In this lesson, we are going to talk about how to properly blow into a tin whistle and create your first sound. Learning to blow the whistle correctly is one of those things that are easy to overlook, even though it’s the foundation. When it comes to woodwinds, consider the airflow as a crucial part of the instrument. It’s like fuel to an engine. So, grab the whistle, and let’s start making it sound good!
Avoid touching your teeth
As we mentioned in the previous lesson which explains how to correctly hold the whistle, put the mouthpiece between your lips while making sure you are not touching your teeth with it.
Make a correct posture
We need to allow unobstructed airflow from your lungs and mouth all the way to the whistle. Be relaxed, but make sure to sit upright. Or stand, if you prefer.
Try moving the mouthpiece to find the sweet spot
If you ask yourself why the whistle sounds squeaky (not clear sounding), do not worry. It might be tricky at the beginning. First, keep in mind that a tin whistle lower octave notes need less air than the upper octave ones, even though the fingering is the same. That’s how you actually jump through the octaves. But, generally speaking, some whistles require more air than others, while some are very easy to overblow. Not to mention different mouthpiece types. So, we suggest you start with the lowest note, usually D (all holes covered), as this note is the air pressure threshold.
As a rule of thumb, it’s usually best not to blow directly into the whistle. Try to slightly move the mouthpiece up and down inside your lips until you find the perfect angle for the airflow. You will hear the point where the whistle starts to sound more clear. Every single whistle requires a slightly different mouthpiece position and a certain amount of air on ceratin notes. Keep that in mind as even if you are not a total beginner, once you switch to another whistle type (brand), it will take some time to get used to it.
Also, one of the most common beginner mistakes is to start blowing too hard. Do not overblow as it is very easy to do it, especially at a lower octave. A good beginner exercise is that you put the whistle aside, then start blowing with the mouth closed, holding your breath. You should feel the air pressure. Try to manipulate it. Now try this with the whistle inside your mouth. Start with very low pressure and raise it until you have just enough air to hear the consistent rich sound of the whistle. This one is hard to explain, but you will feel when it sounds just right. There you go!
Breaking through the upper octave
Fingering for the upper octave is the same, and you reach the higher octave notes by blowing harder. However, most beginners find it especially tricky to control the airflow on higher notes. First of all, you should keep in mind that mastering the higher octave takes more time and practice, so don’t get disappointed if you don’t sound great after your first whistling day. When it comes to the notes on a higher octave, a good tip is to start blowing in shorter bursts (not longer than a second). Once you get the correct sound, try to lengthen the duration of the notes.
Also, when a tune or a musical part starts with a higher note, it’s very common to use tonguing (next lesson) instead of just blowing. Tonguing is what gives more accent and an initial “punch” to the note, which usually helps to reach the required amount of air pressure.
Keep practicing to get used to the right amount of the air pressure
Start with the lowest D note (all holes covered), and then play a full scale on the lower octave (D, E, F#, G, A, B, C#, D), and then go backward. Once you think the lower octave sounds good, move to the upper octave and play the scale too. Another useful exercise is to do octave jumps on the same note. So, play lower D, then upper D, repeat a couple of times, and move on to the next note. When it starts to feel boring (as playing scales always does), play and jump though some notes freely, creating a random melody. Or, try to replicate an easy and slow song you are familiar with.
Remember, the goal at this point is to learn how to control your breath and the airflow. Don’t bother with unnecessary “rings and bells”. We’ll come to that later.