Tinwhistle Ornamentation


Cut: A cut is the playing of a single grace note that is higher than the note being cut. For example, the G can be cut by briefly sounding an A before returning to the G fingering, or by briefly lifting and immediately replacing the finger covering the B sounding hole (in essence, the brief playing of a C-natural fingering). Cuts are used to give a brief, higher “chirp” that, when used properly, can make the music seem more lively. Cuts are frequently employed to distinguish between multiple soundings of the same note. Taps and tonguing can also be used in such an instance.

Tap: A tap is one of the simplest of all ornaments. It consists of the very brief sounding of a note lower than the note being graced. Generally, the lower note used is the next note in the scale lower than the note being played. Therefore, on a Dwhistle, the F# note tap would be sounded by briefly striking the E note hole. Taps are frequently used to separate two consecutive instances of the same note. For example, two G notes could be divided by an F# tap. The tap can also be used in changing between notes. If, for example, the tune you are playing has an A followed by an F#, an E tap could be used as the transition from A to F# is made. This is probably the most complicated application of the tap.

Shade: When a finger is held just slightly above the hole that it would normally cover so that the sound is altered, that hole is said to be shaded. It has been said that this name results from the fact that the tone is changed “just a shade.”

Bend: A bend is accomplished by sliding a finger onto the hole that it would normally cover instead of laying it down directly. Thus, instead of the immediate transition from, say, G to A there is a progression through all possible partial tones between these two notes.

Short Roll: The purpose of a short roll is to act as an ornament for a single note, such as a quarter note or a dotted quarter note. This roll is done in the same fashion as the Long Roll, but without starting on the main note. The player begins the short roll by sounding the cut note higher than the main note, rolling through to the main note and then tapping the next lower note, before returning to the main note. All forms of rolls are played quickly and slurred.

Long Roll: The long roll is created by the combination of a tap and a cut and is used to add interest to three consecutive eight notes. The long roll is played by blowing the three consecutive notes in one breath; distinction between them is made by playing the note called for, cutting to a higher note, returning to the main note being played, tapping to a lower note, and finally ending again on the note being sounded.

California Roll: Essentially made of nori (seaweed), rice, cucumber, carrot, avocado and (generally) imitation crab, this particular sushi roll is about as Japanese as a peanut butter sandwich. Nevertheless, its popularity remains strong. This example should be taken by the whistle player as clear indication that although the tinwhistle may be placed by many in a little “ethnic music” box, you don’t have to be Irish to play it and you don’t have to limit your playing to a traditional Irish style.

Cran: A cran is a type of roll commonly used in piping, but less commonly used elsewhere. It gives a bubbling, rolling sound to a passage. The cran is composed of three soundings of the main note (the note being cranned) separated by two cuts to notes immediately higher in the scale. Specifically, the cran is accomplished by sounding the main note, cutting to the tone two notes higher in the scale, sounding the main note, cutting to the note one tone higher in the scale, and finally ending by sounding the main note.
Finger Vibrato: Vibrato is a vibration in a given tone. Finger vibrato, which is more pronounced than breath vibrato, is accomplished by playing the main note to be sounded and playing a trill on a note several scale tones higher. For example, if the “G” is to receive the finger vibrato, it can be accomplished by the rapid striking of the “E” tone hole, thus giving a rapid, pulsing sound to the G note when it is played.

Breath Vibrato: Breath vibrato is accomplished by giving a pulsing sound to a note by changing the speed at which the note is blown through control of the diaphragm. Breath vibrato is generally played at slower speeds than finger vibrato or a trill and is also generally less pronounced.

Trill: A trill is played in the same manner as finger vibrato, but with the vibrato on the note immediately higher in the scale than the main note being sounded.

Flutter: A flutter is produced by playing a series of taps (which see) quickly. Generally, a flutter is composed of three to seven taps, but any number of taps can be played and be properly called a flutter.

Slide: A slide is played by sounding a note one scale tone lower than the main note, and slowly uncovering the hole that sounds the ornamenting tone, so that the main tone is played. A properly played slide will sound all possible frequencies between the ornamenting tone and the main tone being sounded. Slides generally cover only one scale tone, but can in fact cover multiple scale tones or even the entire scale.

  One Response to “Tinwhistle Ornamentation”

  1. The California Roll is definitely my favorite ornamentation. The easiest too.

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