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Music for the Less Common Instrument

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The Music Section’s collection of music scores and audio materials is plentiful. Piano music, yes! Guitar lead sheets, we’ve got them! Vocal librettos, songs, etc. But, what about music written for lesser known instruments? Do you play the penny whistle or know how to yodel?

The music collection also contains titles for instrument or voice parts that fall into a category of sundry and miscellaneous. They are interesting to talk about, so let’s get started!

You may know what a ukulele is. It’s not that unusual, but it is unique when you think of its use in popular music performances today. It is a smaller stringed instrument, held and played in a similar manner as guitar.  Musicians who have performed with the ukulele include members of The Beatles and “King of Rock and Roll” Elvis.

The Music Section owns instructional titles for the soprano, tenor, and baritone ukuleles:

-Check out introductory audio courses on how to play ukulele by Bill Brown: DBM 02493, DBM 02495.

-One of our newest braille music acquisitions: The Daily Ukulele: 365 Songs for Better Living, compiled and arranged by Liz and Jim Beloff, edited by Ronny S. Schiff, BRM 35979. It comes in 15 hardcopy braille volumes, so a great alternative to requesting it by mail is to download it from BARD, having it instantly.

So, what about the penny whistle I mentioned before? The penny whistle–also called tin whistle–is heard and used in many old English and Celtic folk songs. Roughly 12 inches in length, give or take, and less than an inch in width, the penny whistle is tubular and played in a vertical position. Using the tips of your fingers to cover and uncover holes on the whistle’s thin body while blowing air through the mouthpiece will produce different pitches.

Tin whistle
Photo of tin whistle from 1921 .

Instructional materials for the penny whistle include:

-An audio introductory course for learning how to play the penny whistle by Bill Brown, DBM 02589, and Irish Dance Tunes for Tinwhistle: Reels, Jigs, and Hornpipes with Ornaments by Dan Foster, DBM 01279.

-For braille readers, How to Play the Tin Whistle by Brian Loane, BRM 35582 (on BARD), and Penny Whistle by Francis Gwynn, BRM 03536.

Another, small instrument, often used as an accessory to playing guitar, is the harmonica. Its tone and vibrant timbre add depth and personality to many pieces. It has a voice of its own when played by a true master.

Photo of harmonica band (14 young men and Kenneth Goodyear the 5yr old mascot) led by Al Hoxie with President Hoover in front of White House, 1929.

We have several introductory style titles for the harmonica:

-Bill Brown teaches a basic, non-genre conforming course, Intro to the Harmonica. It includes teachings of the songs, “Annie’s Song,” “Ice Castles theme”, and “Unchained Melody,” DBM 02920.

-Other titles in the collection focus on blues-style playing: Tony Glover’s Blues Harp, DBM 00680, Gary Primich’s Blues Harmonica, DBM 01280, and John Sebastian’s course by the same name, Blues Harmonica, DBM 00753.

We’ll wrap up this discussion of sundry titles and instruments with an evaluation of courses on yodeling. The sound which I am describing, the actual yodel, is quite different from let’s say, Alpine yodeling, which has been a common practice in the Alpine region of European countries for centuries. The word yodel, simply means “to sing loudly while changing your voice back and forth between a natural pitch and a higher pitch,” according to Merriam Webster’s dictionary. I would propose that yodeling can be done quietly, however, not with same echo effect as practiced in the Alps.

Jimmie Rodgers comes to mind when I think of musicians who yodel. Check out another one of our newer acquisitions:

-Classic Country Music: a Smithsonian Collection, DBM 03645, on which you can hear Rodgers sing “Blue Yodel no. 8.”

-A title that encourages you, yourself, to learn how to yodel, is Cathy Fink and Tod Whittemore’s Learn to Yodel, DBM 01293.

All in all, I think these titles are fun. Learn to yodel, play the penny whistle, harmonica, and ukulele, but hopefully not all at the same time! Or, maybe you will! I’ve mentioned a couple more note-worthy instruments in an earlier post. Enjoy, and please let us know if we can help you find new music to learn and play.

Visit the NLS homepage at: A link to searching the online catalog is located at the top of the page.

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