Whistle Information Page

Irish whistles and flutes fall into the same category of instruments because they have the same six fingering holes. In general, it is called a whistle if you put the mouthpiece into your mouth to blow, and it is a flute if you blow across a hole. This means that the cheapest penny whistle is a close relative of the most expensive concert flute.

Most of our whistles are tunable, but some are not. It's easy to tell the difference: a tunable whistle has two or more pieces that move together or apart to raise or  lower their pitch. A nontunable instrument is all one piece. The advantage of a tunable whistle is that you can raise or lower the pitch slightly to be in tune with other musicians, or with recordings.

Most Tony Dixon whistles are in a sort of square plastic tube. The plastic tubes can work as a case, except that they should never be closed up after playing until the instrument has dried out thoroughly (otherwise germs will multiply inside). For this reason, a cloth case is better, as it is not airtight.

Tony Dixon now makes metal instruments as well as the original plastic ones; these metal instruments have a plastic head. A metal body gives a brighter tone than the more mellow plastic. We have no metal whistles left, however.

Measurements of tunable instruments are given for the pieces pushed together all the way.


Penny Whistles
(also called soprano whistles, high whistles, or tin whistles)

We have these in the key of hi D

Penny (tin) whistles are also called high or soprano whistles; this is to distinguish them from low whistles, which are twice as long in the same key. For instance, a D penny whistle is called a high D whistle and is half as long (and a lot thinner) than the low D whistle. The Irish mostly play D whistles in their music.

Penny whistles have become a very important part of the Irish music scene, and it's amazing how great they sound in the hands of an expert. James Galway, the famous Irish flute player, plays it; we remember seeing him play a penny whistle on the Johnny Carson show, and it sounded fabulous.

Tony's Irish customers told him that his other whistles are just fine, but that they don't have proper traditional Irish "chuff." Tony then designed the "trad" whistles, which he guarantees to have the right "chuff."


Alto Whistles

We have these whistles in the key of C

These whistles are one tone lower than the hi D whistles

They are on this page: alto whistles.


Low (Tenor) Whistles

We have these large  whistles in the key of D.

The very large whistles, called low or concert or tenor whistles are on our Low Whistles page.

The low whistle is basically a very large penny whistle; it is also called a tenor  whistle. You may have seen it played in the River Dance band. It has a wonderful, haunting sound in the low register, quite flute-like.  The standard low whistle is the low/tenor D, as most Irish music is in this key.

We often get asked about a shorter low D whistle, as this would be easier to hold. The problem is that there is no such thing. For a shorter D whistle, you play the penny whistle, which is one octave higher than the low whistle, and is therefore half as long. Of course, the alto whistles sit in the middle range of length, shorter than the low whistles and longer than the high (soprano) whistles. Because of the laws of physics, these whistles vary in length in the different keys.

You are probably better to be proficient on the standard penny whistle before you attempt the low whistle. Because of the size of a low whistle, it is more difficult than a penny whistle to play well. Although it's easy to blow into and make a good sound, the holes are fairly large and far apart; this requires adjustments in the way it is held, and in the position of the fingers. However any adult, regardless of the size of your hands, can play a low whistle; it's all in the way you adjust your finger/hand/arm position. You have to angle your hands differently than for a penny whistle; you basically point your fingers downward toward the floor, keeping your arm and wrist in a straight line; this allows you to spread your fingers for the holes. You also keep your fingers straight and let them hang out over the instrument in much the same way that bagpipers do (this is important!). You do NOT put the tips of your fingers on the holes. It takes a lot of practice to get this position right, because it's quite different from the penny whistle position.

Sometimes these large whistles are sent back by customers who claim that their hands are too small. If you are buying one of these as a surprise gift for someone who has never actually tried a low whistle, please consider that this may not work out unless the person you are buying this whistle for is quite flexible in his/her thinking, and/or you know an experienced player of the low whistle who can demonstrate the correct position. It's unlikely that you/he/she will simply pick this whistle up and play away; this takes perseverance, and the muscles that let your fingers stretch apart need a little practice, too.

We have regular penny whistle books etc. on the page of music books.  Low whistles can play from the same books, but the music sound is an octave lower.


Important Information if You are Buying Your First Good Whistle

Sometimes we receive complaints that our better whistles do not play well in the low notes. This usually comes from people who up to then had only played the cheap whistles, and who now had just bought a better one. The answer is that good whistle technique requires that you change your mouth shape as you go from the bottom notes up to the top. The mouth is wide and relaxed for the bottom notes, and gradually narrows and tightens as you go up the scale. (Cheaper instruments appear to be more forgiving of players who do not change their mouth shape on the notes when they play.) Good whistle players, and players of other instruments such as trombone etc, do this mouth change automatically and do not always think of telling beginners to do this. In any case, this is how to get good bottom notes on your whistle. If you are having trouble, play in front of a mirror and watch your mouth shape.

We often get asked about the quality and weight of these small whistles. We've added the weight to the description of each D whistle. Since a C whistle is slightly longer than a D, it will weigh a bit more. Eb and E whistles are shorter and will weigh less.


Back to the main Irish Musical Instruments page

Back to Home Page

You are on the Whistle Information page of the web site www.harpanddragon.com
There are over a hundred pages on this web site; click on the Back to Home Page link
to see an outline of this entire site.



The Harp and Dragon business is for sale.

We invite inquiries about buying up our inventory.
Please click here to inquire.

We will remain in business for the foreseeable future until we announce otherwise.



The Harp and Dragon
 25 Madison St, Cortland, NY 13045 USA
 Secure telephone 607-756-7372
 How to email us
Ordering information
 How to place an order

If you do not receive a reply from us within a day or so after sending in an order, or after emailing a question, please contact us again, as our reply may have been thrown in your spam bin or may have returned to us. Exceptions: weekends or when we note on our front page that we are closed for any reason.