September 28, 2023
Penny Whistle

Irish Tin penny whistle looks simple, but it is not. Basics are easy, with the simple fingering and limited tone holes. However, there are some more advanced techniques to master that define the sound. This article provides a short overview of several of those techniques. It then presents a variation on one that creates its own distinctive sound.

Basic Irish Tin penny whistle Decor
Irish tin horn players will learn two basic ornaments: cuts and tappings. They are “accents” that can be added to notes, but aren’t meant to stand alone as notes. The two are used as a way to accent transitions from one note to another, or to shorten a long, sustained note. You can “cut” notes by lifting your finger up above the bottom one of the instrument, while playing it, then putting it down quickly. To “tap”, you do as you would expect, tapping the tonehole below the lowermost finger. This might be confusing. To make it easier, you can use a picture. Imagine the Xs and Os as tone holes in a penny whistle sound, with X being a covered and O an uncovered hole.

To play the A note, place the left middle and index fingers on top of two holes. If you want to play that note on the left, lift your index finger and tap it with your ring finger.

The Flat Tap Technique

You can now learn how to play the flat tap. The ornament you use is the same as a regular tap. However, instead of tapping directly on the note, you will skip over two or three tone holes, and then tap it. It is the tinny penny whistle that gives the flat side of this ornament. This is how you can play a note with a flatter pitch by covering the lower hole. Three holes are usually enough to lower the pitch. If you were to tap the middle finger of your right hand on the “A” note in the example, it would look like this:

The X-X O

O O — Press here. O . The flat tap can be used for ornamentation in traditional music that does not call for the use of sharps and/or flats. A flat tap is a subtle way of accentuating a change in pitch. However, it’s more commonly used for a rapid tap on a single note that produces a vibrating, trilling sound, particularly when playing long notes. In the resources section of the website, John Sheahan (fiddler, penny whistle, and occasionally fiddler for the Dubliners) uses this vibrating technique very effectively in his musical version of Raglan Road.

This technique is not often used, however, when it is used on certain songs and in the right way, the result can be a subtle, yet effective enhancement of the song. penny whistle players should add this skill to their repertoire.

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