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What is Mouth Whistling?

5th of June  2024 

Not to be confused with the tin whistle instrument, mouth whistling plays a significant role in Irish traditional music and culture. Similar to lilting, whistling arises from a lack of accessibility to traditional instruments. The practice allows anyone to join in and replicate the sounds of traditional Irish music.


Learning to whistle is relatively easy to start, given that Irish music is an oral tradition where many performers begin by listening and imitating. While there is no specific, rigid technique, elements such as lip shape, tongue position, and breath control are crucial for creating a melodic line. The characteristics of whistling is defined by its rhythmic liveness, melodic precision and expressive ornamentation. 


Irish mouth whistling is an endangered cultural musical expression. With many young people opting for traditional instruments, whistling risks becoming extinct. However, its simplicity and accessibility mean it has a unique place in Irish music, allowing anyone to participate without needing an instrument.


Efforts to preserve this tradition are crucial. The All-Britain Fleadh celebrates the continuation of this beloved Irish pastime, showcasing its unique style and cultural significance. Events like these highlight the importance of whistling in maintaining the vibrancy of Irish musical heritage.


What ornamentations are most commonly used? 

Rolling, cuts and slides of the notes adds to the complexity of the sound. 


How can I improve my whistling skills? 

  • Practise regularly to develop the muscles in your lips and tongue 

  • Explore by trying new shapes and techniques

  • Think about your breath control and creating an uninterrupted melodic line and steady tone. 


What influences the pitch when whistling? 

The pitch is determined by the size of the opening between the lips, the position of the tongue and the amount of air pressure. The smaller opening and the higher the air pressure the higher the pitch.

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