What Should I Consider When Choosing a Tin Whistle?

A Kaminsky
A Kaminsky
Woman with hand on her hip
Woman with hand on her hip

Learning to play an Irish tin whistle can be fun, as it is an instrument that matches well with many other acoustic sounds. Many people, when faced with the number of brands on the market, may be confused about which one to buy. Before choosing one, consider your level of experience, the price of the whistle, what metal it's made of, and the pitch.

The first thing to consider when choosing a tin whistle is your experience level. A beginner will want to choose a whistle that is easy to play and isn't too expensive. Many brands fall into this category, and some have a plastic mouthpiece that makes them easier to play. Many expert players prefer ones with a wooden fipple in the metal mouthpiece because they are the most traditional and have an authentic, breathy tone.

A basic, beginner's whistle can be quite inexpensive, often costing less than $10 US Dollars (USD). One nice thing about the tin whistle is that, although they can be very expensive, even professional players are likely to have several inexpensive ones lying around, just for practice. It's no disgrace to have an inexpensive whistle, and many sound nearly as nice as their pricey counterparts.

Another consideration is the composition of the whistle. Despite the name, most aren't actually made from tin — although a few still are. Most metal whistles are made of brass, but the more expensive whistles are made from molded plastic, which means the pitch does not change as the whistle is played. Since metal expands and contracts, this type of whistle may change slightly in pitch as it is played. There are a few hand-made wood whistles, which are usually very expensive.

Most beginners will choose an inexpensve tin whistle, while intermediate and advanced players will buy more expensive models. As a result, price isn't as much of a factor as pitch. A first whistle should probably be a "D" whistle. Most Irish folk songs are in this pitch, so this will enable the player to learn tunes that don't require learning to play accidentals, which isn't always easy.

Tin whistles are sold all over the Internet and many sites have sound clips of that whistle playing a short tune so the shopper can hear how it sounds. Some whistles are bright, some are mellow, some sweet, and some breathy — it all depends on the manufacturer. A beginner should also get a book about playing the instrument. It may also be fun for a player to find out if there are any traditional music hobby groups in the area and join. There he can learn new songs and techniques.

Discussion Comments


I have a D whistle that's made of plastic, and it's a great whistle. As the article mentions, it doesn't change pitch as it's played, although, I can move the mouthpiece to change the pitch slightly.

The nice thing about plastic whistles is they're durable, but mine is a good one and it was about $35, if I recall correctly. So, that's a consideration, since there are so many whistles on the market that are much cheaper, and still sound really nice.

Some websites that specialize in Irish instruments have sound samples so a buyer can hear what a whistle sounds like before buying one. I like a sweet, mellow tone and a whistle that "flips" into its high register fairly easily. I also want a mellower sound even in the high registers, since sometimes they're a little shrill.

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