How to pick the correct tune key

How to pick the correct tune key

Hello everyone,

This is my first post here and I hope this ain’t a duplicated one but I couldn’t find a relevant topic.

I recently started playing the tin whistle with help from online sources (Brother Steve is amazingly helpfull ๐Ÿ™‚ ). But now I start to get tunes without any form of musical notation/tabs mentioned and a link to this site.

So I am looking at the Tunes overview but do not know which tunes to pick key wise.

In example: The Dawning of the Day ( has tunes in Dmaj, Gmaj, Amix,…

I have a High D tin whistle so here I tend to go for Dmaj (assuming this is the right choice).

Now my question is… What to pick for a High D whistle if Dmaj is not available in the keys of a specific tune?

Thanks in advance ๐Ÿ™‚

Re: How to pick the correct tune key

If you finger the top hole open you get C#, so you get

D E F# G A B C# d
which is the D Major scale.

But if you start on different notes you get different scales:

E F# G A B C# d e (E dorian)

A B C# d e f# g a (A Mixolydian)

B C# d e f# g a b (B minor)

Now, finger C natural using oxx ooo, oxx oox or what have you. Now you can get:

D E F# G A B C d (D Mixolydian)

G A B C d e f# g (G Major)

A B C d e f# g a (A dorian)

Now there are other possibilities too, they’re just not as common, such as

C d e f# g a b c (C Lydian, as in Rakish Paddy) (the Lydian mode is very common in old Scottish tunes)

Re: How to pick the correct tune key

Once you have figured out which setting is in a key or mode that is feasible on a D whistle, for which Richard’s explanations are helpful, the next thing to look at is the range of the tune.

Your bottom note is D and your highest note for most purposes is b (near the top of the second octave). Tunes that go lower or higher than these notes will require special treatment.

In the case of Dawning of the Day, yes you can play the tune in D major (ignoring the low Cs that crop up in the second D and possibly other D settings, because you can just stay on low D for that note. Also ignore the random bottom-of-the-seabed note in the first setting!). You can also play the G and Amix settings too, because all the notes fall within your range.

I would find the tune more satisfying to play in G because the final note of G will sing out more strongly than the slightly feeble tone of the lowest note of most whistles, and indeed the whole tune will sound stronger. There is a reason why most of the classic "flute tunes" in the Irish repertoire are in G and not D!

So the obvious answer (D major) is not always the only one or the best one. — Brother Stiamh ๐Ÿ™‚

Re: How to pick the correct tune key

Thanks a lot for the explanations. Things are much clearer for me now ๐Ÿ™‚

Re: How to pick the correct tune key

Just a little shoutout to Dutchie, als je het niet weet altijd extra vragen. ;)

Re: How to pick the correct tune key

I will Remco ๐Ÿ™‚ It is not easy to learn all of this in our country with no Irish Music, sessions or any form of real tutors in my area for either Irish trad or tin whistle. I am fully dependent on online sources (Bro Steve, Ryan Duns) but I am thinking to get Geraldine Cotters tutor book as well. Atm I seem to tongue all notes (I am not sure if I am even supposed to as I read different stories allover the place). This is probably some old habbit because as kids we only learn recorder here and I think we tongued all on those. Playing tunes faster is another pitfall I don’t manage yet. I am aware of ornaments but I can play them only in slow practice situations but as soon as I have to put them in a tune I start to get clueless (mostly when it comes to rolls). But hey I have my instrument only for 1 month now so it will come by time ๐Ÿ™‚

And… leuk om meer Nederlanders te zien (transl: nice to see more Dutch) :D