Question about, tin whistles and music theory.

Question about, tin whistles and music theory.

I love the alto range of my Bb whistle!
However, do I need a major scale whistle if, I want to join a worship band at my church? We will be playing; Be thou my vision, my chains are gone, and ect.

Re: Question about, tin whistles and music theory.

The good thing about tin whistles, is that they are cheap and small so its easy to travel with multiple instruments. A C or D tin whistle might work better for blending in with the other instruments, but you can always grab the B flat one if you wanted to do something solo.

Bb is my favorite also, since its small enough to play notes rapidly and low enough not to hurt peoples ears.

Re: Question about, tin whistles and music theory.

B flat is a Major scale. Not the most common one for Trad. It does work well for many singers…as long as they’re singing in B flat. P.S. As long time bassist it was/is my favorite for jazz/blues.

Re: Question about, tin whistles and music theory.

Ask your worship team which keys they use the most. Some only use a few keys, while others are all over the place. If you have both female leads and male leads, you will need more keys because they have different vocal ranges.

My church typically stays in C, D, E, G, A, and B. (They play mostly contemporary stuff like Hillsong) this means I need whistles in D, B, A, and C. I find the high E whistle just too harsh for my taste, but your mileage may vary.

D whistle plays in D and G.
B whistle plays in B and E.
A whistle plays in A and D.
C whistle plays in C and F.
B flat might actually be useful- some leaders are in love with their capos.

Those 5 whistles should cover almost all contemporary church music and most singers vocal ranges.

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Caution: You’ll need to ask more questions.

Unfortunately, choosing the right tin whistle can be a confusing matter for several reasons:

1. Any single piece of music can be played in twelve different keys. A song in a major key can be transposed to eleven other major scales, and a song in a minor key can be transposed to eleven other minor scales. This means that even when you know what songs are going to be played, and even if you can find them in a book or online, you don’t necessarily know any of the keys that they will be played in. Very often singers will transpose the song to a different key without even noticing that they have done so. They aren’t trying to be difficult, they are just choosing a key (one of twelve choices) that feels right for their voices. Instrumental music (for example, most of the music found on this website) is less likely to be transposed, but transposition is always an option.

2. Even if you know the key you will be playing in, you might not know what whistle to choose. This is because each whistle is capable of playing in several keys. For example, on a standard D tin whistle you can play easily in D, Em, G, Am and Bm. Depending on the piece of music and your ability, you might also be able to play in A, F#m, C and other keys without changing whistle.

3. To further complicate matters, the range of the song might not fit well on a tin whistle. Unlike a violin, guitar, or piano, the tin whistle only has a range of two octaves. This is plenty of range for simple songs like Twinkle, Twinkle or Mary Had a Little Lamb, but it can be a problem for other songs, especially if there are notes below the tonic. If you play a D tin whistle, you might expect D to always be the tonic (the home base and final note of most tunes), but inevitably, it is also the lowest note that you can play. This makes playing a song like Danny Boy impossible without altering the melody. A better option would be to transpose to G instead, without changing to a G whistle. But of course G might be the wrong key for the singer’s voice.

4. One last complication is that most tin whistle players only learn to read music for a D tin whistle. This means that when they use a Bb tin whistle, they still read the music as if they were playing on a D tin whistle. In other words they cover all the holes to play a D note, when really the note that they are playing will sound like Bb. To avoid confusion when communicating with other musicians, you should know about this automatic transposition. It can be troublesome, just as guitar players using a capo at the second fret might make the shape of a G chord and call it G even though all the other musicians will hear an A chord.

All this means that a knowledge of music rudiments and transposition is very important for tin whistle players. You will need to know the difference between a major scale and a minor scale, both of which can be played on any whistle, but the right scale must be chosen for each song. You should also know about modes which are variants of major and minor scales. Most of all, you should understand what transposition is, and how it works when playing on one whistle compared to changing whistles. And finally, as you have probably figured out by now, you’re going to want to buy more whistles.

Re: Question about, tin whistles and music theory.


Re: Question about, tin whistles and music theory.

About Be Thou My Vision, the tune name is SLANE (in traditional hymnody tune names are rendered in all caps, no I’m not shouting).

There are several other hymns set to this tune such as Bridegroom And Bride.

In every hymnal I’ve seen SLANE is in the key of Eb and needs to be played on a Bb whistle.

A Bb whistle gives these notes:
xxx xxx Bb
xxx xxo C
xxx xoo D
xxx ooo Eb
xxo ooo F
xoo ooo G
oxx ooo Ab
ooo ooo A (natural)

So Be Thou My Vision starts on Eb, fingered xxx ooo.

That’s why a Bb whistle is essential for many Church gigs- you always end up playing Be Thou My Vision and it’s always in Eb. (BTW I have a huge Bass Bb whistle coming from Alba Whistles in Scotland, it will be wonderful).

Why not play Be Thou My Vision, in Eb, on an Eb whistle? As mentioned above it’s the range: the tune has a wide range, and on an Eb whistle you’ll be screaming out notes at the top of the 2nd octave, not nice.

Each whistle key gives a different scale of course, and it’s handy to be aware of it.

So a C whistle gives this

xxx xxx C
xxx xxo D
xxx xoo E
xxx ooo F
xxo ooo G
xoo ooo A
oxx ooo Bb
ooo ooo B (natural)

In traditional hymnody (assuming pipe organ accompaniment) you usually don’t go beyond four flats or four sharps. A Eb whistle (three flats) also gives you the scale of Ab (four flats) so you’re good to go on the flat side of things. You’ll also need an E whistle (four sharps). There have been many church gigs where everything I play has been on those two whistles- Eb and E (natural).

On many other church gigs everything has been on D and C whistles. (Well, actually D and C chanters, I carry both in my uilleann case.)

So with D, C, E, Eb, and Bb you should be able to handle all the keys encountered in traditional hymnody.

You mentioned My Chains Are Gone (Amazing Grace) which is a modern Praise Song. That’s a different idiom of course, usually Praise Bands with guitars, keyboards, etc. Some Praise Bands stick with guitar-friendly keys such as E, G, C, D, etc. But! if the guitarists have capos all bets are off, and you could find yourself needing keys of whistles you’d not need in traditional hymnody, such as playing in C#/Db. The need for every possible key, and to have the choice of two ranges in each key, is why I have a whistle in every chromatic key in my whistle roll.

You can look up “the circle of fifths” which explains all this stuff.

Moving from C (no flats, no sharps) and adding one sharp each times gives you:
C > G (one sharp) > D (two sharps) > A (three sharps) > E (four sharps) > B (five sharps) > F# (six sharps) > C# (seven sharps).

Note you’re moving up a 5th each time.

Moving in the opposite direction from C, adding one flat each time, gives you

C > F (one flat) > Bb (two flats) > Eb (three flats) > Ab (four flats) > Db (five flats).

Note you’re moving down a 5th each time (or up a 4th, a 5th inverted is a fourth).

Also note that C# and Db are the same note; both directions from C end up at the same place, which is why it’s called the “circle” of 5ths.

Re: Question about, tin whistles and music theory.

Thank you,

I’m inspired to learn more about music. Apparently, there is more it than I had thought!
I will hit the books and stick with what I have available on hand. I do have a D whistle but, I didn’t know it can play other keys -same with Bb. That is pretty neat! Ok, I won’t join the worship band. It does sound confusing from what Mr. Cameron and Mr. Cook had said, so I will just do my own thing. Thanks everyone!

Re: Question about, tin whistles and music theory.

Oh for sure join the worship band!! You’ll have loads of fun.

It doesn’t take any knowing about theory beyond knowing that each whistle plays two Major keys, one starting on the six-finger note xxx xxx and one starting on the three-finger note xxx ooo.

You can probably just use your ear to tell you which whistle to use on each song.

What key do they do Chains Are Gone (Amazing Grace) in?

Re: Question about, tin whistles and music theory.

It’s typically in D.

Shelby, why base your decision on what others here say? This decision should be between you and your worship team and the man upstairs. Have a conversation with your team and find out what it takes to start integrating you. It may take months to get you up to speed (sitting in the pews on practice night and then stepping up to practicing with the team), but if your heart is telling you to join, I would not recommend dismissing the idea so easily.

Most worship teams are constantly looking for volunteers. I’d approach them at the next opportunity. I’m sure they’d love to have you.

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Re: Question about, tin whistles and music theory.

So Amazing Grace is now called Chains Are Gone ?
I’m amazed.
The correct name for Amazing Grace is, of course, New Britain, the shape-note setting of the original text to be found in the Sacred Harp hymnal, where the tenor line, the melody line, is what we are all familiar with from Judy Collins’ ground-breaking recording to all those bagpipers at funerals…….
I would recommend anyone now singing a modern arrangement to go back to the original setting, listen to it on youtube from Sacred Harp gatherings. It’s quite a different animal……vigorous, earthy, endorphin-stimulating.
There are also two completely different settings of the text in the Sacred Harp, completely different melodies and harmonies. Go search !

Re: Question about, tin whistles and music theory.

Pete, Amazing Grace is not called Chains are Gone. “Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)” is a specific modern composition by Chris Tomlin based on the hymn.

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Re: Question about, tin whistles and music theory.

What is the best low d whistle?

Re: Question about, tin whistles and music theory.

Best low-D? I have a 1980s vintage brass Copeland low-D and I haven’t played any other one I like better. It’s the most flute-like whistle I’ve ever played and the conical bore makes for excellent intonation across the octaves as well as comfortable hole size and spacing even for my small-ish hands.