browndog!

Re: Whistle Questions: Rolls and Accidentals

browndog has done a good job of capturing it all. I was first taught to lift only the two fingers (the B finger and the G finger) he describes when I cut notes. But later I encountered people who advocated simplifying things by just cutting with the note above the note you are playing. Either works well. And sometimes, depending on the tune, it is a bit easier to do it in yet another, nonstandard, way. And you will learn that you can leave some extra fingers on the holes at the bottom of the whistle sometimes, which can aid you in avoiding dropping the thing, and also to help you speed things up by making some fingering easier.
And I do that two finger lift thing he describes. It just seems to work better sometimes than the standard way of doing things.
The key to it, as browndog also says, is that cuts and taps are not really notes. You lift or drop your finger only long enough to interrupt the airflow, not long enough for a distinct note to sound. Different instruments cut, tap and roll in different ways, but because it goes by so fast, those tiny differences don’t stand out.

Re: Whistle Questions: Rolls and Accidentals

browndog has just about covered everything I would have said; but I will just stress the advantage of lifting fingers cleanly and quickly. A lot is heard about ‘snapping the finger down’ or ‘striking’, and the tendency is to raise a finger slowly in preparation for that mighty smack-down. But unlike a piano, half the notes on a whistle are sounded by lifting the fingers *up*. Think of it rather as a sudden flick of the finger off the whistle, as though trying to ‘pull’ the air out of the whistle, or to throw something off your nail onto the ceiling. You will feel the muscle in the back of your forearm contracting when you get it right. When the hole is opened with a sudden ‘pop’ like this, most notes sound cleaner and crisper, and the time between the two abrupt and rapid muscle contractions — up and down — can be more easily shortened.

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Re: Whistle Questions: Rolls and Accidentals

Forgive me if I’m reiterating somebody else’s comment - I’ve only skim-read the posts so far.

One of the determining factors in the crispness of a roll is how easy it is to execute, since this determines how much control you have over the timing of the cut and tap. Using both hands for a roll is an advantage, since your hand does not need to ‘recover’ from the cut before performing the tap. Obviously, using both hands is only really an option on E, F# and G, since the tap has to be done with the LH on high notes. But I generally cut with the RH 3rd finger for rolls on all of these notes:
E: xxx xxo - xxo xxo - xxx xxo - xxx xxx - xxx xxo
F#: xxx xoo - xxo xox - xxx xoo - xxx xxo - xxx xoo
G: xxx ooo - xxo ooo - xxx ooo - xxx xoo - xxx ooo

Re: Whistle Questions: Rolls and Accidentals

Should that be…
F#: xxx xoo - xxo XOO - xxx xoo - xxx xxo - xxx xoo

Concerning the ‘hand needing to recover’ — while I know what you mean, CMO, I don’t agree. Either way, you are using two muscles to do two things. Perhaps it feels easier at first, but in fact it doesn’t matter where in the body the muscles are — as long as you can send a signal to the requisite muscle *and nowhere else* . I stress the last bit because of the tendency to try to hold still the fingers you don’t want to move. In holding the fingers still, you are needlessly using muscles and brainpower. The problem is rather like that of moving one eyebrow, or waggling your ears. The muscles are there and so are the nerves that work them. All you have to do is get the damned things to connect.

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Re: Whistle Questions: Rolls and Accidentals

@gam: "Either way, you are using two muscles to do two things. Perhaps it feels easier at first, but in fact it doesn’t matter where in the body the muscles are — as long as you can send a signal to the requisite muscle *and nowhere else* ."

Ah, but maybe there’s a difference whether both cerebral hemisphere’s can share the work, or only one has to concentrate on the whole roll. If you have a dual-core processor, why not use both?

Re: Whistle Questions: Rolls and Accidentals

Yes ‘dividing the work’ between the two hands is common sense, and often done, though you’ll see many trad whistleplayers doing things that don’t seem logical. (Things that evolve traditionally often have much illogic built in; just study any language!)

The way I learned was to use the upperhand ring finger to cut all the lowerhand notes (D, E, F#, and G).

For B there’s obviously only one finger left to do the cutting!

The ‘odd man out’ is A, there being two choices, and you’ll see both used.

But! Many people do other things. As has been said above, you’ll often see G cut with one of the other upperhand fingers.

One American guy created a consistent logical musicologically-sensible system where he cuts every note with the 3rd above: cutting D with F#, E with G, F# with A, G with B, A with C… well then he ran out of fingers, but you get the idea. I can’t remember ever seeing an Irish person using that method, but it wouldn’t surprise me, because you’ll see everything.

I heard tell of an Irish guy who only used the top finger to cut everything, and he’s famous.

Use your ear as a guide, though, because on some whistles and some flutes certain cuts are either too harsh or too soft. On some flutes cutting E in the 2nd octave with the upperhand ring finger sounds bad so I had to get used to using the lowerhand index finger instead (the American guy’s 3rd above!)

On the uilleann pipes you can use quite distant cuts in the low octave, for example some pipers use thumb cuts all through the low octave at times, but in the 2nd octave distant cuts can destabilize the melody notes on certain chanters, and (on my chanter at least) when I get up to G, A, and B in the 2nd octave I have to use the upper neighbourtone to cut (the next note up).

Likewise there are multiple ways to pat. Yes the most common way is to use the lower neighbourtone but it’s not all that uncommon to use Bottom D to pat F# and G. Since I usually finger G xxx oox I’m only patting two fingers to get that Bottom D pat.

I’ve seen people who always do a two-finger pat on B, that is, a G pat on B.

Then there’s rolling C natural, a different beast, a favourite roll of mine, which I finger

oxx oox
oxx xxx (pat the two raised lowerhand fingers for a D cut)
oxx oox
xxx oox (pat the one raised upperhand finger for a G pat)
oxx oox

Re: Whistle Questions: Rolls and Accidentals

Coming from the highland pipes to the whistle, the first thing I found was that the top finger gracenote didn’t work most of the time. What I eventually worked out was to find the finger that sounded best, rather than to use a rule of thumb (if you’ll pardon the expression). Different whistles work in different ways — sometimes the next note up works, and sometimes not.
What Richard says above about using two fingers is common in highland piping, and I use it almost without thinking on the whistle — again, as I said, it depends on the sound produced.

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