The Secret Flute: The Tin Whistle In Movies and TV


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Many famous movies, music, and games feature the tin whistle even though it is commonly mistaken for other types of flutes. Which famous movies and TV shows feature the tin whistle?

The most famous examples of the tin whistle in movies are the Lord of the Rings and Titanic, but is featured in many other movies, songs, games and TV shows.

Which Type Of Flute Is Played In My Heart Will Go On (Titanic)?

At around 1:38 of the song “My Heart Will Go On”, the mysterious secret flute strikes again… what is that instrument? The Tin Whistle!

The Tin Whistle is beautifully featured in the international sensation “My Heart Will Go On” in the movie Titanic.

From Wikipedia, James Horner (composer of many famous movies including Braveheart) composed the music.

Which Type of Flute Is Played In Concerning Hobbits (Lord of the Rings)?

The Tin Whistle is the type of flute played in Concerning Hobbits in the Lord of the Rings.

Composed by Howard Shore, the Lord of the Rings features the tin whistle in Concerning Hobbits, also called the Shire theme which is referred to thematically throughout the trilogy to represent simpler times without the weight and fate of the world.

What Type of Flute Does John Luke Picard Play in Star Trek?

Captain Picard of the USS Enterprise plays a mysterious instrument that is no longer made, anymore called the Ressikan flute. It turns out that the Ressikan flute is actually a tin whistle!

This is possible to pull off because the tin whistle is a bit more obscure for most people–it seemed more strange and exotic than if the Ressikan flute was a kazoo or something like that.

The Ressikan flute (which is modeled after an Irish Tin Whistle) is featured prominently on the Inner Light episode.

What Type of Flute Is Played in Hiccup’s Theme In How To Train Your Dragon?

How To Train Your Dragon features the tin whistle subtly in Hiccup’s Theme.

This isn’t as obvious because the tin whistle is often embedded in a full orchestra.

What Is a Tin Whistle?

So, what is this mysterious flute that sounds so lovely! A tin whistle is a diatonic fipple flute. A concert flute (the kind of flute you see in an orchestra) is much different in that it is a end-blown flute, which is just a fancy way of saying you blow over a sound hole towards the opposite edge (like how blowing over a coke bottle makes sound).

Fipple flutes (including the Recorder and the Tin Whistle) are different in that you blow through a mouthpiece which produces the sound internally with its own sound hole. Because of this, it’s much easier to produce sound on a tin whistle than a concert flute!

The tin whistle is categorized by having a sweet breathy sound that can be sometimes shrill and distinct.

The tin whistle is often called the Irish tin whistle although there is no distinction physically. The reason for this name is that the tin whistle is a huge part of traditional Irish folk music. The tin whistle, although a simple instrument can create hugely complex rhythms and is capable of advanced techniques (sometimes called ornamentations) distinct to Irish folk music.

What’s the Difference Between the Tin Whistle and the Recorder

You might be thinking, what’s the difference between the tin whistle and the recorder? Well, if you want ALL the details, I talk more about this in my blog post here.

The Tin Whistle and the Recorder are both types of fipple flutes

But to summarize, the recorder has 8 main holes (one on the back), or 10 holes if you count the smaller holes at the end you can half-cover. The tin whistle only has 6 holes.

This difference in the amount of holes allows the recorder to more easily play 12 notes, while the tin whistle is built for 7 notes, it can play all 12 using alternate fingerings and advanced techniques where you only cover half of a hole.

The sound of the two differs subtly. In my opinion I find the tin whistle to be sweeter and the recorder to be more brassy–but there are thousands of tin whistles and recorders out there with varying sounds. In short, it really depends on the particular instrument as well as the player.

I made a side-by-side comparison with an inexpensive recorder and an inexpensive tin whistle so you can get a better idea of what difference in sound there is:

Peter Mitchell

Founder of this website. Lover of sound, music, hot sauce, and technology.

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