Tin whistle tips from an old flutist

I refuse to let my son’s tin whistle become disgusting. Enter old flute tricks. Note: I also played bass clarinet and piano. But flutist tips are most relevant here.

  1. Spit cloth & cleaning rod – I highly doubt you want to purchase an actual cleaning rod and fancy spit cloth. Cut an old rag into a thin strip, about an inch thick. Tape 3 wooden skewers together and cut off their pointy ends with some fine kitchen shears – you know, the ones you use to cut through meat and bones. Wrap the end of the taped skewers with about an inch of fabric, like the amount you see here in the picture (below) and jam it all the way into the tin whistle from the base to the tip. Give it a good Harvard swish or two. Let the cloth air dry inbetween playing. Throw the cloth into the washer when it’s funky. If you’re really special you might sew the edge of your cloth. But “I ain’t got no time fo’ that.” Plus, the thicker the edges, the harder it is to jam. And “I ain’t about no struggle”.
  2. Don’t play after eating sugar. Nor with dirty fingers. Duh. Brush your teeth if you must have sugar first. That rule goes for your kids too.
  3. Unless your kid is becoming a woodwind player tape over the bottom half of the holes so it’s easier to get a “real note” out of these little instruments (for younger children).
  4. Slightly curved fingers play better notes than stiff fingers.
  5. Don’t push your lips over the fipple. Back off. You’re smothering her. *that sounds wrong. I’m feeling fiesty tonight.*
  6. Just a little wind is plenty. Less is more. Tell your kids that “less air is more”. This is true in so many other situations too. Ha!
  7. To separate notes, barely tap the mouthpiece with your tongue. There, that’ll do.
  8. Breathe through your diaphragm. Vibrato happens from your diaphragm too. Vibrato will make the notes sound less threatening and more in tune. Start slow and stay slow until you develop control over your diaphragm. *Intonation is probably way too much to ask of a tin whistle. But if you progress your kids through each of these steps above you’ll all thank each other later.*
  9. For the love of all musicians, please say the correct names for the notes. When they have this sharp (#) next to them, say (note name) sharp. Because in B scale, F# and C# are sharp. And this really means something to musicians and musicians-in-training. Otherwise your child will excel in creating dissonance when he or she tries to transfer his or her note-reading skills elsewhere, or play with other musicians. Translation: a sharp (#) is an entire half step above a regular note. On a piano, it’s the “black key” right above the “white key”.
  10. Control and accuracy are far better than speed. Build muscle memory first, then work on speeding up the tempo to a normal pace. 
  11. Work on memorizing music a phrase at a time (ex: try playing “hot cross buns”. Master this phrase once before playing it twice in a row. Get the phrasing correct, holding the third note for two beats. Then work on playing it twice in a row: “Hot cross buns. Hot cross buns.” Get the phrasing right. Then work on “one a penny, two a penny”. Get the phrasing right. Put those together: “Hot cross buns. Hot cross buns. One a penny, two a penny.” Lastly, add the ending to the song: “Hot cross buns, hot cross buns, one a penny, two a penny, hot cross buns.” 
  12. It takes a long time to build breath control. Teach your child to take short efficient breaths between phrases where they naturally fall. They will not get dizzy and faint if they are light in their air flow and taking shorter efficient breaths into their diaphragms instead of deep belly-filling breaths. I hope that description made sense.

Okay, that’ll do. Happy playing! I hope these tips keep you and your little musicians a little happier!

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