This website offers an integrated environment in which to learn traditional Irish music on the tin whistle. It brings together many of the best techniques and resources seen elsewhere – so as to develop an enhanced virtual learning experience. It was created in particular for my daughter Maria who is learning to play music.
I myself learned to play the tin whistle as a youngster in Manorhamilton, Co. Leitrim where I still live today. For continuity of the tradition I have included here some settings of tunes which I initially learned as a child from our then teacher, Mick Clancy. Additionally, the musical style of county Clare has always been a major influence on the music played in our family as my father was a native of the Lisdoonvarna/Doolin area.
Each tune is presented in staff notation including the note letters written above the music and tin whistle fingering charts below.
There are two music players below the notation. The first is a MIDI player which means that it plays the music in a digital, synthesized sound format. This is generated by the computer from the notes of the tune. The second player plays the audio of each tune which I recorded playing the tin whistle. In most of the recordings I play slower than usual and without ornamentation or variations so that the basic melody can be distinguished clearly.
Many music websites, I would consider, concentrate too much or even exclusively on notation. In contrast, this website attempts to offer a comprehensive blend between visual and aural teaching aids. It is more appropriate, I believe, to focus on practical playing and active listening when learning traditional music.
Traditional music has been passed down from generation to generation aurally, ‘by ear’, with little reference to written notation. Being familiar with written music is certainly a great advantage in both learning and developing as a musician – but it is not the full picture. Traditional musicians never perform with sheet music in front of them – it is not needed or useful for performance. Written notation is of course invaluable for learning, annotating, recalling the music and in the process of composing new tunes.
Tunes, if written as performed, would produce extremely complicated notation because of the range of ornamentation, variations, improvisation and personal stylistic touches employed. A key aspect of traditional music is that every tune learned needs to be committed to memory to some degree. Recalling tunes and their names is often an issue – although thankfully there are now apps such as Tunepal for this very purpose.
Many of the the greatest trad players can’t read music at all so therefore I wanted to prominently include sound files. You can get on fine without reading music but it is very useful to be somewhat literate in it at least. The old people spoke of getting a ‘feel’ for the music and appreciated playing with ‘drive’ or energy – so playing from the heart irrespective of theory is key.
Listening to a tune in MIDI file format is useful for getting a clear grasp of the tune. To aid comprehension each note on the staff is tracked and highlighted by an animated cursor in sync with the MIDI playback.
The tin whistle audio file reflects how the tune is played in practice. Traditional music is very much an interpreted art form – emphasizing lively rhythm, melody variations and ornamentation to add individual style and character to the music.
Developing a keen ‘ear’ is essential, so it is good practice to try to play any tune you hear – be it an advertising jingle, a TV theme tune, a Christmas carol or whatever. It is all music and will strengthen the connection between the sounds you hear and your ability to reproduce them.
The music notation on this website is generated using an adapted version of the ABC WordPress Plugin – developed and very helpfully supported by Paul Rosen.
The ABC format is widely used to markup, transcribe and disseminate traditional Irish and other folk music.
More information about how to use ABC can be found on the ABC Notation Homepage