I play piano and want to learn a more mobile instrument as well and thought about the Tin Whistle. I have no problem with learning the fingerings and I don't expect to play complicated songs but I want to have clean single notes. Is that realistic to achieve with limited practice time or do I have to constantly practice complicated breathing techniques? I tried a recorder for ~20 € and my notes, especially the high ones, always got horribly distorted with just the slightest bit of breath, so I wonder if that is the same for the Tin Whistle, or maybe I just got a defective instrument? Does this get easier with a pricier instrument?

  • Can't speak for cheap recorders, but there's a reason tin whistles are called pennywhistles. They are very cheap. £5 will get you a a playable instrument, and £20 will get you something like tonydixonmusic.co.uk/products/the-trad-nickel/d which is an absolute JOY to play
    – Some_Guy
    Jan 27, 2017 at 12:16
  • The heritiage of the recorder and whistle are very different though, one being a classical (so historically, aristocratic) instrument, and the other always having been a mass produced cheap instrument for the people. So I wouldn't be surprised if you need to spend a bit more money to get a good sounding recorder.
    – Some_Guy
    Jan 27, 2017 at 12:17

2 Answers 2


There are three main causes of nasty tone on a tin whistle, or indeed a recorder;

  • Blowing too hard or not hard enough
  • Not completely sealing the holes you are covering
  • The quality of the instrument

And I'd suggest that you spend a decent time making sure it's not the first two before you assume it's the third.

If it's a recorder you're playing I'd concentrate on your left thumb position, because that's crucial to the whole affair.

Get comfortable playing notes in the lower octave before you venture up into the upper octave; there are lots of decent books available to teach yourself whistle or recorder, and even if you only use the first few pages it'll be worth getting hold of one of them.

And as has already been said, recorder and tin whistle are similar but different instruments, and have their own techniques and tricks.

  • Edited the above on re-reading to change right thumb to left thumb. The LEFT thumb is the crucial thumb on the recorder as that pinches the back hole to enable the upper octave. The RIGHT thumb contributes to stopping the recorder hitting the floor. Jan 30, 2017 at 9:04

With whistles like tin whistles and recorders, the most important thing that determines tone quality is the instrument quality. The sound is formed by the shape of the fipple (mouthpiece) and how the air flows over the ledge making the actual sound. And cheap recorders are often used by children in schools, so the most important factors are cost and durability, not sound quality. The musician has relatively little control over the sound when compared to horizontally held flutes with embouchure holes that you blow over.

If you like the sound of a recorder or pennywhistle in general, I'd suggest trying higher end recorders and whistles before you give up on them. It might be worth trying an alto or tenor recorder, which are lower pitched than the smaller soprano. If you like the pennywhistle, there's also the low D whistle, an octave below.

For flutes with nice tones, I'm a big fan of the horizontal flutes, but they definitely have a steeper learning curve for beginners to get that nice tone. You could also try a melodica, which would take advantage of your existing keyboard skills.

  • I can't speak for recorders, but if you're squeaking or making horrible sounds on a cheap clarke/generation etc. whistle, the the problem isn't that you need a more expensive whistle. I'm not saying that more expensive whistles aren't nice to play, but they are NOT a requirement. If you really think you have a dud, they're $5 , buy another. It's not too difficult to make a cheap tin whistle sound alright, that's really what the whole point of whistles is. Again, recorders, I can't speak for that
    – Some_Guy
    Jan 27, 2017 at 12:11

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