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Big Whistles - Little Fingers

08 Sep 99 - 03:59 AM (#112368)
Subject: Big Whistles - Little Fingers
From: Bob Bolton

G'day all Big Bore Whistlers,

(Hmmm - had better save this as I go, this time. I had composed a long query, looked at a Help file ... and it ate my query!) Anyhow ...

This starts as a query that came to me, here in Sydney, Australia) on a long-distance 'phone call. A lass in Canberra wants to take up the big whistle (low "D") but does not know how well she will cope with the big holes and wide spacings. I gave her some general advice of varying the grip to span better and some observations of those deep, whistles with which I am familiar but I only play English Overton whistles in the deep end of the range (and lots of others from Ab to high "G").

I passed on some contacts in Canberra and some useful web links, but what she really needs in hands-on experience. Unfortunately, this won't happen until next Easter, when the (Australian) National Folk Festival brings makers, importers and enthusiasts together in Canberra for 5 or 6 days.

I guess the next best thing is to ask the wondrous assembled multitudes of MudCatters what experience they have in like areas (even if the answer comes back from Saint Alison who is only a local 'phone call away from here ... but 4 hours away fron Canberra ... slightly less if I am driving).

So my questions are: What deep "G" whistles work best for those with small and slender fingers? Are there brands with better spacing and sizing? Can custom makers do cunning work in choosing spacings and patterns to suit the player? (I know that there were a number of recognised patterns in older style flutes.)

Trusting to the assembled expertise ...

Regards,

Bob Bolton


08 Sep 99 - 04:18 AM (#112373)
Subject: RE: Help: Big Whistles - Little Fingers
From: Barbara

Bob, I've got an Overton, and I have to use my pinky to hit the bottom note. Dunno what people with smaller hands do. I found when I was buying homemade whistles, that placing the holes NOT in a straight line, but instead where your fingers fall naturally makes the big whistles easier to reach and play. But I don't know if any of the manufacturers do that.
Some big whistles take much more air than others. There is a whistle forum page.. might be in the links, or I'll look and see if I've bookmarked it.
Blessings, Barbara


08 Sep 99 - 04:29 AM (#112379)
Subject: RE: Help: Big Whistles - Little Fingers
From: alison

Hi Bob,

(Send me a phone number if you like)...... I can't stretch them at all even if I use my little finger for the bottom note. The lowest I can do comfortably is a Low A.. I can attempt a G but the notes aren't clean... My fingers are long but they are thin... if I had chubbier fingers maybe they'd cover the holes better.

Apaprently if you use piping type fingering ie cover the holes about half way along the finger not using the tip you can manage better.... still doesn't work for me.

Tell her to go with a nice mellow Bb or an A.. they can still sound great..... unfortunately nothing is as good as the sound of a Low D played well....... but some of us just have to accept we weren't designed for them....

slaine

alison


08 Sep 99 - 04:31 AM (#112380)
Subject: RE: Help: Big Whistles - Little Fingers
From: alison

Here's the reviews of various brands of low whistle

Chiff and Fipple

slainte

alison


08 Sep 99 - 08:42 AM (#112404)
Subject: RE: Help: Big Whistles - Little Fingers
From: Lady McMoo

I have fairly large hands and still cannot manage a low Overton D. I can just about manage the G. Certainly covering the hole with that part of the finger away from the fingertip can help but may be difficult for those with small or slender fingers.

mcmoo


08 Sep 99 - 08:59 AM (#112413)
Subject: RE: Help: Big Whistles - Little Fingers
From: alison

should have said.. I have tried Howard Low F and G to see if I could manage them before even considering a D... had to send them back. A friend has a low D (not sure of the make..... looks like a huge bit of pipe with a green plastic mouthpiece)... can't reach the fingering on it at all.

My Low A is a Susato... beautiful tone... but as with any Susatos I have played ... very unreliable in the top octave...... wish they'd change the mouthpiece.

I have two Low G's cheapie wooden Indian whistles about $12 Aus. sound very breathy... but play OK.

Slainte

alison


08 Sep 99 - 09:10 AM (#112419)
Subject: RE: Help: Big Whistles - Little Fingers
From: GeorgeH

Sorry to spoil the fun but I'd suggest going back a step. Why does this lass want to move onto the Low D?? (I assume by "Lass" you do actually mean "young and growing"??) Unless she's already "shit-hot" (if you'll excuse the expression) on the "ordinary" whistle then she'd be better off getting a good one of those and working on that a while longer. Then when she's grown a bit, AND is a really skillful whistle player, the size of the low D will be that bit less of a problem, and the skills will transfer across that bit more easily.

Of course, it might be that she already is THAT good - although I tend to suspect that if she were the question wouldn't be being asked; she'd just be getting on with finding her own style and mechanics for playing the thing.

G.


08 Sep 99 - 09:12 AM (#112421)
Subject: RE: Help: Big Whistles - Little Fingers
From: Roger the zimmer

These technical musician threads are a mystery to me, but it seems strange to produce an instrument that people can't play. (Playing an instrument is hard enough without built-in ergonomic problems) Do the manufacturers assume all players are "Irish navvies" stereotype with big hands and fat fingers ? My Irish navvy grandfather certainly had big powerful hands from his days "on the ashphalt" building roads in Birmingham (and working in a ship's stokehold as a child - but that's another story)but the only pipe he "played" had strong baccy in it!


08 Sep 99 - 09:21 AM (#112426)
Subject: RE: Help: Big Whistles - Little Fingers
From: alison

Hi George.....

Good point.. I am assuming she is not a beginner. This is not going to sound very modest ..... I am a good whistle player... but I haven't a hope of ever playing a Low D and I reckon there are a lot of us out there.... It isn't a lack of talent... the instrument is just too big.

slainte

alison


08 Sep 99 - 10:42 AM (#112452)
Subject: RE: Help: Big Whistles - Little Fingers
From: Den

Alison have you tried one of the "new" Howard low D's. I've got one and though my fingers are fairly long they are skinny and I find it fairly comfortable to play. I tend to cover the holes at the first finger joint with the fingers fairly flat over the whistle. The only problems I've encountered are getting used to the weight and high notes in the second octave take some lung power. Den


08 Sep 99 - 10:47 AM (#112453)
Subject: RE: Help: Big Whistles - Little Fingers
From: alison

Haven't seen a "new" one... will keep my eyes open... not many places stock them over here... you have to mail order them in.......... I'll seee what I can find out.

Thanks

slainte

alison


08 Sep 99 - 11:07 AM (#112466)
Subject: RE: Help: Big Whistles - Little Fingers
From: David Auty

Hi, If she wants to do it enough she will find a way when the way is found then it is just practice...and learn to play the ordinary whistle first.

Regards

Dave


08 Sep 99 - 11:16 AM (#112472)
Subject: RE: Help: Big Whistles - Little Fingers
From: DonMeixner

Has anyone tried adding mechanical valves to the mix? Because of my deformed fingers I am considering adding flutelike valves to the upper course of holes. I realize I'll loose some technique with this modification but I'll be able to reach the span of the holes. Its a trade off but is it a good compromise? I won't know till I do it. I'm sure the opinions will be many.

Don


08 Sep 99 - 10:38 PM (#112678)
Subject: RE: Help: Big Whistles - Little Fingers
From: Big Mick

I was in Elderly a few weeks ago and they had a rack of the new Susato Low Whistles in a number of keys. The Low D was remarkably easy to play and did not have the problem in the second octave to which THE FAIR ONE refers. Good sound, easier to finger, and only about $38.00 US. I was pretty impressed with it. You may want to give a try.

All the best,

Big Mick


09 Sep 99 - 03:48 AM (#112730)
Subject: RE: Help: Big Whistles - Little Fingers
From: Bob Bolton

G'day all and thanks,

Barbara: you are right about the advantage of curving the line of holes to suit the natural line of the fingers. Presumably manufacturers don't want to produce "handed" whistles, ie "right-handed" ones that don't work at all for lefties. When I made a (what was then large to me) metal "G" whistle back in an old smithy in Tasmania, back in the 60s, I ended up using curved lines and it worked well.

These days, between wide fingers and the "splayed" piper's grip to get the spread, I can handle the "D" well enough - but not with Irish "rolls" that depend on a flick of the wrist with the fingers straight.

Alison:Yes, I think working up to the big "D" is the only logical approach. My first Overton was an "F" (unmarked ... prototype?) in the 1970s and it looked big to me then (but the deep tone, with a dash of "drainpipe" overtone was beautiful!). Now I only baulk at Rob Walters' deep "C"! I'll hope to see you at The Cursed Toongabbie Folk Festival.

Thanks for the Chiff & Fipple link, but I came across it ... only last week, when the engineer sitting back to back with me at work looked it up ... to get ideas about making his own deep whistle!

I suspect that "A" Susatos would be more stable if they bit the bullet and made up a new set of dies for a head that was proportioned for the key ... or even used their standard head in a stepped-up barrel, instead of making all 3 keys in the same bore.

GeorgeH: I haven't met the lady, but she is certainly full grown - I'm afraid they are all lasses to me. However, you are right about starting off on something mnore manageable (not to mention, a damn sight cheaper).

Roger the Zimmer: Well it would be nice to think that manufacturers did think that way ... I worked for some years in the big construction game (back in the 1960s)and I guess I just try to make things work ... even make them myself if I'm not happy with what is about, but I can't expect others to do the same, these days.

mcmoo: I suspect that it is helpful for small hands, but not for slender fingers (which I don't have).

DonMeixner: I have been tempted to try making up my own set of keys and fitting them to a whistle. They should work well ... you don't have the crooked position of the concert flute to contend with. A good set of keys isnot an easy task, but I have a few tame toolmakers to work with - including one who makes up the basic "Dolang" whistles sold in Sydney.

I have tended to reserve that option for making something REALLY large (perhaps a double bass "G"!) but the fact that you can position the key wherever it works best SHOULD mean better technique in the end.

Big Mick: Was that a LOW "D" - an octave lower than the standard Irish Feadog? If so, I haven't seen them down here in the Antipodes yet ... I must follow thta up with Mike Watts, at Celtic Southern Cross, and see what he has to offer. Their stand pitch "D" is very nice - possibly because, using only one bore for "D", "C" and "A", the "D" is is a little OVER-bore giving extra low overtones, but not being keen to hit the third octave.

Anyhow, thanks to all - I will get back to my new (telephonic/email) acquaintance ... and suggest she starts small and makes an informed choice at the Easter National Festival. (However, I would like to hear any other advice on big whistles - particularly from thos playing tapered types.

Regards,

Bob Bolton


09 Aug 00 - 03:56 PM (#274490)
Subject: RE: Help: Big Whistles - Little Fingers
From: Roger in Sheffield

More about Low Whistles please!
My Overton plays beautifully in the first Octave but I find it increasingly difficult to get a good sound going up the second.
Roger


09 Aug 00 - 07:51 PM (#274670)
Subject: RE: Help: Big Whistles - Little Fingers
From: Peter K (Fionn)

Increasingly difficult, Roger? If that's really so, the problem is almost certainly condensation. Clean it, shake it, clean it again, then shake it some more - full arm's length, as fast as you can and as broad an arc as you dare risk (best not done mid-session). In short, you need all the centrifugal force you can get. Finally cover every hole, cover the end on your knee, and blow wrongway through the mouthpiece as sharply as you can. (On reflection, this might be totally impossible on the Low D.) Even then, it might not be totally clear, but if condensation had indeed been the problem, it will certainly play a whole lot better after all this.


09 Aug 00 - 10:45 PM (#274780)
Subject: RE: Help: Big Whistles - Little Fingers
From: Uncle Jaque

The big whistles can be a challange; I've made a couple, and the stretch can take some getting used to. It does help to stagger the bottom hole off to the right just a tad to cover with the tip of the right ring-finger (or pinkie if it's a really long stretch), and the 3rd hole a bit to the left for the other pinkie. The other fingers are extended - not too stiff - and inclined slightly downwards as when playing the pipe chanter; the top hole is covered by the fleshy part of the left index finger just ahead of the first joint. The holes come closer to the fingertips as they go down, until just the tip of the ring finger caps the 3rd. I usually hook my pinkie under the barrel to help hold and stabilize the instrument. It's the same progression with the right hand from holes 4 - 6. Various makers are coming up with all sorts of innovations to overcome this obstacle, so stay tuned to Chiff & Fipple for late-breaking developments. I recently wrote a review on the C&F discussion board http://www.coolboard.com/boardshow.cfm?mb=9116291554514

about some "Indian Flutes" (actually variations of endblown whistles) recently encountered, including a recent innovation by Flutesmith Werner JOHN crossing a "flute" with an ocarina, resulting in a very short, stubby, yet low-pitched instrument. Stay tuned!


10 Aug 00 - 04:52 PM (#275300)
Subject: RE: Help: Big Whistles - Little Fingers
From: Roger in Sheffield

Fionn - you are probably right
It does work a whole lot better when its had a good blowout - but still the high B is almost impossible at present. Sure its giving my lungs some exercise though. Swinging it around - in public? - smooth aluminium and damp fingers - my insurance won't cover it!!

Roger


10 Aug 00 - 05:42 PM (#275342)
Subject: RE: Help: Big Whistles - Little Fingers
From: GUEST,leeneia

Some whistles and flutes are just always going to be playable only by those with big hands. However, if it's just about playable, then experiment. I added four notes to the range of an Irish flute in D by putting electrical tape over the edge of the center hole for the right hand. (It seems my finger was not getting it closed up before then.)

Only 1/16th inch of tape crosses the hole, but it is enough to make a gasket so the hole is actually closed when I bring my finger down.

Come to think of it, I have now substituted a cirlce of black elastic for the tape. It's more elegant.

I have heard of people putting Dr Scholl's corn pads on their fingers to close holes, but it didn't work for me.


10 Aug 00 - 06:04 PM (#275355)
Subject: RE: Help: Big Whistles - Little Fingers
From: Lox

I would like to echo the views of those who have said that there is a slightly different technique to playing a low D whistle.

I would never dream of trying to play one with the tips of my fingers. Consistency and feel both suffer. Consistency because there is more finger to try and control, (have you ever tried to type with a meter ruler) and feel because it is more difficult to slur between the notes.

The answer for me has always been to cover each hole using the underside of each knuckle, about half way up the finger. (The best low whistle players all happen to be pipers - paddy keenan, Liam o'Flynn, Davy Spillane ... etc ...

I don't think you need to be a penny whistle player to be a low whistle player. I say, if you like an instrument, have a go.

At the same time though, if you find that the physical obstacles render your desire impossible, and that you are simply getting nowhere (after a few months you will either be able to play a tune or not - It doesn't have to be complicated) then it could be a good idea to try something more suited to your build.


10 Aug 00 - 06:22 PM (#275369)
Subject: RE: Help: Big Whistles - Little Fingers
From: Peter K (Fionn)

Leeneia, I presume you are already covering the holes piper-style, ie with the pad between first and second knuckles (fingers fairly rigidly straight) rather than with finger tips? If not, try that. It's really the only way that's going to give you a chance, and it's surprisingly easy to switch back to finger-tip technique for the higher-pitch whistles.

Do any of these big whistles come with thumb-rests, like the Susatos? If so, these can make excellent collars for partly or totally covering holes as required. Maybe some maker could refine a collar that would allow for having the bottom hole offset on both sides, with the user deciding which to leave uncovered, according to whether left or right-handed.


21 Sep 00 - 01:46 PM (#302387)
Subject: RE: Help: Big Whistles - Little Fingers
From: Roger in Sheffield

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