The tin whistle is a beautiful instrument, but perhaps you don’t want it to be quite so prominent in the song, or, maybe you are trying not to drive your roommates crazy.
Believe it or not, it is possible to make the tin whistle play quieter! I’ve experimented and found 15 ways to make this possible.
As a side note, a recorder could use these methods with the same results.
Covering The Mouthpiece Hole
The easiest and most effective way to change the volume is to cover the mouthpiece hole(not the one you blow into, but where the whistle sound comes from). From now on, I’ll call this hole the ramp.
I did some measurements and found the volume differences between covering vs. not covering the ramp.
|Portion of Mouthpiece Ramp Covered||Percentage of Full Sound|
I did testing with 1/8 and 7/8 covering the ramp, but I found that the results were very similar to the 1/4 and 3/4 measurements.
As you can see, partially covering the ramp is very effective at quieting the tin whistle.
One disadvantage to any method that obstructs the ramp is that it will slightly change the way you have to play the whistle. This could lead to bad habits over time–so use caution in trying these methods on a permanent basis.
1. Mounting Putty
A popular brand of mounting putty is called “Blu-Tack”. Scotch sells a version simply called Mounting Putty.
Mounting putty is used for mounting lightweight objects to the wall and is useful when you don’t want to or simply can’t drive a nail into the wall.
Mounting putty is also malleable and doesn’t leave behind a residue making it a great option as a tin whistle cover.
How To Use Mounting Putty for the Tin Whistle
- Break off a section of your mounting putty about half the size of a dime.
- Stretch the mounting putty vertically across the ramp in such a way as to not dip the mounting putty inside the whistle.
- Cover the ramp however much as you’d like.
Disadvantages to Mounting Putty
- If you drop the putty onto the ground, you’ll get some lovely fuzzies that you may or may not want to put onto your whistle.
- That glob of mounting putty that you have perfectly sized for your whistle can easily be dropped and lost forever.
- It might take some time to get the glob of putty just right to get the sound you need. It is, after all, very malleable
Experimenting with my D Clarke whistle, I put a small piece of tape obscuring the mouthpiece hole, and found that tape is an effective way to quiet the tin whistle.
There are dozens of types of tapes. With only a little experimenting just a little, I’ve already determined that you want a tape that isn’t very sticky. That rules out duct or scotch tapes. If you have it, use a paper tape, such as masking tape or painter’s tape. Your local pharmacy also sells a paper tape that doesn’t leave very much residue that would also work well.
Tape is easy to use and easy to find, making it a simple and easy choice for quieting your whistle.
How To Use Tape for the Tin Whistle
- Pick a tape that leaves very little residue (painter’s tape works well)
- Cut off a section about half an inch long (or however long the ramp is)
- Cut the tape section you just cut off to about three times the height of the ramp
- Make the tape taut as you stretch it along the ramp, obscuring it vertically however much you want. 1/2 to 3/4 of the ramp seems to work well.
- Covering the ramp horizontally works for some, but it didn’t work for my whistle.
Disadvantages to Tape
Tape isn’t a perfect solution, here are some disadvantages:
- Sticky Residue: Tape has a tendency to leave a sticky mark behind. A nicer painter’s tape can help prevent this
- Tape wears out: Tape can be detached and reattached only a limited number of times, which will require you to pare down another piece of tape for what you need
- Tape sticks out: Blue, beige, black, and white are nice colors on their own, and they are often chosen as the color of choice for tape manufacturers. However, this color can clash with your tin whistle, making this option more acceptable for practicing
- The tape bows into the mouthpiece which may interrupt the sound more than you want
- As you lower the volume, the more out of tune you will be
3. Rubber Band
When we buy asparagus, we buy them in clumps which are conveniently held together with a broad rubber band. These rubber bands work well for holding together asparagus, but also can be reused as a way to cover your tin whistle ramp.
Rubber bands won’t leave any residue, and they can be positioned just how you prefer to practice.
You can use large round hair ties, rubber bands, etc.
This method will not work for some tin whistle designs (mine for example). Covering the ramp horizontally isn’t really feasible for some whistles.
How to Use a Rubber Band for a Tin Whistle
- Select a broad rubber band that can cover at least 3/4 of the ramp.
- Wrap the rubber band around the tin whistle as many times as is necessary to maintain a firm grip around the tin whistle
- Adjust the rubber band to cover as little or as much of the ramp
Disadvantages to the Rubber Band
- If the rubber band circumference is much bigger than the tin whistle, then you will have to fold the rubber band multiple times to get it to stay over the ramp. This can be annoying to do repeatedly.
- As you lower the volume, the more out of tune you will be
- It may take some fidgeting to get the rubber band or hair tie exactly in the right place.
4. Folded Paper or Tin Foil
Asking around, I learned from other tin whistle players that one way to quiet your tin whistle is to fold a small piece of paper or tin foil into a small rectangle about 125% the width of the ramp. Fold the paper in half, and place it in the windway ramp. Spread out the “legs” of the paper farther apart to quiet the whistle more
Quiet Tin Whistles
Besides modifying your existing tin whistle, another option is to use a tin whistle that’s more quiet in nature. This means you don’t have to worry about affecting intonation. I was surprised to learn how many options there are out there!
5. Play a Low Whistle
Besides muting whistle by changing the ramp, another method is simply to choose a whistle that is quieter. Although some whistles are labeled as a quieter whistle, one group of whistles are definitely quieter: low whistles.
Low whistles have a much wider bore, and since tin whistles are not reed instruments, you are making sound by resonating the tin whistle itself. In short, you have to use more air for a low whistle to get the same volume as a higher tin whistle.
Additionally, low tin whistles are lower in pitch (I guess that’s obvious now that I’ve written that out). Our ears are most sensitive to frequencies between 2000 and 5000 HZ, and the 2nd octave of a D tin whistle (the one I have), lands squarely in the 2000 HZ range.
In other words, a low tin whistle is not going to stand out as much because it’s frequencies are not as easy for our ears to hear. Cool!
Disadvantages of Using a Low Whistle
- Having to buy a new whistle!
6. Use a Parks Whistle
Another option is to find a tin whistle with a tone ring. Parks whistles are known for their tone rings which effectively gives you the ability to adjust the volume of the tin whistle without attaching anything to the whistle.
For an example of how this works, check out this YouTube video:
By using this knob, you are effectively able to quiet your tin whistle. A huge bonus of the Parks whistles is that it is able to tune your whistle… so even while playing quietly you can easily tune your tin whistle.
Disadvantages of Playing the Parks Whistle
- I couldn’t really think of one. The parks whistles are not too expensive and allow you to stay in tune at many different volumes.
7. Play a Warbl
A Warbl is by far the quietest option out there for practicing the tin whistle.
A Warbl is a MIDI controller that is breath activated–simulating the experience of a tin whistle–but the device makes no sound unless you connect it to an app or program that can interpret the device’s signals. Personally, I think this is super cool and I wish I had one.
If you want to experiment with any type of synthesizer or instrument using your breath as a modulator, and if you want to practice with headphones, this is a valid option if you wanted to practice without making any noise. Furthermore, there are some excellent synthesizers that would really be interesting to play with the subtle modulation that our breath provides.
Disadvantages of Playing the Warbl
- No synthesizer yet is able to capture the organic feeling of a tin whistle.
- The Warbl is more expensive than any casual tin whistle you’d ever play
Changing Your Environment
Besides modifying your tin whistle or using a quieter tin whistle, it’s also an option to change your environment so that the sound of your tin whistle doesn’t travel as far.
High-Pitched Sound Physics
Lower frequencies (deep tones… think the bass of the car blaring music passing by at 1:00 AM) are better at penetrating through walls and other surfaces than high pitches are.
Because higher pitches are higher frequencies, they are more easily diffused by interference than by low frequencies. The same principles apply to your WiFi signal or your radio, believe it or not. AM radio can go farther then FM radio for this very reason.
Insulation can greatly impact how far the tin whistle sound will travel do to its high pitch.
8. Blanket Fort Tin Whistle Sound Guard
This is the cheapest option available if you want a small space to practice the tin whistle without disturbing anyone.
Create a practice studio by hanging blankets! If you can surround yourself with blankets, you will effectively diffuse the high-pitch of the tin whistle, allowing you to practice in peace. Plus, now you have a fort!
Music stands, microphone stands, chairs–all of these are good options for draping blankets.
If you want to make this more permanent, you can hang quilts or blankets on your walls. This won’t deaden the sound like foam or other sound-insulation hardware, but it will take the edge off.
9. Soundproofing Your Room
Acoustic foam, sound diffusers, blocking windows, vents–all of these steps that you would take to make a recording studio will work also for creating a practice room.
If you want to take steps to soundproof a room, check out this post on soundproofexpert.com
Adjusting Playing Technique
Another option without requiring any other gear is to change the way you are playing the tin whistle.
These carry the same danger as obstructing the ramp in that adjusting your technique could have negative effects on your performance over the long term.
10. Playing your Tin Whistle Like a Coke Bottle
One easy way to lower your volume is to play your tin whistle like a coke bottle. If you haven’t experienced this before, if you blow across the opening towards the far edge of a half-empty or empty coke bottle with your lips in the right shape, you can make a low ooh sound.
How to Play Your Tin Whistle Like a Coke Bottle
To do this method:
- Place the tin whistle vertical
- Rest it gently against your lower lip
- Blow over the mouthpiece as you would a coke bottle
Disadvantages of the Coke Bottle Method
- Your tone is impacted slightly–but I’d say not for the worse. It’s just a different sound
- You won’t be able to easily play the 2nd octave (I couldn’t at all, actually)
11. Playing Your Tin Whistle Like a Flute
Another option that may appeal to those looking for a “cool” factor is by playing the tin whistle like a flute. This is the preferred posture for those beatboxing into the tin whistle. It’s also possible to play both octaves with this method (or at least it was for me).
How to Play Your Tin Whistle Like a Flute
- Hold the flute diagonally, with the mouthpiece at a 30-45 degree angle
- Hold the flute gently against your bottom lip
- Blow over the mouthpiece as you would a flute
Disadvantages of Playing Your Tin Whistle Like a Flute
- As far as controlling volume goes, I’d say that your benefit is marginal with this method. The tin whistle definitely will sound more airy and not as sharp, but you have to put some wind in there for it to make a sound, especially if you are playing both octaves
- Definitely a different type of technique that may affect your regular playing if you do this often. Then again, this could be your new style!