Tin whistle- to tongue or not to tongue?

Tin whistle- to tongue or not to tongue?

My tendonitis has been bad lately, so I’ve been taking time off from the harp and focusing on the tin whistle- an instrument I’ve never taken too seriously up until now. In doing so, I’m trying to decide exactly how often I should tongue the notes. I know there are various schools of thought, from not tonguing at all to tonguing only certain notes for emphasis to tonguing every note. I’d like to get some opinions on this. I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

Re: Tin whistle- to tongue or not to tongue?

Tonguing on whistle is accepted far more than on flute. However, when and how will depend on your style and use of ornaments. On both instruments, I play what I hear in my head. If you are steeped in the music, you’ll get it right by instinct. Listen to what others do for direction and inspiration, but don’t imitate. Find your own flow and the articulation will come.

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Re: Tin whistle- to tongue or not to tongue?

I’m no expert on tin whistle but I do enjoy the instrument, personally I think it depends on the tune and the melody. Sometimes parts of a tune (or entire tunes) sound better with the tongue than other parts, and when I want to add emphasis to certain segment or distinguish notes from the notes before and after the tongue technique seems to be effective. I suppose if you are trying to play legato style maybe the tongue would not help.

Good luck in your playing!

Re: Tin whistle- to tongue or not to tongue?

How much tonguing you use is ultimately up to you – whatever suits your musical sensibilities, or who you are trying to emulate (Willie Clancy used very little tonguing; Sean Ryan hardly plays a note without tonguing – at *least* once).

But a useful thing to bear in mind – not necessarily obvious at first – is that tonguing a note cuts short the note *before* it, thus giving it a staccato emphasis; so, to emphasise a note, tongue the note *after* it. There are other ways to emphasise a note, of course, but this is a common one.

Re: Tin whistle- to tongue or not to tongue?

@Wodanaz – You are right, more tonguing than I remembered. He plays some passages with a lot of tonguing and some with very little. I imagine this corresponds to how he would have used closed and open fingerings on the pipes.

Re: Tin whistle- to tongue or not to tongue?

I am wondering about the tonguing question too. If I tongue a lot it sounds like I’m tooting a bit too much. I’ve found that if I focus on the phrasing tonguing helps shape the tune. As everyone has said, it’s about how you feel the tune should go, trad or some variation thereof.

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Re: Tin whistle- to tongue or not to tongue?

Tonguing and fingering are just different ways of articulating and separating notes.

If you think of the whistle as a rhythm instrument, the question becomes: How should you use articulations to express the rhythm? Yes, and then listen.

I think of Mary Bergin as a very rhythmic player, and she uses quite a bit of tonguing.

Re: Tin whistle- to tongue or not to tongue?

“I know there are various schools of thought, from not tonguing at all to tonguing only certain notes for emphasis to tonguing every note…”

Tonguing every note is going to sound like a Recorder-player playing whistle.

Keep in mind that even with whistle-players who do lots of tonguing, the tonguing serves to impart selected articulation, emphasis, and phrasing to an essentially flowing music.

Yes there are various schools of thought, but if you set aside the outliers, the two extremities of the bell-shaped curve, and look at the middle third, you’ll hear a certain agreement as to what is usual or normal. I think that’s what to aim for at first. (Every time any stylistic discussion begins people will put forward the players at the extremes as examples; I’m of the “push outward from the centre” way of thinking.)

For sure Mary Bergin has been hugely influential and a great starting-place is to do hours of listening to her.

Now I’ve been talking High Whistles, for example the traditional Generation sizes from Bb on up.

Low Whistles are relatively recent, the 1970s, and you’ll hear the gamut from people playing them more or less like flutes to people playing them more or less like High Whistles.

Around a decade ago when hand cramping led to quitting flute and switching to Low Whistle I went through various styles regarding how much articulation to use. Like many Low Whistle players I’ve ended up somewhere in the middle, between traditional High Whistle playing and traditional flute playing.

BTW in my decades of playing Irish flute I hardly tongued at all. Diaphragm pushes yes, tonguing almost none. (I’ve heard some Irish flute players refer to diaphragm pushes as “tonguing” but I’m using “tonguing” in the sense of articulation done with the tongue.)

Re: Tin whistle- to tongue or not to tongue?

I think that where a lot of this no tonguing stuff comes from is a belief (which I believe to be false) that the Uillean pipes are like the ultimate traditional instrument and so if you play a wind instrument you’re supposed to have a constant stream of air and imitate a bagpipe. Seamus Tansey hardly if ever tongued and he was the pit bull for traditional playing. So the idea was to make all of your stops be either glottal or with the fingers. He would make the kind of statements that it all started with the Uillean pipes, etc. Again I don’t believe it for one moment.

To me that only limits the instrument. Newer players show me that I don’t want to limit myself and my abilities. I still tongue only about as much as Willie Clancy. I mostly let my fingers do the talking. However I envy people like Brian Finnegan and I half heartedly practice tonguing these days but still haven’t introduced it to a tune as yet.

The truth as I see it is that Uillean pipes weren’t even invented until the mid 1800s. So to me it’s not all that traditional. To be quite frank I don’t see instruments as being traditional.

To me Sean-nós is the only real traditional Irish music. When we are being most traditional with our instruments would be playing a slow air which imitates Sean-nós ornaments and feel. After that heavily ornamented jigs reels etc is the most traditional way to play in my opinion. I don’t put the pipes on a pedestal.

Everyone would have a different opinion to be sure. However the players that won’t tongue at all would be few indeed and the leading modern players tongue a whole lot.

You have to remember that there was no internet when these rumors got started. Some old fiddle player in a bar could tell you something ridiculous and you could structure your whole life around it without ever having the ability to google it and see if it was true.

Re: Tin whistle- to tongue or not to tongue?

“…without ever having the ability to google it and see if it was true.”

“Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet.”
—Ernest Shackleton

😎

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Re: Tin whistle- to tongue or not to tongue?

To tongue or not to to tongue? Yes, that’s right!
@ gimpy… very funny mate!.

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Re: Tin whistle- to tongue or not to tongue?

Personal Intermediate view:
I tongue a lot and have been down this research hole many times!

I found an issue was “tonguing” means different things to different people, so it’s tricky to get a consensus.

For some it’s the act of mouthing a hard “T” which gives an occasional (or regular) percussive “hit” to a note, whilst your fingers keep the rhythm

For others (like me) it’s *extremely* lightly touching the top of your mouth with your tongue between some/lots of notes to lightly stop the flow of air before a note, to provide a reel/jig etc pulse.

Personally I think an important distinction is where the primary rhythm/heartbeat come from, is it your fingers or your tongue.

If I’m honest, for me it’s my tongue, and I think that’s limiting.

It’s especially noticeable when you play faster as your tunes still have to incorporate the many tiny microsecond pauses.

I’m trying hard to change this habit.
If I could start again, I’d originally learn with no tonguing (my rhythm fully coming from fingers and finger ornamentation (cuts etc)), and then incorporate it down the line.

(As a side issue, I’m also personally convinced tonguing worsens a whistle condensation clogging)

Re: Tin whistle- to tongue or not to tongue?

To tongue or not to tongue… As Polonius ought to have said: Avoid absolutes. And there are many different ways to tongue. Heavy, light, double, triple, et.c… And there are Glottal stops and there are cuts, taps and slides. And you can mix them. And they all sound different. So, do what sounds right for what you want to achieve in a given place. Here are a couple to try as a contrast:
1. Very light tongueing with the tip of the tongue. Either with e “t” or a “k”. Contrast with heavy tongueing with “d” and “g”.
2. Same with a cut simultaneously.
3. Glottal stop - small throat-clearing through to heavy cough.
4. Same with cut. Timed right, probably the most pronounced emphasis I know to do.
5. Double tongueing triplets (“t-k-t” or “d-g-d”) vs short/long rolls vs glottaled triplets. e.g. in Brenda Stubbert’s
6. Both of the above, i.e. tonguing or glottalling the individual cuts and taps of a roll.
7. Now mix in breath pulses with all of the above.

Now, do all of the above while recording and see how they sound to someone else - compare with how they sound to you while playing them yourself.

Re: Tin whistle- to tongue or not to tongue?

And I haven’t even started with throat tuning and singing while playing either the same note or a different one..

Re: Tin whistle- to tongue or not to tongue?

And apart from the finger ornaments, none of that is possible on the pipes… But then, we can’t accompany ourselves either.

Re: Tin whistle- to tongue or not to tongue?

I tried throat singing and whistling this week and, trust me. there will be no YT video. Well, maybe TikTok in a week or two. Just thinking about being able to say no piper could do it.

Re: Tin whistle- to tongue or not to tongue?

Brian Finnegan in a workshop encouraged even using tonguing on flute, saying that it is a part of your body, why not use it? The important thing is how it sounds. Listening to recordings and trying to emulate how it sounds, it matters less what you do to get that sound than what the end result is. Of course, you have to critically listen to yourself, preferably through recording. And obviously doing some of the same things that hundreds of highly skilled musicians have used to get those sounds is more likely to yield success. But very few things are universally agreed upon among the pros, partly leading to them having different and all lovely sounding styles. I’ve had several self-taught teachers who just played records over and over trying to emulate the greats and came up with their own techniques. And also trying to emulate sounds of other instruments can get you into a creative, but still traditional-sounding place.

Re: Tin whistle- to tongue or not to tongue?

Flute & whistle are different. On tin whistle tongue to your heart’s content.
Peace; ~ out.

edit:but please, no glottal stops. Not on whistle!

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Re: Tin whistle- to tongue or not to tongue?

No glottal stops on the whistle AB - why ever not?

(As a side issue, I’m also personally convinced tonguing worsens a whistle condensation clogging)
# Posted by belayatron 6 days ago.
Whistle clogging is a player issue not a whistle issue but the opposite of this claim is true, tonguing helps prevent clogging.

Re: Tin whistle- to tongue or not to tongue?

bogman, that’s just me. Anyone who can use glottal stops on whistle and achieve the desired effect that’s fine for them. I don’t on whistle. Conal Ó Gráda mentioned in a recent workshop (tune was Nóta Stóta) the glottal stops he plays on flute are substituted with tonguing when he plays whistle. He demonstrated whistle glottal stops and said there’s not enough back pressure (whistle) so he tongues instead.

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