Beginners Guide To The Low Whistle And The Pipers Grip
Our handy guide to getting up and running on your new instrument!
The Low D Whistle is a versatile and much loved traditional Irish instrument but some may find it more challenging to get to grips with than other, smaller members of the whistle family. The challenge of the Low D Whistle is largely its size – the gaps between the notes are BIG and this requires a special technique to play, known as “The Piper’s Grip”. If you’ve picked up your new instrument and are finding it tricky – don’t despair! The Low D is a truly rewarding instrument to play and this guide will help you to get started on your beautiful new instrument!
Where to start?
If you’ve never played whistles before, follow this guide to get you started on how to blow a tin whistle! If you have played whistles before, see “adapting to a Low D Whistle” below.
Blowing your Penny Whistle: Place the mouthpiece gently against your lower lip, which should be curved over your bottom teeth. Allow your top lip to curl slightly and gently under your top front teeth and bring it to rest on top of the mouthpiece, opposing your bottom lip. Make sure the mouthpiece is centred in your mouth and not off to either side. Hold the whistle steady being careful not to cover any of the holes (or the hole at the bottom of the whistle), take a deep breath and blow a steady stream of air through the instrument.
• If your whistle squeaks, you may have blown too sharply – trying blowing more gently next time.
• If the sound you get form your whistle is a bit quiet and wobbly, try tightening your lips on the mouthpiece and blowing again.
Try to vary your blowing until you find a pleasing and consistent sound. Once you are happy with the sound you are making, then it’s time to move on to using your fingers and playing some different notes.
How to position your hands on your whistle:
On the whistle, your left hand plays the three tone holes nearest the mouthpiece (the top of the whistle) and your right hand plays the three tone holes furthest away from the mouthpiece (the bottom of the whistle). You will use your first three fingers on each hand for this.
PICTURE OF WHICH FINGERS YOU WILL USE FOR WHISTLE PLAYING
PICTURE OF HANDS ON WHISTLE.
INCLUDE A PICTURE OF HANDS ON A SOPRANO WHISTLE AS WELL AS ON A LOW D WHISTLE FOR CONTRAST. Once you have mastered playing the whistle without covering any of the holes (as described above), you can begin to try changing the note. The easiest note to start with is B which uses just the left hand index finger on the highest of the six tone holes.
PICTURE OF WHISLTE WITH ARROW/FINGER POINTING TO FIRST HOLE
Using the fleshy part of the middle segment of your index finger, try covering this hole. Make sure the hole is fully covered by your finger – if it is not, you will end up with the sharp of the note you are trying to achieve. Try going between the open note (C#) and the closed note you have just learnt (B) whilst blowing your whistle. Make sure that when you move to your open note you take your finger off quickly to avoid a siren effect.
PICTURE OF HAND POSITION FOR PLAYING B
Now you can play a note on the whistle, take a look at our “Piper’s Grip” instructions below and see if you can get both of your hands set up.
The Piper’s Grip
Whilst the fingering note-wise is the same across all kinds of whistles, the larger holes and greater spacing between holes on the Low D Whistle requires a slightly different approach to that on smaller tin whistles. For high whistles, using your fingertips is perfect, but for low whistles you will need to adopt “The (adapted) Piper’s Grip”.
So called because it is a style of playing which originate from the Uillean Pipes (but just so happens to suit the Low D Whistle), The Piper’s Grip uses a mix of fingertips and the segments lower down your fingers to bridge the larger gaps between tone holes.
This picture shows you which parts of your hands you will be using for the Piper’s Grip:
PICTURE OF HANDS PALMS UP WITH ARROWS POINTING TO AREAS USED FOR PIPER’S GRIP
And here is how they will be positioned on the Low D Whistle:
PICTURE OF HANDS ON THE WHISTLE WITH THE PIPER’S GRIP
• If your notes are coming out indistinct and “cloudy”, this suggests you aren’t covering all of the holes fully. Play around with the position of your fingers for different notes as even subtle adjustments can make a huge difference here.
• If this hurts your hand then make sure to just practice it a little at a time but regularly to build up strength and stretchiness in your hands. Don’t over-do it right away as this can cause Repetitive Strain Injuries. Build up gradually!
• If you find your right hand really can’t make the stretch to put your ring finger on the bottom note, you can try substituting for the little finger (see picture below). The downside is that your little finger is naturally less dextrous but over time you can overcome this through practice.
PICTURE HERE OF PIPER’S GRIP WITH LITTLE FINGER ON BOTTOM NOTE
Of course with our 30-day trial period, you can try your new Howard Low D Whistle to see if it suits you – if the size of gaps between holes suits your hand size, and if it doesn’t you haven’t lost anything!