Pointless

Pointless

Been playing the whistle for ~25 years. Have various whistles - a Copeland low D, a Michael Burke low C, lots of Goldies and Phil Hardy whistles + some tin whistles.
Can’t play any of them. Well, i can - up to a point. Even with the Copeland which is pretty forgiving, i have clogging problems, usually within the first 1 min of playing a tune. So i can’t get through a set. Tried playing softer, louder, harder. Nothing helps.
Even with my new whistle (the Burke low C) which hasn’t had time to get filthy and has a gaping huge windway its impossible. Tried playing through when it starts to clog up, it gets more and more like having to shout into it, and ramp the pressure up to force a note through, sounds worse and worse.
With the Goldies, i’ve given up. They evidently don’t suit me, with their reed-thin mouthpieces, and their aluminium which corrodes, and the backpressure. Fine whistles, its my fault.
(i guess the aluminium Burke low C will become even more unplayable as the aluminium corrodes?)
I’m not sure why. I think i’m very wet-breathing? I also get nervous. I wonder though if there’s something i’m missing. (seems simple enough: Put into mouth and blow. Harder for upper octave, softer for lower…) I mostly taiught myself to play, then attended folkworks summer schools each year. Maybe theres something fundamental i’m doing wrong. People on here talk about back-pressure and stuff, i honestly have no idea what they’re on about.
pointless. perhaps i just wasn’t meant to play the whistle.

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Someone will eventually suggest this, so it might as well be me. 🙂 If you’ve had that much trouble over the years with whistles, have you considered trying flute as an alternative? Maybe an entry-level Delrin or Casey Burns Folk Flute?

There can be issues with condensation build-up in flutes, but they usually don’t arrive in the first minute of playing. It’s easily dealt with by discreetly blowing out the flute with all the tone holes covered. Or just let it drip out the end onto a session mate’s leg (well, pre-pandemic anyway). There are no back-pressure issues like a whistle, because you form that pressure with mouth embouchure. With 25 years of whistle experience your fingerings for tunes will carry over directly, aside from maybe one or two cross-fingerings.

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thanks @conicalbore : never got the knack of flute embrochure, need someone to show me lol.

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Have you considered treating your whistle windways with Duponol? Works miracles for me to prevent clogging.

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What’s Duponol?
I was cleaning my new low C with isopropyl alcohol as suggested.
Ironically i wonder if that’s what i did wrong - the Burke low C has a fat slide unit which the barrel and headpiece slide into. The slide unit is greased inside, so i wonder if i’ve smeared the grease inside the barrel, which probably wouldn’t help.

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I got a tip from Marc Duff (Cappercaillie) for Goldies

He said to spend a good time warming up the wind way - blowing through while putting your finger over the sound hole until it warms up - even close to a minute or so. I also blow through the finger holes at the bottom to really warm the whole thing up.

I find I have to regularly clean to avoid clogging - but I just use soap and water - leaving it in for a bit - and using a ripped bit of card (roughed at the edges) to scrub the inside gently of whatever the hell that stuff is.

Ripping the side off a train ticket in the middle of a sesh often looks suspicious to many…

I have to agree that clogging is an issue - one competition I entered (it was really a bit of fun) went down hill because the horrendous blocking - it just sounded weak at the start and I hadn’t warmed it up either.

Anyways - your a great player - I had named my profile before finding your old band (honest!) but after that I’ve always found your playing an inspiration- and love to shove a wee choonz set on when I fancy a fun & jazzy fart about on the whistle 😀

I’ve always wanted to bump into you at a sesh somewhere - so please keep it up - hopefully with a wee regime change you’ll be free from worries!

Cheers!

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Duponal is one of many trade names sodium lauryl sulfate, a surfactant used in soaps, shampoos, and cosmetics:

https://www.thespruce.com/sodium-lauryl-sulfate-how-its-used-1707031

I got mine from Amazon, a little goes a very long way…

Here is what I bought, unfortunately not available anymore, but it’s also used in soap making so should be easy enough to find an alternative source:

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B012HKW3OQ/

Looks like this is equivalent:

https://www.amazon.com/Perfume-Studio-Soap-Making-Supplies/dp/B0771TYDMT/

I use a paper match stick to coat the inside of the windway with the stuff and let it dry. Lasts a good long time. Compared to something awful like Jet Dry, which I’ve heard people try, it has essentially no taste if you suck air through the head to clear it should the need arise.

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I’ve had the same issue with the very narrow windway Goldies.

They sound amazing, but on one film score job, I was completely unable to get through a single take without my very narrow windway Goldie low F clogging on me. Even Duponol treatment didn’t improve things.

Not all of the Goldies are like that, most are awesome.

Originally I had two of them, sort of a matched set for doing the Lunasa duet F whistle thing. After a few years went by where I didn’t really play them, I decided I didn’t need two low-F whistles.

One had a fairly tall windway, the other a taller windway, but I liked the sound and backpressure of the narrow one better. So I sold the tall windway one.

Bad decision.

I didn’t realize my mistake until I had to use the narrow windway one for recording and hit the wall with the clogging.

The next day I ordered an new MK Low F (which never clogs) and put the Goldie up for sale.

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Cheers everyone.
The gist of things to try seems to be not to have so much of the whistle in my gob (thanks @weeman) and try some SLS in the windway (thanks @Michael Eskin).
Hum. The whistle’s such an intuitive instrument, you never stop to think, ‘maybe i’m doing it wrong’!
Yea @Michael Eskin, i can relate. I tried a few Goldie low E’s (narrow bore) before settling on the nicest sounding one (narrow windway). I tend to use the low E a lot, especially playing gigs. Trouble was as soon as it was winter, it wasn’t having any of it. I did a nice recording with it, and a gig at Priddy folk festival in the middle of a summer that was so blazing hot it was even sunny at Priddy for a change! But now its got a bit corroded as well, its hard to play, i rarely play it.

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A little bit of dish soap, or take a piece of waxed dental floss and run it up and down inside the mouthpiece, covering all surfaces.

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I always found warming the head of the whistle in my trouser waistband before playing was a really good way to reduce condensation.

Perversely, covering the soundhole and ‘blowing through’ in an attempt to warm it before playing often ( not always) resulted in bringing about the condensation issue I was trying to avoid.

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I feel for you Happy Camper because I was in the same position.

Highland pipers are generally aware if they’re a "wet blower" or a "dry blower". It’s important in a Pipe Band because you can have two pipers playing the same type of bag and the same type of reeds but the wet blower’s pipes will get soaking wet and the drones will start shutting off and the chanter will go flat while the dry blower’s pipes are fine.

So when it comes to whistles I know I’m a wet blower and I can clog a whistle in seconds. I never could get on with Overton-style whistles with narrow parallel windways. I played Burkes and MKs with curved windways and never had much trouble.

The people talking about warming up a whistle to prevent clogging amused me because I’ve had an Overton in the car in the summer where the whistle is almost too hot to touch, well over 100 degrees and far warmer than human breath, and it still clogs in seconds. Here in California our whistles are always warmed up, they never cool.

What did wonders for me was the toothpaste thing. You cut a thin piece of cardboard that just fits the windway and rub toothpaste all over the inside of the windway, top bottom and sides. Then wash it out and my whistle doesn’t clog for a year or more. I can play one of my Goldies for an hour, no problem.

Actually I can’t remember now if you wash the toothpaste out with plain water or soapy water.

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I usually use the tiny interdental brushes that the dentist kindly gives me at the end of each visit….thank you very much. They are great as they come about a dozen in a convenient 1 ½ inch square plastic container and can reach all the tiny crevasses of my fipple. I usually carry with me a small plastic vial of 40% dish soap (my favourite is Sunlight). Dip the brush in the dish soap and clean to your heart’s content being sure to approach from both ends of the windway. Once I am satisfied that it is clean, I cover the windway window and blow to dry. I do not rinse with water as I feel that a little soap residue helps prevent moisture build-up and if I clean carefully there is little soap remaining on the fipple that cannot be wiped off with a finger on napkin. I will also admit to the fact that I don’t consume drink or food while whistling (yes I commit sacrilege at a session) in order to eliminate salivating into my whistle…… works for me.

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Think about the underside of the ramp. I have made a few whistles and the cleanliness and sharpness of the
ramps underside is critical to the sound.
Dribble on regardless

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I wonder if anybody has had any success in training themselves to be a less wet breather? Seems like it would be best to solve the problem at it’s source, if possible. Sorry I don’t have any advice for you, but I do wish you luck. My double jointed fingers give me a grief now and then on the fiddle, so I know how much it sucks to be impeded by your own physicality.

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Interesting idea, the conventional wisdom in the piping world is that it’s something you’re born with.

For sure the pipe band world embrace a technique by which all the pipers in a band could put out the same moisture level. All the pipes would stay in tune with each other- I think nearly all of the of the pipes’ pitch drifting from each other is the blowing-moisture thing. Most of the innovations in the instrument in recent decades has been trying to control moisture, with synthetic bags and internal moisture-control systems involving kitty litter chambers etc.

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I’m sure I set next to you in a session at the Moniaive Festival (I remember sessions…) and you were playing well. Better than me!

I have a Goldie and it clogs more easily than every other whistle I’ve tried. I also have an ancient Feadog, which is lovely but too quiet for most sessions. Mostly, I play a whistle made by a friend near Moffat. One of the best whistles I’ve played was a Desi Seery I had on loan for a little while. Lovely whistle, very forgiving of any player!

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> the conventional wisdom in the piping world is that it’s something you’re born with.

My experience is that it’s something that gets better once you learn to play for 40 minutes straight. Some pipe band people never do that, which I think is a mistake. Play a couple of 6/8s, stop, drink of water, play first half of medley, stop, couple of 2/4 marches, stop. The mouth never learns to overcome the salivation reflex.

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@DrSilverSpear thanks. I remember that festival. Pretty funny that I lived 3 miles from there for years and went to school in thornhill, but that festival, he only time I went to it, I was freezing my particulars off in a tent. Brutally cold.

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"Play a couple of 6/8s…"
Is that piping shorthand for marches in 6/8?

edit;
I have plenty I could discuss on the OP’s topic. I have not posted because most of my *tips* have been posted by other whistlers. If I were to post it would be very close to the reply from Choons; his personal experiences & tips from Marc Duff. https://thesession.org/discussions/45196#comment902098

AB

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Re: Pointless

I find keeping the whistle head warm is a great help in preventing condensation, both for whistles and recorders. I’ve done that by keeping the whistle (or for other gigs, recorder) tucked in my clothing when I was not playing it. I’ve wondered about some sort of heat-retaining mouthpiece cap for the same purpose.

For those interested in experimenting, this page
https://www.recorderhomepage.net/history/innovations-in-recorder-design/
has some interesting ideas under "Solutions to the Condensation Problem." Drain holes? Absorbent materials? Slots? Sponges?

Hmm. How about an air turbine driving a mini water pump? 😉

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AB:

"Play a couple of 6/8s…"
Is that piping shorthand for marches in 6/8?

It is indeed. If the just say the time signature then it is a march. Any other tune type will be named.
So you have 2/4s, 6/8s, 4/4s, 3/4s etc. Then you have reels, strathspeys, jigs, etc.

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"I find keeping the whistle head warm is a great help in preventing condensation, both for whistles and recorders. I’ve done that by keeping the whistle (or for other gigs, recorder) tucked in my clothing when I was not playing it. I’ve wondered about some sort of heat-retaining mouthpiece cap for the same purpose."

As I was saying, recommendations like these don’t make much sense when the ambient air is warmer than body temperature, when a whistle is warmer sitting on a table than it is when you blow air through it, than it is tucking it under your armpit.

Not even if you had a life-threatening fever would your body temperature be as high as the air temperature I’ve played in at times. I guarantee it does not prevent condensation.