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The Musical Bridge – 4 Traditional Irish Musical Instruments

Music of the Emerald Isle

Irish Countryside
Irish Countryside

On the Perennial Blog, I have several different ongoing article series, many of which that have been recurring since the founding of this six year ago today on March 16, 2016! One of these ongoing series is The Musical Bridge where we have journeyed to France, The United States, China, Northern India and Pakistan, and Scandinavia so far. Today, in honor of St. Patrick’s Day tomorrow, we are going to travel to the Emerald Isle and learn about four traditional Irish musical instruments, the Irish whistle (feadóg stáin or feadóg), the Irish fiddle (fidil or veidhlín), the Irish harp (cláirseach), and the Irish hand drum (bodhrán). If you would like to read a brief history of St. Patrick’s Day and the difference between Irish, English, and Scottish breakfast teas, hop on over to my other blog,

Irish Whistle, Penny Whistle, or Tin Whistle

Feadóg Stáin or Feadóg, pronounced: fyad-oge st-aw-in

Tin Whistles by Daniel Fernandez from Wikipedia

The Irish whistle is also called a penny whistle, or tin whistle is known as a “feadóg stain” in Irish Gaelic. It is one of the most recognized and regularly used instrument in traditional Irish folk music. It is a simple six-holed instrument in the woodwind family. It is played by blowing into a narrow “windway” or opening that is on the end, rather than across like a modern metal flute. This is similar to a recorder or a Native American flute. A Irish whistle player is known as a whistler.

Originally whistles were made of bone, and examples of bone whistles dating from the 12th century have been discovered in High Street, Dublin, Ireland! Modern whistles are made of tin and the first mass-produced tin whistles were by English instrument-maker Robert Clarke around 1840. Since the 20th century, the whistle has been made out of a wide variety of materials, including exotic woods, PVC plastic, aluminum, brass, composite materials, and sterling silver.

The Irish Whistle is a diatonic instrument, meaning each instrument only plays in one key, which is typically D for Irish whistle. D tin whistles allow the whistler to play comfortably in the both D major and G major, two of the most common keys found in traditional Irish music. This is different from a modern flute which is able to play chromatically or is all 12 of the major and minor keys. Since the instrument does not have chromatic abilities, whistlers use a lot of embellishments, such as rolls, turns, and grace notes to add melodic interest and are central to the Irish folk music style.

Watch and listen to whistler Anna Robins demonstrate Irish folksongs on the Irish whistle.

Irish Fiddle or Celtic Fiddle

Fidil or Veidhlín (Irish spelling of “fiddle” or violin”)

Fiddler in Violin Shop
Fiddler in Violin Shop