Low whistles

Low whistles

As a 5 yr. player now on the soprano D whistle should I start learning the low whistle with a low D or low F

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Learn the flute instead, you won’t regret it.

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Welcome Michael. My first reaction was to say "low D for sure", but then I wondered if your reason for asking was possibly a concern about your hand size . Anyhow, Low D would be my advice, but then I only ‘dabble’ with whistles, I am sure you will get all the right advice from the right people shorty.

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"Learn the flute instead, you won’t regret it"…. I Did! Anyhow, that wasn’t the question.

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Just a kindly word after seeing too many aspiring whistlers spend good money on what they believe is the right thing to do. The idea that improving trad whistlers need to graduate onto low whistle isn’t helpful. It’s a whistle, there’s not much else to learn apart from learning that low D whistle is usually too quiet and too awkward to enjoy playing much in a session, and realising that hardly anyone else really plays one. F whistles do sound great on a recording or a duet. Nothing against low whistles but it’s likely you’ll find more trad fulfilment from persevering on the high whistle, expanding your repertoire, or learning a trad instrument. Buy one for fun by all means but don’t feel that you should. 🙂

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I kind of agree with Loughcurra on that. Low whistles are fun and enjoyable things that sound nice, but in my opinion they are mainly solo instruments. In the end I gave all mine away. I prefer a high D, and I am content to just stick to that nowadays.

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I play every Saturday with a low whistle player who is as loud as any instrument in the session. Pipes, anglo concertina, fiddle - and Jim DiCarlo’s low whistle. Much more than a solo instrument. His presence is valued by us all.
I know of other low whistle players who stand out in a group. Mike McGoldrick, Gordon Gower, Paddy Keenan are a few. I am sure there are others.

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FWIW I can’t imagine anyone regretting investing in the flute

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@tdrury… I love the flute but just found it too hard to get a consistent decent noise out of, so I stuck to whistle, which I grew up on and reckon is so much easier. Take into account that my weapon of choice is the fiddle. And I guess that in the end I didn’t regret investing in a flute (and an expensive one) because I passed it onto somebody who now plays it brilliantly. I can’t play the piano I bought either.

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I must say, I’m not at all convinced by any of the low whistles I’ve heard or tried. David Levine - you mentioned one that is "as loud as any instrument in the session". Can you tell us the maker of the instrument? Do you reckon the player has exceptional skill, the instrument exceptional presence or is it some happy combination of all of the above?

And Gobby (and other disgruntled flute-tryers), it might be that you haven’t found the flute that suits you yet. Something that all we flutemakers have to learn is that not everyone will enjoy our flutes, for the simple reason that everybody’s mouth is different. (Look around if you don’t believe me! Or better still, Google "images" of "lips". Woah, positively scary!)

There is no "best flute". There is a "best flute for you". The catch is that, at this time, we don’t know which one it is. You just have to try them all! I’ve sold flutes to players of flutes by all the other well-known flute makers, and I’m sure they have too! And I bet there are many potential players who have given up along the way, just because luck hasn’t put the right flute in front of them.

So, keep an open mind, and take every opportunity to try out flutes at sessions, festivals etc. Most flute players are good for that, probably because they remember that magic day when they found the one for them.

Not that I’m arguing the whistle is an inferior instrument - I learned on the whistle and still play it regularly. But having both is a gorgeous luxury.

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Hi Terry — Yes— the player has exceptional skill and the instrument has exceptional presence. I will post the name of the whistle’s maker later today after I hear back from Jim.
Hope you are safe from the bush fires.
Seasonal greetings from the polar opposite.

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David, you play very small session don’t you? Three or four players? I’ve never been able to hear the low whistle unless it was sitting right next to me, and even then just barely.

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Michael, I play whistle, low whistle, and flute. I like all three, including the low whistle, very much. I have never regretted picking it up, have no plans to set it aside, and many of my favourite musicians play low whistles quite a bit; lots of great usic out there. If YOU like it, give it a try, it’s the only way you will know. Doesn’t have to be a magnificeint instrument to get started; my first one wasn’t.

Here’s my advice….if you haven’t already, get a Bb or an A whistle as a way station on the road to a low D (and persoanlly I would get a low D before a low F). I found it a big jump from high D to low D, and I almost gave up…. seemed like I would never get the stretch, or learn how to cover the holes. The Bb helped a lot. Eventually, everything that seemed difficult became relatively easy. Same learning curve you went through with the high whistle.

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@Michael. Two things:- Firstly, after reading some of the above comments I retract my original objection to Loughcurra’s suggestion that you try a flute instead. I agree with his view about low whistles, and I can now see some merit in his/her suggestion. Sure, this isn’t what you have asked for, but maybe you should indeed give it some consideration. Secondly….
After just reading Adrian W’s comment I wonder again if one of the reasons you have asked this question is to do with your hand size and whistle sizes. Sure when you go from a high to low D it will appear to challenge your stretch, but then the first thing you will have to learn is the pipers grip. It took me a few days to get comfortable with it, but now I play any whistle (high or low) with the pipers grip. It seems so much better to me now. I am saying this because I stick with my opinion that you would be much better served with a low D.

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David Levine said: "Hope you are safe from the bush fires."

And indeed, we are (so far) safe from the bush fires, although not out of the woods yet. The fires are burning in inaccessible mountainous terrain inland from us, and could yet make a run on our part of the coast depending on wind directions and speeds. Our volunteer bush fire service, backed up with aerial water bombing, have so far managed to save all the small townships in our area, a truly magnificent feat. Although we are on the rural-urban fringe, we feel pretty safe with two fire hoses on the mains water supply, and a petrol-driven fire pump with 10,000 litres of water in a tank if all else fails! And good holdings of Irish whiskey in case of short-term shortages due to road closures….

"Seasonal greetings from the polar opposite."

And to you David, and to all at The Session!

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His whistles are from Colin Goldie in Germany. Powerful instruments.

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Hi Cheeky. Yes, the session with Jim seldom has more than five. But the command he has on the instrument is the most powerful I’ve ever heard.

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Back to Michael Hughes’ original question about Low D and Low F (sometimes called Mezzo F) it depends on what your goals are and so forth.

Best to have both!

For session playing then it’s the Low D that’s most handy, playing the same notes as the Irish flute.

Many High Whistle players go directly from High D to Low D without problem. Some people say that a Low/Mezzo F is a good entre to the Low D. I myself played flute first, then got some whistles including High D and Low D. To me there wasn’t any problem about playing Low D’s, though many people have issues with the finger-stretch (which is wider on Low D whistles than on D flutes).

For solo playing, there are many people who feel the in-between size of the Low/Mezzo F is the ideal whistle.

In any case, here’s a video I did where I demonstrate my various whistles from a High Eb to a Bass A, that might be of some help deciding between the F and the Low D

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7-fQhvleWq8&t=39s

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About the volume of Low D Whistles, every make I’ve tried has had a fairly large volume differential between the low octave and the 2nd octave, the volume of each note pre-ordained by the maker, as opposed to the flute where the volume of each note can be controlled (independently of pitch) by the player.

The time that sticks to my memory is the session where it was me on Low D Whistle and four fluteplayers. In the low notes my whistle couldn’t be heard, on the high notes I was louder than all four flutes!

With a good embouchure you can really honk the low notes of the flute and play sweet high notes, while on the Low D Whistle the high notes are always going to be louder than the low notes.

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I don’t see the low D as a "progression" from the high D, which is what the OP’s post sort of implies. It doesn’t have any greater dynamics nor offers anything that the high D doesn’t, other than a different tone. It’s a fun toy (for some… I personally hate playing them), like a flat set of pipes is a fun toy, but it’s more of a lateral move

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I was hesitant to use the word ‘toy’, but I agree.

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Just get the low D if that’s your goal. There’s no need for baby-steps toward it.

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All musical instruments are toys, if music is your hobby; tools, if music is your livelihood.

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I think DrSilverSpear was being a bit more nuanced, Richard. (i.e. ~ ‘, like a flat set of pipes is a fun toy,’)

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hmmm… I don’t think of my flat sets as toys, but to each their own. At least a low whistle is in the "toy" price range though.

I still think Emily was being nuanced, even if no one else sees it.
;

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My "flat" chanter in C is the opposite of a toy: I play it when I’m being paid, almost never otherwise.

Tools and toys aren’t defined by price. To the wealthy a million-dollar yacht is a toy, to the workman a $10 screwdriver is a tool.

A $20,000 set of uilleann pipes is a toy if you’re not being paid to play it, while my old whistle that cost $5 back in the 1970s is a tool.

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A consideration may also be the ‘reach’ of your arms. I found this out when I offered a low D to a player and she refused saying she couldn’t reach the end notes- her arm length. Same response when I then offered a conical low D thinking it was a concern over her fingering- again her arm length. She wasn’t comfortable reaching for the bottom notes on that instrument. Her arms were close to full stretch for the bottom notes.
I’m 6’2" and it was something I’d never thought of since I find the world to be built around the size of leprechauns (nothing fits off the store shelf, and even the shelf is too close to the floor) ;) tongue-in-cheek.

Btw, the difference between the two styles of the low D pipe itself is going to be your breath- conical builds back pressure while straight pipe takes more wind. (prolly the wrong terms but no flames required)

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