A Pennywhistle for Christmas

Learn to play Christmas Carols on the Pennywhistle

One Christmas, a number of years ago, I opened a present from my brother and found a pennywhistle. Hoping to put a little space between the rest of the family and my practicing, I went down cellar next to the warm furnace. I wondered if I could play Christmas carols on the whistle. To my surprise, I found it was possible to play quite a few.


Would you like to play the pennywhistle (also called the tin whistle) this Christmas? Here you can download instructions to help you get started, as well as fourteen Christmas songs with each note's fingering presented as a picture.


If you don't have a pennywhistle or tin whistle, there are quite a few choices. One nice one for beginners is called the Sweetone. Another one is called the Meg. Look for one in the key of D. Whistles can be found in music stores and online. 


I hope you have a good time learning these songs. Music adds a lot to life, and a few minutes exploring a new instrument can sometimes lead to unexpected joy!

‘Tis Christmas, yes! Now play the harp; and let the bells ring forth the brilliant dawn!

Copyright 2005, 2011, 2012 Steve Mugglin

Come fife! Come fiddle! Play your song and let

These deep, dark shadows that once filled the earth

In Light, with joy and music, be dispersed.

And are not these, these dances and these songs,

The drummers beat, the flurry of the bells,

The sweet, wild, untamed lilting of the fife,

Are they not telling still of endless Life?

Why, ‘tis the whistler, piping bright his carols in the starlit square

And leaving in the cold of night his signature on the air

Come friends, come sing the night away,

No, not these midnight hours, the “night,”

Be it despairing, dark, or sad, or lonely,

And catch a vision of the highest only,

For Christ has come! Then sing, for He is Light!

Imagine for a moment that you were playing the whistle on Christmas Eve... maybe in a church service...  maybe for friends gathered in a home... maybe by the fireplace... maybe on a street corner.  And what if you had with you a small sound system, so you could play carols with other instruments playing along?


The pennywhistle can sound beautiful all by itself (especially with a little reverb), but in combination with other sounds... well, the possibilities were worth exploring.


So I created these arrangements so you can perform with them.  I played the demo versions on a whistle, but a violin, or another solo instrument may work as well.


For each arrangement you’ll find certain resources available - sometimes a score, or picture diagrams, demonstration mp3’s, and performance tracks (in both mp3 and a CD-quality AIFF audio file formats.)


You have permission to perform these works royalty-free.  You may record your performances, make copies, even sell the copies.  But please don’t sell these background tracks, scores, or diagrams.  They are meant to be shared.

How This Story Started

Christmas Carols - A Performance Idea

It isn’t often that I link to images or products from other places on the web, but once in a while I come across something that merits mentioning. In this case, it’s an online training library, for whistle players, Irish flute players, and bodhran players, featuring the teaching and playing of Blayne Chastain. Blayne’s explanations are understandable and thorough, with video segments demonstrating the various skills and playing techniques.


If you would like to take a look at the instruction Blayne offers, this link take you to his site.

Away in a Manger has more than one tune, and I’ve always liked this one by William J. Kirkpatrick.

If You are Interested in Whistle Instruction

Silent Night, the beloved Christmas carol, played in an unusual way, in some places hinting at the tune rather than playing it directly. This arrangement was written to accompany a dance idea called “Silent Night On Candleberry Square,” which was shared at a coffeehouse one evening in December, 2011. If you would like to see the interpretive dance, you’ll find it here: mugglinworks.com/SilentNight.


You can also use this background track to play Silent Night in the usual way, without the articulations and embellishments. The arrangement plays the verse twice and then repeats the last line at the end.