Grey Larsen, The Essential Guide to Irish Flute and Tin Whistle (Mel Bay, 2004)

Coming in at 480 pages with two accompanying audio CDs, this is a massive instructional work by any standards, and all for the humble tin whistle. Using the format of virtually every other manual, the book is liberally peppered with photographs of the great ones — Josie McDermott, Matt Molloy, etc. — along with quotes from luminaries extolling the virtues of both the author and the book, photos of various instruments and collections of instruments, the usual 40 or so tunes broken down into jigs, slip jigs and reels, fingering charts, and screeds of appendices.

Grey Larsen has condensed a lifetime of learning into this work. For those who have themselves laboured at this art form much of the material in this book will seem obvious or even pointless, but from the beginner's point of view this book must be seen as essential. As Irish Tradional Music becomes ever more popular worldwide, tools such as this book are the only way that people starting out can get even remotely close to a source or a teacher.

Despite the run-of-the-mill content there are several features that set this book apart from the others.

The first is in fact the last, a series of 27 transcriptions towards the back of the book from a Who's Who of the great players; they're all here with a few exceptions. The tunes are taken from various available recordings and meticulously laid out in their entirety, including variations and phrasing. This is presented in a very clear manner allowing those with only a rudimentary knowledge of written music to grasp the basics of the form.

The second is something that runs through the book from start to finish and that is Mr. Larsen's clear and precise methodology in presenting the use of ornamentation, often the bane of musicians trying to come to terms with this music. The consistent use of symbols representing certain moves and the regular explanation of these is to be commended and perhaps sums up the philosophy behind the author — studied, dedicated and true to the form.

Much of the mystery surrounding the playing of tunes in odd keys is removed as well; simply use a whistle in another pitch. The enclosed CDs are an essential part of the tutorial, demonstrating not only the ways that these various techniques are executed but also providing the student with ideas of clarity of tone and pitch.

This book is aimed fairly and squarely at the students of whistle and flute. It is not a comprehensive guide to Irish music and nor should it be, it is however the most comprehensive study of these instruments as used in this art form yet published, and should be considered an essential asset to those who wish to pursue the subject.


[Pat Simmonds]

You can find Mel Bay and Grey Larsen online