Penny Whistle vs. Recorder (What’s The Difference?)

Penny whistles and recorders are both classified as fipple flutes but that is not to say that they are the same musical instruments.

Penny whistles are also classified as the diatonic instruments (known as seven notes) and the recorders are called chromatic instruments (branded the 12 notes).

The regular penny whistle is known for having a softer sound when compared with the regular recorder.

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Differences and Similarities

The thing with penny whistles and recorders is that they have a similar appearance. Merely looking at them, many will think that they are even the same but the fact is that there are remarkable differences between the two. 

Due attention must be paid to these differences when it comes to making the correct selection between the two musical instruments. The two instruments are relatively cheap and you can even get the regular recorders for just a few dollars.

So, what will make a player select one as against the other? We will know soon. But before we proceed, you need to know that the way the player handles the instrument

The Sound

When it comes to the difference between the recorders and the penny whistles, the most important one is the sound. The sound produced by the recorder can be said to be brash and that is quite apparent to even an amateur player.

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Tone Design

The recorder is a chromatic instrument by design while the penny whistle is a diatonic instrument. Chromatic means that it is designed in a way that it can play all the 12 notes while diatonic means that it is designed to play just one scale.

So if a penny whistle is classified as a D note, it means that it is designed to play all the major notes in the D scale alone.

However, there is also an alternative fingering configuration in case you want to play several other notes. You can even deploy additional techniques to get some extra notes but that will depend on the experience and skills of the player.

So, overall, it is a lot easier for you to play all the 10 notes with the recorder than do the same with the penny whistle.

Mouthpiece Size

The mouthpiece on the recorder is remarkably larger than the one on the penny whistle even though this should not be assumed as being the truth for all of them but that seems to be the case in general.

Materials Used

Recorders are usually made from plastic or wood but that does not apply to penny whistles. Penny whistles are usually made from brass or aluminum and tin. The inclusion of tin is why penny whistles are called tin whistles in some places.

However, it must be stated that there are some other instances in which penny whistles are also made using wood or plastic.


The recorder has more holes than the penny whistle. The recorder has a total of ten holes on the back while the penny whistle has no hold on the back and six holes on the front.

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  • Both are classified as fipple flutes and that is because the mouthpieces are called fipples.
  • The two are available in many various forms in terms of sizes and configuration.
  • Both of them are very cost-effective. They are so cost-effective that you can get both for just $10 – that makes it easy for anyone to get them and they are of good quality. The same thing cannot be said of a tuba or a guitar.

Which One is Easier to Play and to Learn?

It is generally easier to play and learn the penny whistle first and that is because many consider it a lot easier to learn to work with. It is also easier to quickly master the penny whistle than when compared with the recorder.

Which One Should Someone Start Learning First?

You should start your practice with the penny whistle before you graduate to the recorder. The penny whistle is a lot easier and simpler to handle than when compared with the recorder.

This is the pattern that many players and instrumentalists take – they start with the penny whistler and then they gradually work their way up using the recorder.

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