Thursday, July 01, 2010


Earlier this week I was re-inspired by this video to do something I've been considering for about the past ten years…to learn how to play the tin whistle.

Of course, with our move coming up, I figured it would be something I'd leave until I'd got settled again in England. We're saving as much as possible right now and we're having to sell and get rid of so much stuff that we don't really want to be buying more stuff.

However, a quick check online showed I could buy a decent whistle for about eight dollars. In fact, it appeared that once you went above fifteen dollars, you were paying for decoration…or non-essential 'luxuries', like a whistle made from solid sterling silver.

I decided to go for it. I figured it was a cheap way to keep myself entertained (especially as I have even more time on my hands now I'm not spending two to three hours a day looking for work) and with having to sell my guitar and keyboard, it'd be nice to have a small, cheap instrument that I can actually take with me.

So while we were out running errands, we stopped at easley's one and only music store (there are actually three, but two of those only sell guitars) and went inside.

After a few minutes drooling over the guitars, including a classic sunburst colored Gibson SG that gave me a feeling akin to unexpectedly coming across a photograph of an old, deceased fried, I walked up to the counter and asked the guy if they sold Tin Whistles.

He looked at me like I'd grown an extra head.

"What's a tin whistle?" He said. "You mean a recorder?"

"No." I said. "A tin whistle. Also known as a Penny Whistle or Irish flute."

"Uhh…are you sure you don't mean a recorder."

"No." I said, again. "A tin whistle…an English Flageolet"

I reeled off every name I knew for the instrument. The guy looked more and more confused until an assistant said "I think I know what he's talking about."…he walked to a case behind the counter and came back with…a recorder.

At this point, I gave up…but something occurred to me. In my research I discovered that the Tin Whistle and Recorder come from the basically the same 'family'. In other words, what I learned on the recorder could be easily applied to the whistle…and unless I wanted to go online and pay five bucks for a tin whistle…and fifteen or twenty on shipping…a recorder was a decent substitute. In fact, I remembered in high school where if you wanted to learn the saxophone, they'd start you on a recorder, then step you up to a Clarinet, and then teach you the sax.

So I figured it was good enough…especially if I got really into woodwind instruments and wanted to learn something more complicated later.

"Well…no." I said to the assistant. "It's still not what I'm looking for, but it'll do. How much is it?" I asked…bracing for the worst.

"That?" He said. "five bucks."

"Sold." I said.

Within fifteen minutes of getting it home, I discovered it was a lot harder than I thought it would be…but I was having a lot of fun.

You see, there are only about 25 possible fingerings on a recorder. Once you've learned the 25 finger positions, you can make every sound the recorder can make. I could already read music (although I'm far from fluent)…but I had no idea how important breath-control was.

Especially for the lower notes, there's a really small 'sweet spot' where too little breath and the note is unstable and two much and the recorder makes the sound of a cat going to the bathroom through a sewn up butthole,

Basically, it was exactly what I wanted. Difficult enough to be interesting, easy enough to make significant progress without getting frustrated…and common enough to where there's an absolute ton of free lessons and material on the internet.

It was a really weird experience to start learning though. I'm going from guitar where I can think of a song I like, find the music online and just play it…to sitting in front of the computer, recorder in hand and struggling with 'Frere Jaques' and 'three blind mice'.



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