Thursday, May 26, 2005

Practice: No-Frills Whistling

I have a couple different tin whistle tutorial books. Both of them seem to go from discussing note fingerings to ornamentations like cuts and rolls with very little in between. Neither give any substantive discussion of how to learn to play a tune simply, without ornamentation. This irritates me since I'm in that stage now and could use some help.

The answer may well be that it simply takes practice and repetition to get this down. To be honest, if the books had simply said this I wouldn't be disappointed. In fact, I'd be happy to know that the hard work I'm doing is necessary because there aren't any shortcuts to this fundamental skill. But it seems odd to me to not touch on the point at all. Brother Steve gets it right, though:

[...] rhythm is far, far more important than ornamentation. Make no mistake about this. By and large, ornamentation should serve to enhance rhythm. But it is no substitute for rhythm. It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing!

Put time into mastering all the ornaments, by all means. But make sure your rhythm is good. And that means, one: make sure your rhythm is steady (you keep a constant beat, without speeding up or slowing down), and two: make sure your rhythm is acceptable for the type of tune you are trying to play.

You can play great Irish music with next to no ornamentation. There are many fine players who do. But you cannot play good, or even mediocre, Irish music without good rhythm. If your rhythm is good, everyone will enjoy listening and tapping their foot, even if they know nothing about Irish music. If your rhythm is not good, nobody, but nobody, will enjoy listening to you.

The books I have are both written by people who are very skilled whistlers. But I wonder how much time they spend teaching folks who are just learning to play the whistle. The more I learn, however, the more I appreciate Brother Steve's site. I don't know where he stands in the ranks of the world's whistlers, but he certainly writes like a very experienced teacher.

Are there any other tutorials or sites which are helpful for people still learning to play in time and who aren't ready to move on to ornamentation yet? Are there tips that helped you? If you have ideas, please leave a comment.

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