I was recently given a tin whistle as a gift. It's something I'd been interested in learning to play as a tiny step toward the (likely forlorn) hope that I might one day learn the Irish bagpipes.

As soon as I picked up the whistle and began to play, it felt most natural to have my right hand closest to the mouth. I am oddly-handed: I prefer my left hand for writing but do most other things with my right hand. I haven't had any problems so far playing this way round.

I now see that my tutor book - and a lot of advice online - say that the left hand should be on top, not the right. Some sources emphasize this very strongly, in one elevating to the status of the first "commandment" of whistle playing.

I've tried doing this and it feels clumsy and unnatural. A feeling that will ebb with practice, of course, but having to do the extra work on top of learning to read music and the finger skills themselves is terribly disheartening.

Is there any good reason why I should not keep playing with my right hand above the left?

5 Answers 5


The instruments in the family are built around the left hand being on top.

If you learn right hand on top you will be seriously limiting your technique on other wind instruments other than the tin whistle.

The orientation of the half holes on instruments such as the recorder are set to roll your fingers off from the right hand position. If you try to roll off with the left hand, you will have to raise your fingers up into an unnatural position.

Other instruments will have the lowest keys or holes off set to the right hand side for easier playing. If you learn the other way, you will give yourself a big disadvantage, having to stretch your lower fingers over.

All instruments are difficult, and our hand orientation may provide some ease of learning on one side or the other, but eventually you will have to build dexterity in both hands, so it is worth spending the effort to develop the technique that the instrument was built for.

You may be considering only playing the tin whistle now, but what a shame it would be if you later decided to expand your instruments and you already derailed your ability to play them.

edit: and if I remember correctly, the Uilleann pipes have off set holes for left hand on top position, so if your goal is to eventually learn them, you should work on that position...

  • Thanks for the advice - I thought, though, that since sets of ulieann pipes are rare enough that they have to be custom made one could order them right or left handed? uilleannforum.com/forums/viewtopic.php?t=907
    – Bob Tway
    Commented Jul 26, 2017 at 7:18
  • There's really no point. Same as guitars, when a left-handed player should think 'Oh good! An instrument where my dominant hand gets to do the clever stuff'. Left-handed pianists don't get a different instrument, neither do left-habded typists. Just get on with it and stop trying to be needlessly different!
    – Laurence
    Commented Jul 26, 2017 at 12:26
  • 1
    @LaurencePayne Who's the comment aimed at: me or the answerer? I'm finding this a bit confusing, since this answer contradicts the others.
    – Bob Tway
    Commented Jul 26, 2017 at 12:52
  • It's aimed at the topic. Forget about which-handed you are. It makes no difference - both hands have to be equally agile. Learn standard technique.
    – Laurence
    Commented Jul 26, 2017 at 13:08
  • @Matt_Thrower Yes, you can have specially built pipes, but as your link says, it limits the use of chanter keys. Since you are going to have to spend the effort to learn the instrument with both hands anyway, and the availability of used standard instruments is much higher, it makes more sense to struggle a little in the beginning and have many more options later than to limit yourself to expensive custom instruments only. Commented Jul 26, 2017 at 19:02

No, there is no good reason to have the left hand above, if you are only playing tin whistle. In medieval and renaissance times, wind instruments were played both ways. The only possible advantage I can see of having the left hand above is if you want to also learn some modern wind instrument- say clarinet or saxophone- as well. Since modern woodwinds are all standardized for left hand above, you would have to do some relearning.


No. It won't change the sound at all.

Most of the instructions will focus on holes being covered or open so use the fingers that make the most sense to you.

When you teach traditional users of the instrument you will present a pure mirror image to them which helps them imitate your movements.


Since the hand at the bottom does a lot more moving than the hand at the top and most people are right handed, it is most common for the right hand to be at the bottom. The bottom holes are usually uncovered for the top holes to be played, and if you are playing well, there is a lot of hammering, bending notes, and fluttery sounding goodness that is going on all because of your finger movement. Therefore, if your left hand moves much more efficiently than your right hand, play left hand on the bottom.


For penny whistles you are golden. For recorders, one can become a fine player with right-on-top, but it's harder because so many instruments cannot be played that way: basses and larger instruments in particular, but even modern tenors and altos can have off-centered holes to help hand stretch and thumb placement. This is annoying for right-on-toppers

As said earlier, modern wind instruments standardized on left-on-top and there isn't any real reason to learn the other way but whistles wouldn't present a difficulty to you — better to play the way you want than not play at all.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.