In childhood I had a plastic toy-ish whistle with 8 holes and I learned to play many songs on it. In a few months I developed enough muscle memory to be able to play almost every song. One day I happened to be a guest in some celebration and they had a similar instrument made of wood and I immediately could play it the same way as the plastic toy. I decided to learn to play a more serious woodwind or similar kind of instrument later.

Then I got busy with studies, electronics etc. and forgot about music and the plastic toy was also gone, given to other kids. I got great at whistling, though - really enjoying it. But whistling "doesn't count" and I usually am not allowed to whistle at home - people in my country have great superstitions about whistling indoors, it is "bad taste", "bad luck" etc.

So, after many years I wanted to find something that would be as easy to play as that childhood toy or even whistling.

I tried different recorders and flutes, but I found that they all have this annoying feature - if I blow a bit harder there's a threshold after which the tone rapidly jums up. I really hate it. My old plastic toy nor the first wooden instrument I tried did not have this behavior; or if they did I had to blow unusually hard for the jump to happen.

So, I'm not sure what kind of instrument should I look for now. I would like to control only the volume when blowing softer or harder, and the tone should be controlled only by fingers. Also, I would like something not too expensive - it's just a hobby, I'm not intending to become a musician, I'm legally blind and I still can't read notes, I just whistle or sing from memory and my music teacher once claimed that I have absolute pitch, but I'm not so sure about it.

I just heard about Xaphoon and it sounds great; I've always loved sax-like sounds. But I'm not sure if it has this "note jumping" feature, in which case I won't like it.

  • 3
    None. Despite what some answers claim, even an accordion will change pitch slightly if seriously overpressurized. As to bagpipes, one might claim that their "normal" pitch is overblown. You can hear the "sag" pitch when the instrument starts up. Commented Dec 18, 2017 at 12:56

6 Answers 6


Bagpipes. Or Melodica. But even your 'penny whistle' probably DID have an upper register, though you never discovered it. You can't play much music in a range of just 8 notes or so. No need to be frightened of the next octave - embrace it!

  • Yes, I guess the plastic whistle (and that wood whistle I tried next) for unknown reasons happened to have good tolerance against overblowing. When I needed next octave, I just jumped to the note in the same octave - exactly what I do when I whistle a song myself and feel that I can't reach that low or high with my mouth. That's why staying in bounds of one octave for me felt much more natural than unexpected jumping I got when trying more serious instruments and wanting to play louder or softer without changing the register. Commented Dec 16, 2017 at 21:55
  • Bagpipes do go up in pitch with increased volume. Commented Dec 18, 2017 at 16:00
  • Yes, I agree. Though not many instruments fit your qualifications, you may find yourself liking the ones that don't eventually.
    – user45266
    Commented Sep 7, 2018 at 22:20

Accordion, bandonion, concertina (all the various families). Their reeds have a profile explicitly designed to avoid pitch bending and they don't overblow, so pressure controls only volume (well, and intensity/expression: they develop more and different overtones at higher pressure).

They have quite different uses, preferred music styles, size/weight, and versatility, so you better get a good idea of what you want before buying.

Though overblowing is to large degree a matter of control and practice and it seems strange to me to make this a decisive criterion for instrument choice.


You are looking for a free-reed flute, or maybe a chamber flute. There was an old instrument called the Goofus that was something of a free-reed sax. It enjoyed a bit of jazz celebrity around the 1920s. I have no idea where you could get one. Also, a mali flute is a captured reed instrument. US Native American style flutes do not usually lend themselves to overblow, although experienced players can move them into their upper register. For what you are talking about, I recommend a Native American style flute (called a chamber flute) on a pentatonic scale, 5 hole. You will find it carries you along with ease, and sort of plays you instead of the other way around. Never a sour note, and never the same song twice if you want it that way. Very satisfying to play and listen to.


All wind instruments have overtones, and in fact they use this in order to be able to play more than an octave. It only takes a little bit of skill to be able to play louder without jumping the octave, and it's only even slightly a problem on fipple flutes (penny whistle, recorder, etc.).

  • Instruments like clarinets and saxophones are specifically built to not jump the octave given a fixed fingering, from my experience. But I was never able to stop squeaking while playing any kind of clarinet, despite starting in Grade 5 and continuing to Grade 12, so I don't know whether they count as answers.
    – Dekkadeci
    Commented Dec 17, 2017 at 1:34
  • 1
    A squeak is an uncontrolled overtone. It's harder to play overtones on reeds by their nature (you're not in direct control over the thing that's vibrating, like on brass), but it's very possible. To learn to play altissimo on saxophone, a good first exercise is to practice playing overtones via voicing.
    – MattPutnam
    Commented Dec 17, 2017 at 19:10

After other posters mentioned the correct keyword to search for - "overblowing" - it seems, I found the type of instrument that I might have had in childhood.

Wikipedia says:

By contrast, nearly all other woodwind instruments overblow at the octave or (like the ocarina and tonette) do not overblow at all.

So, I looked at tonette (known also as "song flute", "Flutophone" and "Precorder"), and indeed those look much like the one in my memory.

Also, one (seemingly knowledgeable) customer comment for flutophone on Amazon seems to confirm this:

The bigger, ridged holes make it easier to find the right place to put your fingers and you can blow as hard as you want on these and (mostly) play the right note. I mention this because I use recorders in my other classes and when students have a hard time it is for one of those reasons... they either can't find the right place to put their fingers or they overblow and play the wrong note.

So, this explains my experience. I guess, I'll have to buy one or learn to play a more serious instrument with overblow control.

  • That customer doesn't know much. Overblowing a flutophone may take a bit of extra pressure, but believe me: many elementary school kids have learned how! Commented Dec 18, 2017 at 12:57
  • I guess I was a quiet kid, I didn't blow too strong and that's why didn't reach the threshold on my plastic "flutophone", while all the next instruments I tried were much more sensitive. Commented Dec 19, 2017 at 9:48

With the possible exception of free reed instruments, all wind instruments will go up in pitch with higher air pressure/higher volume. But this can be counteracted in instruments where you have control over other parameters than just pressure.

For instance, in a transverse flute, you can tilt the flute towards you as you blow harder, reducing the size of the soundhole, in such a way that pitch is maintained. This cannot be done (unless you employ your hand over the windway) on recorders, flutophones, and such.

On reed instruments such as saxophone and clarinet, you can take less of the reed in your mouth with increased pressure, which also compensates.

On brass instruments you can put more of your lip into the embouchure as you increase the pressure.

Thus, it's possible to play wind instruments (with the exception of recorders, bagpipes, and the like, where you have no direct control over the sound producer) louder without going up in pitch. But you have to learn how.

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