Irish Tin Whistle Revisited

So the other day my wife arose from an intense reorganization session in the basement, gave me a look and said “guess what I found?” in a sing-song voice. There’s a ton of things that have gone missing in our house and it was hard to guess. She beat me to it by holding out my Clarke Pennywhistle (affiliate link). Maybe a year ago I’d gone looking for it, and come up with a bit less hair but otherwise empty handed.

I’d bought it back in the 90’s, to play while hiking and backpacking. I’d gotten the Clarke book and cassette, promptly lost the cassette, and learned a few tunes before (I think) I got distracted by the guitar. This happens – I get into one instrument, and then another calls. By the way, I still pick up the guitar.

Anyway it being recently found I decided to give it a try again.

I’ve started learning some tunes, and accumulating some whistles – they’re very cheap, $20 is the high end – and a few books. I’ve discovered that copying the tunes down into my music Moleskine both puts them into a nice, easy to carry format and also prompts some learning from a different perspective. When copying the notes, I think about the melody and rhythm as I do it, which helps a bit. Having only a handful of songs available keeps me focused. I’ve found that copying them requires intense concentration (I do it in ink) to avoid mistakes, and it’s an excellent way to take a break from something.

The Chiff and Fipple, the main online site for tin whistling, is a great please to learn about the surprisingly large world of tin whistling and the forum has been a great resource.

One of the things I’d learned was that a lot of folks use stoplight waiting time to practice. While stopped at a light, it’s easy to pick up the whistle, play a few bars or a song or two. Light turns green, you drop the whistle, and on your way you go. I drive surface streets to work, through perhaps ten lights along with a set of train tracks. I now see red lights and trains as an opportunity rather than an inconvenience.

The girls enjoy tooting on them as well, but don’t yet have the dexterity or attention span to really learn music yet. Soon.

Another aspect of this is that you can make your own whistles and flutes out of PVC pipe – they have the same fingering. I’ve made a few flutes, but the main thing I’ve learned so far is that getting a clear, solid tone out of a flute is far more difficult than one would think!

If you’re looking for a cheap, simple way to bring a little music into your life, give the tin whistle a try.

My Music Moleskine

Ever since Moleskine started making their music notebook (affiliate link*)I thought they were cool, but there’s not much use for one other than music so I resisted buying one.

When I revived my guitar playing a year ago I finally bought one. I wasn’t writing music, but I wanted a place to record little riffs and bits that I picked up here and there. It actually didn’t work out. TAB is much easier to use for guitar, and that is one format Moleskine doesn’t do yet.

But more recently I restarted an interested in learning the penny whistle. And again, out came the music notebook to write down a tune I’d found – one of the bits of fife music from The Patriot. Anyway, this time it worked out much better and before long I’d filled up 15 pages with 20 tunes. Normal musical notation is perfect for the whistle – hardly any ledger lines – and it works great for putting all the tunes I’m learning in one easy to carry place.


I’ve been using three different pens to write the tunes. A Pilot G2 gel pen in .5mm works ok, but is a tad wide. My Pelikan M200 with a home-ground italic was a little disappointing. I’d thought it would give me the roman-style line thicknesses I see in printed music, but it didn’t. It just didn’t work as well, and neither did the color of the ink. I’ve landed on my Namiki Vanishing Point in fine, black Namiki ink. It works a tad better than the G2, and is portable enough to take anywhere and toss in any bag.

Make sure ink is dry before you close the book. Little dots of undried ink in a writing journal causes no harm, and may even bring charm. In a music notebook it can cause dotted notes. Ditto with bleeding ink. This may rule out some wetter fountain pens. So far mine have been ok.

I’d thought it would be hard to write anything I’d be able to read while playing, but I actually find I prefer the denser style I write the notation in. Printed notation tends to make the bars all the same width, and allows more space to longer notes. I find that tedious to read, so I write them more densely. A whistle tune easily fits on a page or less, so it will be a few hundred tunes before I can fill up this book.

*You can assume any link is an affiliate link on this post. I own and use all of these items, and they work well for me.