Of all the small woodwinds from any culture, which ones are known for having the SHORTEST learning curve (for a veteran of any common woodwind) to achieve clean, controlled tones from 90% of playable notes?

Ok, that may be technically vague. I realize certain instruments (at least in their traditional playing style) depend on lots of textured or warbling tones. But it should be possible to get a rough idea of which ones are the easiest to play tones that are acceptable (i.e. not unnerving earsplitting baby crying).


Well, "non-reed" eliminates most of the woodwind family, leaving only the flute family.

Recorder is pretty easy. There's a reason it's the instrument of choice for elementary school music programs. It takes zero embouchure (mouth position/strength) and almost no air support--you pretty much just blow into it gently and it works.

Other recorder-like instruments are going to be similar, but even less commonly used.

  • Another possibility that's very similar to recorder might be ocarina. Oct 20 '14 at 2:57
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    I would add that the fastest recorder to get to a pleasant sound that won't annoy the neighbors is the alto. The soprano is physically smaller, but can be a bit shrill in the hands of a beginner. Oct 22 '14 at 2:55
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    I've been told by recorder players that the bigger recorders are easier to get a decent sound out of. It definitely matches my anecdotal experience — I was wretched at the soprano recorder in grade school, had no further experience with woodwinds, and got an alto to sound better the first time I picked it up than the soprano ever did. Oct 23 '14 at 3:47

Irish whistle (aka pennywhistle aka tin whistle) is not only the easiest to learn, it's also the probably the only musical instrument in the world where you can get a professional level instrument for around US$20.

A great starter site for Irish whistle is Chiff and Fipple.

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  • I agree, actually. Instruments like this get a bad rap because people associate them with players who have played for about 10 minutes in their entire life, but it's easy to get a great sound out of one and, hey, only 6 holes to worry about! Oct 23 '14 at 15:49
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    In this part of the world (Ireland), they're usually called tin whistles. Oct 23 '14 at 16:08
  • Eluveitie FTW. (I know, that's stupid) Oct 24 '14 at 7:04
  • You all might be interested in the melodica, too. It's probably easier to learn even than a tin whistle, but it is a reeded instrument, as a harmonica is reeded, and isn't as small. They're also fairly inexpensive, but a little higher priced on the low end than whistles. Whistles definitely fit for the desired answer, though. Jan 14 '17 at 4:49

I'm going to bet the recorder fits this bill.

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