How to play whistle in tune?

How to play whistle in tune?

I do not have a fancy professional whistle, but not everybody I know who plays the whistle does either. I’m not sure how to make it play in tune. I know you can pull the fipple out or push it in, and I see other people do that, but I am not sure how that really works.

Whether I move the fipple in or out, each individual note is never in tune. Blowing my whistle into a tuner, some notes will be flat, others sharp, some extremely so.

I also find it hard to tell on the fly what to do to be in tune. I can hear it is not in tune, but it shocks me, so rather than try to fix it I will just put it down and stop playing. As a result, I rarely play the whistle anymore.

Is it possible to have an inexpensive whistle play in tune? How do you do it?

Re: How to play whistle in tune?

Download a tuning app but realize some of the notes, particularily in the upper register, need to be played with a slightly different embouchure to be in tune.

Re: How to play whistle in tune?

I don’t find that it’s just the upper register. It’s every other note or so that is wildly off. I’m not even really sure if there’s a particular note to tune to sort of get a happy medium where it’s more in tune than not.

Re: How to play whistle in tune?

Don’t expect a whistle to be in tune with an electronic tuner. Assuming your whistle is a regular cheapie and not defective, my advice would be to adjust the head so that the first octave G is in tune with the tuner, blowing as strongly or as softly as your whistle wants you too, and no harder.

Then put the tuner away and forget it. Learn to play the whistle so that it sounds right to you and to others. Don’t overblow in the lower register. For the lowest notes the breath you need would hardly make a candle flame flicker. When you get to the notes above the second-octave G, you need to blow assertively, probably much harder than you expect. Do it. Don’t be afraid of the noise level and don’t think about the neighbours.

Re: How to play whistle in tune?

Whistles are very sensitive to blowing pressure, so trying to do it by blowing into a tuner will be painful.

Instead, try using a drone (I use dronetonetool.com for this sort of thing). First of all work on blowing individual notes into tune with a drone of the same pitch, then work on playing scales against the key.

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Re: How to play whistle in tune?

I agree. Finding out what the whistle needs with breath pressure is the key. It should be a relativly smooth pressure change up and down the scale. If the scale is not even with steady air pressure, youve got a bum whistle.

I recommend having a good player try your whistle to make sure it is adequate.

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Re: How to play whistle in tune?

Stiamh offers the best explanation. He gives you a place to start & a goal to strive for, which is good advice for someone new to playing whistles.

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Re: How to play whistle in tune?

Okay, I will try to tune it to the low G and hope for the best.

Re: How to play whistle in tune?

First "warm up" the whistle by playing for a minute or two. Tuning to "G" (<] XXX OOO ) is the the simplest way to get the whistle into the zone. Move the head in to sharpen or out to flatten.

On a basic whistle the head may be glued into position. To "break" the adhesive heat the head in hot (not quite boiling) water. It may take some considerable twist the first time to "unseal" by twisting. You shouldn’t need to do this other than to get the head to twist/move the first time. It is possible to break the head doing this if it’s been superglued into position. Ideally the head should be tight enough that it will stay in a position once placed there but moveable with a bit of effort.

You don’t mention what make or model you’ve got - but there should be no notes out by more than +/-10c on an electronic tuner when you’ve tuned to G. However this assumes you have a steady breathing for each note. I wouldn’t sweat it for now if it sounds "in tune with itself" (i.e. low and high scales "sound right" and octave popping D=> D’, E=> E’ is good up to A=>A’).

Re: How to play whistle in tune?

The tuner may be useful just to confirm that you really do have to blow notes very differently to be in tune. I practice with a drone as Calum suggests. Or give up and play flute.

Re: How to play whistle in tune?

The make I have is a Jerry Freeman Blackbird, so I don’t actually know its origins.

Re: How to play whistle in tune?

Different whistles respond to different air pressure and embouchure. If you’re certain there’s nothing wrong with the whistle, try adjusting how much air you use on the out of tune notes and also try changing your embouchure. I have a fair amount of whistles, and each one is different. Certain whistles I don’t have to worry about slipping in and out of tune, but my cheaper whistles like my Feadóg and Generation I have to change my air and embouchure frequently while playing to keep in tune. It’s second nature now, so I don’t think of it.

If that doesn’t work, you can break the seal on the head to make it tunable. Pick up some Teflon tape to make the head fit tightly to hold it in place once you find where it works best.

-Mel

Re: How to play whistle in tune?

"… heat the head in hot (not quite boiling) water. …"

I would say that ‘not quite boiling’ is too hot. It doesn’t take much to soften the plastic so that, when you twist the head to remove it, the plastic gets permanently deformed, after which it may not sound properly. ‘Finger hot’ should be enough - cool enough that you can put your finger in without scalding it but hot enough that you want to take it straight out again.

Re: How to play whistle in tune?

Once you’ve made sure the G or A is in tune then play along with recordings endlessly till you can play in tune.

Re: How to play whistle in tune?

An electronic tuner is designed for equal temperament - a tinwhistle plays in just temperament. If you want you could research what these terms mean to understand more fully why an electronic tuner won’t help you play tinwhistle, or you could follow the advice of the person above who said "Learn to play the whistle so that it sounds right to you and to others." Your choice.

Re: How to play whistle in tune?

The tuning on a tin whistle is a mass of contradictions and compromises. Different makers make different decisions.

I agree with Stiamh about beginners and tuners. All kinds of assumptions are often made, things read online and they go off on a wild tangent rather than simply starting to learn to play. As he says, get the G note right and then put the tuner away and stop worrying about it.

On removing the head on Generation (and similar) whistles. I’ve never found any conclusive evidence that the heads on these whistles are actually glued on. Lacquer, yes. Glue, no.

ABS plastic has a significantly higher expansion coefficient than brass. Therefore as they expand with temperature, the plastic ABS head will expand more than the brass tube and will become looser. Whilst it’s still warm it is easier to move, as it cools it gets more stuck on.

Personally, with the last few whistles, I haven’t used the heating method, but dropped the whistle into a wider bore; next whistle up, old tube without a head or with its head removed.

Remove the head of the tube you are dropping the whistle into as when the head pops off, the smaller tube will shoot down the larger one and damage the fipple.

Re: How to play whistle in tune?

A Jerry Freeman Blackbird shouldn’t have any glue to break anyway. That bond, whether it’s from glue or lacquer, is broken as one of the steps in his tweaking process.

Re: How to play whistle in tune?

"you can pull the fipple out or push it in…I am not sure how that really works."

Shorter sharper, longer flatter. The longer the distance is between where the sound is created (the blade) and the end of the tube, the flatter the note will be.

That’s what the fingerholes do: they in effect shorten and lengthen the tube, just like the slide of a trombone.

"Whether I move the fipple in or out, some notes will be flat, others sharp…"

Yes moving the head in or out sharpens or flattens the overall pitch of the whistle but doesn’t address the internal relationship of the notes of the scale.

There are two different tuning issues:

1) The relationship of the size & position of the finger-holes to each other and to the length of the tube.

2) The tuning of the octaves that’s built into the whistle design.

About #1, if an individual note is too flat, that hole can be carved out to make that individual note sharper.

If an individual note is too sharp you can put some tape on the upper edge of the hole to make that individual note flatter. Or you can take the pitch of that sharpest note as your baseline pitch and carve out all the other notes to match.

If the scale is in tune but Bottom D and Middle D are too flat, the bottom of the tube needs to be shortened.

About #2, you can have the scale of the whole low octave in tune to itself, but have a 2nd octave that’s flat overall.

There are fixes for that but they’re a bit more involved.

"I also find it hard to tell on the fly what to do to be in tune."

In playing jigs and reels on the fly you don’t have time to tailor specialized blowing for each bad note to fix a whistle with a bad scale. It’s why all my whistles either came in tune when I bought them, or have been modified by myself to play in tune. By "in tune" I mean that the needle of an electronic tuner continues to point straight up when I play the scale from Bottom D up to B in the 2nd octave. If a whistle isn’t in tune, it’s useless to me for professional gigs.

Re: How to play whistle in tune?

So you can hear the way my whistles sound, here they are!

-Feadogs in Eb and D

-Walton in C#

-Generations in C, B, Bb, and A

-Burkes in G, F, and Low Eb

-Goldies in Low D and Low C

-Alba Bass A

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7-fQhvleWq8


The C#, B (natural), and A have bodies made by myself.

The Generation Bb has a head heavily modified by myself.

The Generation A has a head heavily modified by Jerry Freeman.

Re: How to play whistle in tune?

My friend plays a cheapie whistle and he wraps a bit of cardstock paper around the bottom of the whistle and attaches it with a rubber band and then he lengthens/shortens the whistle that way. I wonder if I did both that and the head of it I could get more of it in tune.

Re: How to play whistle in tune?

«My friend plays a cheapie whistle and he wraps a bit of cardstock paper around the bottom of the whistle and attaches it with a rubber band and then he lengthens/shortens the whistle that way.»

That would only affect the bottom note (the so-called bell note) - the one that sounds when all holes are closed. Of course he cannot shorten the whistle that way, but only lengthen it, which would flatten the bottom note. Changing the head position, on the other hand, will affect all the notes.

Re: How to play whistle in tune?

"My friend plays a cheapie whistle and he wraps a bit of cardstock paper around the bottom of the whistle and attaches it with a rubber band and then he lengthens/shortens the whistle that way."

Yes in my post above I mentioned that if a whistle is in-tune overall but Bottom D and Middle D are flat you can shorten the tube. (With a saw.)

Your friend has the opposite problem, apparently: a whistle that’s in-tune overall but has Bottom D and Middle D too sharp. Yes you lengthen the tube, with paper rolled around it like your friend is doing, or for a more elegant-looking solution get the next-larger size of brass tubing for the extension.

Another solution is to take that sharp Bottom D and Middle D (the bell-note and its octave) as your new baseline pitch and carve out all 6 finger-holes to match that pitch. Of course you end up with a larger-holed whistle, which might not be a bad thing.

Now having a Bottom D and Middle D that aren’t in tune with each other is a bigger problem, and caused by the relationship between the low octave and the 2nd octave which is built into the whistle design.

Oddly, there are whistles that have in-tune octaves with the finger-hole notes (E, F#, G, A, B) yet have the Bottom D and Middle D not in tune with each other. I owned, over the period of a few years, a half-dozen different MK Low D’s and they all were like that: Middle D was around a quarter-tone sharper than Bottom D, though all the other notes had good octaves.

Re: How to play whistle in tune?

Here’s how I solved that problem:

I realized it was a matter of flexibility; the lower register is more flexible than the upper one. If you have a yardstick on the edge of a table it bends further the more you have out over the edge. The less you have hanging over… the less flexible. The same is true with the whistle.

So with this in mind I blow very lightly on the low register so that I haven’t bent the pitch up trying to get more volume. If you blow hard on the lower register for more volume you will never be able to bend the upper register enough to match the octave and you and up being out of tune or shrieking in your attempt. If you blow very lightly on the lower register you can easily match the upper octave and sound sweet. Don’t worry about volume on the lower register — that’s what causes the problem.

Your low notes will likely disappear in a session, but when your higher notes are heard they will be sweet and won’t puncture any eardrums of fellow musicians. You can use a tuner to practice matching the octaves in this way. I did it for a while and it solved the problem for me. Every whistle is different, but I think the flexibility issue is universal.

Re: How to play whistle in tune?

The tweaking on Jerry Freeman whistles typically makes their tuning pretty good.

In my younger days, I played whistle for a number of years, before giving up in frustration because I could hear that I wasn’t in tune, and didn’t know about tweaking the whistle for proper intonation. I admit I never really got good enough to play properly.

Returning to ITM 20 years later, I bought a Killarney, which plays in tune and quite sweetly in the second register, but as previously stated you have to be willing to blow at the necessary volume or air flow.

The other thing I came to realize is that the whistle is a rhythmic instrument, perhaps more than a melody instrument. With this in mind, listen to Mary Bergin. Her whistle articulations are characterized by rhythmic drive and a "bubbly" feel, not a legato one. If you think in this way, maybe the tuning of the individual notes becomes less important.