After playing the mountain dulcimer for an number of years; it is challenging to branch out to learn new instruments. So I’ve taken up the penny whistle. The penny whistle makes a nice compliment to the dulcimer and the two instruments are similar in several respects. I found a beautiful Scottish tune, “Ye Banks and Braes o’ Bonnie Doon” while browsing through tin whistle books and decided to arrange it for whistle and dulcimer.
Both are diatonic instruments
Like the dulcimer, the penny whistle is a diatonic instrument. The implications are that, just like the dulcimer, there are no “sharps or flats” on the penny whistle. The six holes on the penny whistle represent the major scale and, with a few exceptions, only one scale can be played on a particular penny whistle. You need another penny whistle to change keys and play in another key. (Sort of like switching or re tuning dulcimers.)
When I first started playing the penny whistle, I didn’t understand this concept and wondered which key-note whistle I should purchase. The books seemed to use D penny whistles — I went with that one — and it was a wise choice as I could play along with the dulcimer and follow the book’s instructions. Now I have an assortment of whistles.
Here is (top to bottom) a low G penny whistle, a low A penny whistle and 3 D penny whistles. The top two penny whistles have adjustable thumb rests which help keep the whistle from sliding around. The comfort keys on the bottom holes helps someone like myself, with short fingers, reach the bottom holes. (My pinky finger just didn’t like the long reach.) These whistles are made of two parts so the pitch can be adjusted by moving the mouth piece in or out. As you can see, there are many options when purchasing a penny whistle and price ranges. The three D penny whistles are inexpensive and have different, but equally pleasant, tones.
Two keys to a diatonic dulcimer tuning and to a penny whistle
For every rule, there is a way around it. When the 1-1/2 and 6-1/2 frets were added to mountain dulcimers, the frets were positioned in such a way that a person could play in two keys (in DAD tuning) without changing anything – Key of D and Key of G. The different note is C-sharp vs C-natural.
On a D penny whistle, there is a fingering for both C-sharp and C-natural, so that a person can play in both the keys of D and G on the same penny whistle. Many songs have notes below the key-note so it is an advantage to play these songs on the D whistle in the key of G. This is plenty to think about. Eventually it make senses.
“Ye Banks and Braes o’ Bonnie Doon”
Robert Burns wrote the poem and lyrics to Bonnie Doon in 1791. He actually wrote three versions of the poem and the third version of lyrics mentions the Bonnie Doon. The “Bonnie Doon” is a river which flows past Robert Burn’s hometown of Alloway in Scotland. The poem has a question and answer, a lovers lament.
The tune was written by Mr. James Miller, a clerk at the General Register House at Edinburgh, who had the desire to write a melody and was instructed to “play only the black notes on the harpsichord.” The tune was published as, “The Caledonian Hunt’s Delight”. Dies this make the melody a pentatonic scale tune?
Ye banks and braes o’ bonnie Doon
How ye can bloom so fresh and fair
How can ye chant ye little birds
And I sae weary fu’ o’ care
Ye’ll break my heart ye warbling birds
That wantons thro’ the flowering thorn
Ye mind me o’ departed joys
Departed never to return
Oft hae I rov’d by bonnie Doon
To see the rose and woodbine twine
And ilka bird sang o’ its love
And fondly sae did I o’ mine
Wi’ lightsome heart I pu’d a rose
Fu’ sweet upon its thorny tree
But my false lover stole my rose
But ah! She left the thorn wi’ me
Penny Whistle and Dulcimer Tablature for Bonnie Doon – Key of G
Here’s where the fun begins – playing the song in the Key of G. This is not a beginning tune for either dulcimer or penny whistle, but for intermediate players it is a lovely song. I’ve arranged dulcimer tab for DAD tuning playing in Key of G. (It uses the 1-1/2 fret.) I also arranged tab for a baritone dulcimer tuned to GDG – key of G and ginger dulcimer in GDG tuning in Key of G. Thus, you can have 3 dulcimers in different octaves playing the song plus the penny whistle (which plays the melody). Sounds like an orchestra.
And PDF file for standard dulcimer – DAD.
And the PDF file for baritone dulcimer – GDG tuning and ginger dulcimer – GDG tuning.
Like any other instrument, playing the penny whistle takes alot of practice. Our small dulcimer group picked a beginner’s penny whistle book to start with. I can’t help purchasing books and also purchased an assortment of “tune books” for penny whistle. That’s where I found Bonnie Doon. Glad I did. It’s a lovely Scottish song.