On this site you can find a variety of resources to support learners at different skill levels, all available free of charge. Use the top menu to navigate the sections of the site: to learn about Irish Traditional Music or to develop your tune repertoire of the various tune types. Learn about the instruments of Irish music in general, or read on for tin whistle learning resources.
About the Tin Whistle
The tin whistle in its current form dates from the 19th century. A cheap and simple instrument initially made with rolled tin and a wooden stopper as a fipple, it quickly became a staple of the tradition. Not just a beginners instrument, it is also played to a world-class level by musicians such as Mary Bergin or Kevin Crawford.
Buying a Tin Whistle
There are dozens of whistle models on the market and the choice of a first whistle is not always obvious, particularly if you are new to the tradition. Prices range from a few to a few hundred euros (dollars). As a general rule “you get what you pay for ” applies, but not always. The beauty of the whistle is that a cheap model can be more than enough in the beginning and with mastery can be played to a high level.
More information: Tin Whistle Buying Guide
Holding and blowing into the whistle
To properly hold the Tin Whistle, use 3 fingers of each hand; your left hand on top (near the mouthpiece) and your right hand on the bottom. Cover the holes with the pads of your fingers, not the tips, for an effective seal. An incomplete seal will lead to squeaking notes, or no sound at all.
When blowing into the whistle, start with gentle, steady breaths. The amount of pressure needed varies with each note – less air for lower notes and more for higher ones. The key is to maintain a steady airflow, breathing when necessary at natural pauses in the music or by “cutting short” long notes.
Tin Whistle Fingering chart
The tin whistle plays the scale of D, with one cross fingered note (C natural) meaning that effectively it can play in the keys of D and G and related modes – this covers the majority of Irish traditional tunes.
More information: Tin Whistle Fingering Chart
Practice tips for beginners
- Listen as much as possible: Even before you start practicing a tune, listen to it as much as possible to internalise the melody. You should be able to sing the tune (aloud or in your head) before trying to play. Always have an audio source – sheet music can be good tool and memory aid but there is no advantage in learning from sheet music only.
- Choose a tune and stick with it: Select one simple tune and focus on mastering it before moving to others. This approach helps in building confidence and improving your skills gradually, without feeling overwhelmed. Once you move onto the next tune, continue practicing previous tunes to “maintain” your repertoire.
- Slow practice: Practice at a slow tempo – as slow and deliberate as possible, at a tempo that allows you play without mistakes. If you make a mistake, stop and work on the phrase or bar until you can play it without hiccup, then move on. Consistently stopping and working on problematic passages will help you avoid “practicing mistakes”, or repeating the mistakes over and over until they become internalised.
Some tunes for beginners
On this site you can find dozens of tunes for beginners, with sheet music or as simple audio sources. You can find tunes on the Tunes page or navigate by using the tag cloud to the right of each tune page.
Here are some tunes to get started:
Recordings with sheet music
Some recordings of relatively simple tunes, with sheet music:
More information: Easy Tin Whistle Tunes
To build your repertoire, my Tin Whistle for Beginners book series has a selection of 180 Irish and Scottish tunes with tin whiste tabs and corresponding audio download. With a selection of songs, tunes, Celtic Christmas songs and Carolan tunes it is an ideal resource for building your repertoire.
Irish dance tunes for Tin Whistle
First dance tunes
When talking about “Irish Traditional Music” in general what is meant are the dance tunes – jigs, reels, hornpipes – that make up the tradition. While more of a challenge to play, they are also immensely satisfying. On this site you can find dance tunes categorised by type, with sheet music and recordings and including tabs for tin whistle fingering.
To build your repertoire further, my book Irish Music – 400 Traditional Tunes has sheet music and recordings for 400 traditional Irish tunes that are heard in sessions all over the world.
Tunes with Ornamentation:
Ornamentation is an integral part of Irish traditional music; it us used to a greater or lesser degree depending on regional or personal styles, but it is always used. Ornamentation is characterized by adding various embellishments to enhance the rhythm and melody. Key ornaments include the cut, tap, slide, roll, bounce, and casadh. These ornaments should be executed quickly and crisply without disrupting the tune’s rhythmic flow. While there are established norms for ornamentation, musicians often improvise, making on-the-spot decisions about the application and timing of ornaments.
An overview of Ornamentation in Irish Traditional Music
To learn ornamentation in detail I advise my book A Complete Guide to Playing Irish Traditional Music on the Whistle which covers in great detail all of the principal ornaments with hundreds of audio examples.
Here are some video tutorials of tunes with ornamentation:
For younger learners
A selection of Christmas songs for tin whistle, with sheet music and tabs and including audio recordings:
Recordings of children’s songs for tin whistle:
For more children’s songs, see my book Tin Whistle for Children Volume 1