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{Classical Conversations} 12 Tips to Survive Tin Whistle

Survivor's Guide to Tutoring Tin Whistle

Part of our fun adventure of homeschooling involves participating in Classical Conversations. And as my fellow CC-ers know, it’s that wonderful time of year again….when all Classical Conversation classes embark on journey to produce the beautiful and melodious sounds of the Tin Whistle.

You may be thinking Beautiful? Melodious? Yeah, right…

Okay, so maybe Shrill and Piercing might be better qualifiers. It’s my hope that these easy tips will help you survive the next 6 weeks of Tin Whistle.

As a music teacher, the organization of Tin Whistle weeks in the Foundations Guide always confuses me. So if you’re not music-oriented and find the instructions to be confusing – relax. You’re not alone. There are a lot of great tutorials available on CC Connected.

But let’s get to those 10 Survival Tips, shall we?

1. Make sure everyone has a tin whistle.

Okay, so this seems like a no-brainer. But each year I tutor, I’m amazed how many kids don’t show up each week with a Tin Whistle. If the problem is chronic, you can find Tin Whistles for $5 from great music websites like Musician’s Friend. Just be sure it’s in the Key of D. It’s not your job as a tutor to buy whistles for your class – but be prepared that not everyone may show up with them!

2. Use your room to your advantage.

Is your class used to sitting at tables or in chairs? Move to a different part of the classroom. This change in location will help garner excitement and focus for your kids and signal that this time together is special. I like to have my students gather their chairs in a tight circle at the back of the room. This also allows me to easily reach each student if they need help. And the closeness also serves as a cue to my students to blow gently.

3. Allow your kids to blow off some steam.

I like to begin each Tin Whistle session by letting my students blow as loud and as hard as they want for a full three seconds. I explain to them exactly what we are doing before we make this cacophony. When I raise my hand, you stop. I emphasize how important their obedience is. It’s okay to put a little fear into them at this point. Your ears will thank you. 😉 I find that giving them a few seconds of free blowing helps maintain their attention for the rest of the session — and it gives them something to look forward to.

4. There’s SO much more to tin whistle than blowing.

Did you know there’s more than one position to hold the tin whistle? My favorite is lap position. Where you lay the tin whistle directly across your lap. (Haha – it’s also very quiet…) This is actually an important skill used in the orchestra. Chin position is bringing the tin whistle mouthpiece to the chin. Again, no blowing. Lastly, there is mouth position – where the tin whistle goes to the lips (but don’t make a sound!). We like to play Simon Says and quiz where the whistle goes. To review:

  • Lap Position: across the lap, at rest
  • Chin Position: mouthpiece to the chin, waiting and ready
  • Mouth Position: mouthpiece to lips, waiting and ready

5. The Left Hand is important!

The tin whistle uses both hands, but it’s the Left Hand that goes on top. To help speed up figuring out which hand goes where, I like to use a washable marker to put a dot on each student’s left hand.

How to Survive Tin Whistle

6. Use 3-Hole Punch Reinforcement Stickers to label the tin whistle holes.

Whoever discovered that tin whistle holes match perfectly to these stickers should be blessed with a thousand pieces of dark chocolate. I got mine from Amazon because our local office supply store doesn’t consistently carry them. Take three stickers to label the top three holes of each tin whistle. This helps students see where the left hand fingers go. The benefits of this visual are incredible.

7. Put a name on every tin whistle.

Again, it’s the simple things in life that will make your day so much better. You don’t want to waste precious In fact, we not only write our names using these fancy sharpie markers, we also make Sleeping Bags for our whistles. We take a piece of construction paper or cardstock and fold it in half length-wise and staple the sides. I let my students decorate it with their names and stickers (bonus points if you emphasize using your OiLS!). This is actually a really fantastic thing to do because…

8. You don’t have to use the tin whistle for all of tin whistle.

Let me repeat that… just because it is Tin Whistle Week doesn’t mean your students have to be actively blowing every minute! We spend the first ten minutes of class going over music notes (quarter notes, half notes, etc), dynamics (forte, piano), musical terms (crescendo, ritardando), parts of the tin whistle (do you know where your fipple is? Lol), etc. We spend the next ten minutes doing some sort of large group activity – this might be playing a musical note game, marching out beats, completing handouts, making our Sleeping Bags, exploring a full-size staff on a giant table cloth, or even writing our own music. The final ten minutes we circle up and use the tin whistles.

survive tin whistle

9. Practice the finger positions.

Remember, you can practice covering finger holes and raising your fingers – all without ever putting your mouth on the tin whistle! I like to have my students hold their tin whistle in chin position so they can focus on their fingers and not have to focus on fingers + blowing + staying together with class.

10. Not everyone has to play at the same time.

My first week of tutoring tin whistle, I felt the pressure to make sure that every child played every note at every minute. Boy, was that a mistake! Now we sit in our cozy circle and I let each student try making a sound one at a time. Sure, sometimes we will play the note as a group. But don’t be afraid to let each student have their independent chance to shine (or squeak). This will also help take up time make time fly. Don’t forget the power of demonstration! I always try to find a song to play to wow/inspire my young students on what they can do with lots of practice.

11. Blow bubbles.

I actually mean this literally. When you blow into the tin whistle, it needs to be gentle, like blowing a bubble. Bring in a bottle and demonstrate how if you blow with all your force, the bubble will explode (and create that PIERCING AWFUL SOUND). Let each student actually practice blowing bubbles, to help remind them what “gentle” means. I remind my class all the time: blow bubbles!

12. Have fun.

If you’re stressed or hating tin whistle, your students will know. And I don’t think any of us want to communicate that to our students. And if you’ve never touched a musical instrument in your life, that’s totally okay! Let your class know. Say, “Hey, guys! I can’t wait to learn this along with you!”

Be humble. Maintain control of your class. And laugh. A lot.

And maybe – hopefully – with these twelve tips you can resist the urge to buy earplugs.

Here’s to Tin Whistle week!

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[Like these ideas and want more? Look for my username bentkitchen on CC Connected!]

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2 Comments

  1. We just finished our 2nd year of CC, and I may tutor the abecedarians next year. I love all these tips! (I am NOT a musician, and those 6 weeks are torturous for me.) Do you have any weekly tin whistle lesson plans on CC Connected for the younger crowd? I’ve read through many, although I’m always looking for more inspiration!

  2. I love the humor, practical tips, and encouragement in your post! Yes, each tutor should be able to totally have fun with tin whistle even if their ears hurt (a little).

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