Tin Whistles and Keys

Tin Whistles and Keys

Can anyone please shed some light on what whistles can play what keys?
For examples what type of whistle would I need to play tunes in F Major?

Re: Tin Whistles and Keys

The basic thing is if you do the open C sharp fingering
ooo ooo
you get a Major scale starting on the bell-note, the nominal pitch/key of the whistle, that is, D Major on a "D" whistle and C Major on a "C" whistle and so forth.

But if, instead, you do the "C natural" crossfingering
oxx ooo
you get a Major scale starting on the three-finger note
xxx ooo
Or in more "classical" musical terms the "fourth" of the whistle.
Therefore you get a G Major scale on a ‘D’ whistle and an F Major scale on a ‘C’ whistle.

This means every key of whistle gives you two Major scales, one starting on the "tonic" or bell-note (open bottom of the whistle) and one starting on the "fourth" or "three-finger note".

Bell-note > fourth
D > G
C > F
Bb > Eb
A > D
G > C
F > Bb
E > A
Eb > Ab


Re: Tin Whistles and Keys

This is a good guide:


Edited to add:

I wrote "a good guide", I should have written "a good starting point" since there are more possibilities than are implied by that chart, such as B minor or A on a D whistle. Also, the purple column isn’t really the minor, it’s dorian mode (ie. the scale played starting from the second note of the major mode, so E dorian on a D whistle). I know some will want to argue about this (of course), but dorian mode sounds rather "minor" hence the confusion.

Re: Tin Whistles and Keys

Short answer

F => Bb [+ C]
G => C [+ D]
A => D [+E]
Bb => Eb [+ F]
C => F [+ G]
D => G [+ A]
Eb => Ab [+ Bb]

Longer explanation

Each whistle is "IN" a specific key. D whistle can play all the notes in the scale of D with no half-holing or cross fingering required starting on the lowest note and moving up the scale.

It is generally considered feasible (easy?) to play a scale with just one note sharpened or flattened and for each base key this lets up play +/- 1 with relative ease. So each whistle can generally (not too difficult) play pieces in one of three keys - the base, one "down" and one "up".

For key of D this is G (one LESS sharp i.e. flatten one note) and A (one extra sharp i.e. sharpen one note). To play the key of G we play a C-natural instead of the C# (usually by cross fingering OXXOOO). To play in key of A we play a G# instead of G note (by half holing). If you think the latter is trickier than the former, you’d be right!

The CIRCLE OF FIFTHS (good explanation here: http://www.ibiblio.org/kuphaldt/socratic/sinst/misc/circle.pdf) tells you what are the "near neighbour" keys. For any given key the one to the left (anti-clockwise) is the "easy" one and the one to the right (clockwise) is the "do-able" one.

Other keys are possible where you are sharpening or flattening 2, 3 or more notes but this gets really complicated and a huge degree of expertise and practice is required to do with any speed and tuning accuracy. For reference here is Grey Larsen’s fingering chart for all of the notes on a D whistle: https://greylarsen.com/FreeDownloads/Fingering_Chart_with_Half-Hole_Fingerings.pdf

So, if you regularly have to play in "odd" (i.e. not D/G/A) keys - then the simple answer is to have a couple of extra whistles (e.g. Bb + C + D is very common set) in your bag. Low A is also useful (a) for pieces in A and (b) for tunes in D where there are notes below the bottom D. It is simply easier to have the right whistle for the job than trying to accompany a piece in Bb on a D whistle.

Re: Tin Whistles and Keys

Thank you all, very helpful.