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Penny Whistles

February 22nd, 2010
music, pennywhistle  [html]

Several months ago I got interested in making penny whistles. A penny whistle is, techniclally, a cylindrical fipple flute capable of playing a D-major scale over two octaves. Let's expand on that. That it is cylindrical means it's made out of a tube. Some whistles, such as the clarke, are actually conical, tapering as they get farther from the player's mouth. A completely straight whistle, however, works quite well. The reason the body shape matters so much is that tubes are widely available in our society. I can go to the hardware store and buy pipe of many materials and in many dimensions. PVC pipe is cheap, light, and easy to work, which all helped in making it possiblle for me to experiment with making whistles.

The next adjective was 'fipple'. As a noun, it refers to the the end of the whistle that goes in the player's mouth. The c flute has no fipple. Instead there is a hole, and with carefu control one can direct air at the hole's edge, producing a sou fipple aims the air so that the lips don't have to. This make instrument far easier to play, but at the expense of giving up control over the sound. A whistle player can vary really only thing with the mouth: how much air flows into the whistle. Ho the fingers still, one can graph pitch, volume, and tonal aspe against the single independent variable of how hard you blow. many musicians, a whistle player can generally play a given no at one volume. Blowing harder will produce first a squawk and higher note in the harmonic series, an octave or a fifth depen which note is overblown. Blowing softer in the second octave the process in reverse. Blowing softer in the first octave gi strange hard to control sounds which I'm interested in explori further, and then no noise at all. Overall, the higher notes louder than the lower ones, which can make the instrument very frustrating.

As for the notes and range, the whistle has six holes which wh sequentially uncovered sound the notes of a D-major scale. Th alternate fingerings and partially covering holes, several mor are possible, but the only one that pretty much all traditiona players use is C-natural, which is both very useful, allowing G-major) and easy to get right. As for range, most fingerings sound an octave higher when blown harder. One can get a little higher than two octves, but it gets really loud and shrill.

Ok, so that's the instrument. Anyways, following a penny whistle making guide I made several, primarily low D ones. More on that later.

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