Penny Whistles vs. Recorders

I spent several years learning to play the recorder, with the help of a co-worker who had quite a bit of experience. I can (or could) play soprano, alto, tenor, and bass recorders (with varying degrees of mastery); but there were some things I never managed. A recorder’s range is a little over two octaves, and I always had trouble with the highest notes. They often involve half-hole fingerings, and you have to control your breath very precisely, and the odds of my getting any of them right on any particular recorder was never all that high. And trust me, when you screw it up everyone notices.

I’d been told that the penny whistle was generally easier in that regard; and that the Clarke Sweetone was more forgiving than most. I can’t say much about the latter point, as I’ve no experience with other whistles; but I can honestly say that the whistle fingering for the upper register is so much easier that it takes my breath away. After a week I am playing tunes using notes that I never managed to get comfortable with on the recorder, even over several years of playing. There are no half-whole fingerings (except for peculiar accidentals), and the transitions from a note to the note one step higher or lower on the staff is usually pretty intuitive.

On the whole, I’m having a blast.

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  • Another Kevin

    Recorder: Up to D on soprano or tenor (G on alto or bass) is pretty solid, except for the C#/F# below it. Beyond that gets really dodgy, although on a good day I used to be able to get that one infamous high C on alto that Telemann wants in one of the sonatas. (On my instrument, it’s ‘cover holes 1 and 4 completely, pinch the register hole, and BLAST. It speaks surprisingly clearly and in tune, but requires an absolutely incredible amount of air.)

    Pennywhistle: Much easier to access the third register, but the intonation tends to be faulty, and most half-step trills are impossible.

    Haven’t played either in far too long, out of consideration for the wife, daughter and cats.

    • Will Duquette

      Someday, in another life, I might be capable of playing half-step trills on ANY instrument. You’re right, though, the trouble starts a little higher on the recorder than I remembered.