Tension - physical or mental - is a monster impediment to playing music. Physical strains and tension also land players of many instruments in serious trouble: fiddlers/violinists are prone to shoulder and neck problems, pianists to carpal tunnel syndrome, saxophonists to hunched backs, and just about everyone to tendonitis of some kind or other.
Be thankful you are playing the whistle! It must be one of the least physically demanding and most stress-free instruments around.
However, you should still pay attention to your posture, whether you're sitting or standing to play. Keep your head up -- this will make it easier to get a good airstream going. Your whistle should not point at your groin (interesting as that region of your body may be) but form an an angle of about 45 degrees to your upright back. Keep your shoulders dropped. (And don't bite the mouthpiece of your whistle -- it's not a pacifier!) Most of all, don't grip the whistle hard -- read on.
I once heard of a violin workshop (or was it a book?) called Are You Afraid of Dropping Your Violin? The idea being that many violinists encounter major problems because of the subconscious fear that their instrument is in constant danger of falling to the floor. My yoga teacher often reminds her students to relax their necks, telling them there is little danger of their heads falling off.
Whistle students should also banish any such fears. Dropping your whistle is, in my experience, about as rare as spontaneous human combustion (poosh! there goes another one...). Most whistles, especially those played by beginners, are feather-light, and require only the slightest pressure to seal the holes. If you keep your fingers pressing onto the holes as though cemented with superglue, you will have great trouble persuading these same fingers to rise and fall quickly and easily at your command, which will make everything difficult for you.
So don't press down on the holes with your fingers, and make sure you don't press hard on the back of the whistle with your thumbs. Stay relaxed -- and breathe!
This question is another favourite of my yoga teacher, usually after she has coaxed us into some surprising position or other. Although most whistles take very little air, I still feel that it's important to develop good breathing habits, breathing from the diaphragm. This will give you useful flexibility in your choice of where to breathe.
Figuring out where to breathe when you play Irish music on whistle or flute, especially in dance music, is a common problem for beginners. See the topic Where do I breathe?
Page content updated: 11 Nov 2000.