Whistle Selection Tips
The many choices involved in a whistle purchase can seem bewildering at first. You can buy whistles in any key, and made from virtually every conceivable material – from brass to ABS plastic. If your objective is just to try to learn the instrument and find out if you like to play it, you should definitely start out with a whistle in the key of D. Virtually all of the music for whistle is written in the keys of D and G, and you'll also need a D or G whistle to play along with tutorials and other learning materials.
Whistles are gloriously inexpensive (starting at $10), and many of the top players insist that only their favorite budget-priced model has the right sound. With so many great-sounding whistles available at $25 or below, if you choose the wrong model, you can try out a different one without losing a lot of money.
Below are some tips for successfully navigating your way through the two unavoidable selection decisions: choosing your whistle's material and choosing a key.
Whistles can vary based on many factors—by manufacturer, materials, and craftsmanship, among others. As you read on, bear in mind that generalizations about the tone of certain materials are only true in the most general sense, and may not hold up across the full range of products available. The products listed below, with the exception of the Kerry Chieftain Songbird, are entry-level whistles perfect for beginners, and available at entry-level prices.
Whistle connoisseurs have been known to say that:
- Tin whistles with a wooden fipple have a breathiness to them,
a flute-like sound. An example is this rolled tinplate Clarke
Pennywhistle, High C.
- Tin whistles with plastic mouthpieces give happy, round tones. Here's
Celtic Tinwhistle in D, which has a plastic fipple instead of
the hardwood one.
- Nickel whistles have a brighter tone. An example is this Shaw
solid nickel silver whistle in D, with a hardwood block.
- Brass whistles have a softer tone. This Walton's model is an example.
- ABS plastic whistles have a pleasing round sound. Ultra-hard ABS plastic also travels well, and is very difficult to damage. The Dublin and Kildare models from Susato are considered excellent, such as these two high D models.
- Aluminium is great whistle material, but the differences in sound between models make it more difficult to generalize. Try this entry-level Harper, or the significantly fancier Kerry Chieftain Songbird tunable aluminium alloy model.
Choosing a Key
There are definitely some decisions involved in choosing a whistle's key. Soprano or low models? Key of D, C, G, or something else? As mentioned at the very beginning of this article, get a whistle in the key of D if you are just starting out. An exception might be made in the case of a young child, where smaller models in the keys of G or F can offer surer fingering for tiny hands.
The Low D Whistle Controversy
Perhaps you have asked yourself the following question. “I fell in love with the sound of that Low D whistle they featured in Titanic and Braveheart. Should I just go ahead and get the low D whistle now, since I'll end up getting one later anyway?”
The short answer would be no. The low D is much harder to play for a beginner, which can lead to frustration and abandoning the instrument altogether. Best to get the small high D and get accustomed to the fingerings before attempting to move up.
In your selection process, you have the option of bridging the size/fingering
gap between a high D and a low D. If you get a low whistle that is smaller
(say in the key of G, for example), you can gradually get used to playing
a larger instrument. The ABS plastic Dublin
Low G by Susato is ideal for
Here are some Low D whistles in a variety of materials.