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Want To Learn How to Whistle Like a Pro? These Are the 4 Best Techniques

A grand champion whistler weighs in

If you’ve gone most of your life without learning how to whistle, you’re likely not alone — especially if you’re a woman. “Historically, women were discouraged from whistling because it was considered unladylike,” shares Steve “The Whistler” Herbst, an international grand champion whistler. “In fact, there was an expression that ‘a whistling woman and a crowing hen never come to a very good end.”

Today, this is no longer the case: Herbst observes that there are now more competitive female whistlers on the circuit than there were when he started whistling competitively roughly 23 years ago. In fact, whistling is so popular that there are worldwide competitions, musical whistling festivals, and even a Guinness World Record for the highest note whistled (a distinction that goes to Joshua Lockard, who whistled a note at 10,599 Hz in 2019).

All that to say, it’s never too late to learn!

How was whistling used historically?

Whistling has a long and varied history. For hundreds of years, folks have whistled to communicate with one another over long distances. Others whistled to imitate birdsong while hunting. Yet some cultures avoided whistling for superstitious reasons: In ancient China, whistling at night was believe to attract wandering ghosts.

For folks living in some of Spain’s smaller Canary Islands, a whistling language known as Silbo or Silbo Gomera is still used today. In the landscape’s rugged terrain, whistled speech can be heard and understood up to 10 times farther away than shouting, a Cambridge study revealed.

Can everyone whistle?

This is a tricky question to answer. “There are people who are singers and others who can’t sing, or if they try, it is off-key,” says Herbst. “Whistling is a related thing.” That said, there are different kinds of whistling. And just because you can’t do one doesn’t mean you aren’t able to do others.”

“I’ve taught people who had the potential and became really good whistlers,” Herbst reveals. “But there are other people who could never whistle musically. Some people can whistle out, other people can whistle in. Some people do bird whistling. There are still others who can whistle for their dog and that’s about it.”

Here, we’re sharing four of the most common techniques for whistling. If one doesn’t work for you, don’t sweat it; perhaps the next one will. Read on (and start practicing!) to find out.

How to whistle

Technique #1: Whistling out with your lips

Most people who can carry a tune while whistling use this technique, which involves blowing air out through your lips to create a sound. That’s because it is also the easiest method from which to whistle different notes. Here’s how to do it:

  • Step 1: Pucker your lips

It can be helpful to lick your lips first to make sure they’re wet before puckering them as if you are going to give a kiss. Your lips should extend from your teeth and make a small circle.

  • Step 2: Position Your Tongue

If you’re a true beginner, start by positioning your tongue behind your bottom teeth. If you can whistle a little, lift your tongue and curl it slightly upward so that the tip of your tongue is going to catch the air when you blow. Moving your tongue into different positions is how a more accomplished whistler is able to make different notes.

  • Step 3: Blow

Gently blow air over your tongue and through your lips. If you don’t hear anything, try adjusting the position of your tongue and/or the shape of your mouth until you are able to produce a note. Once you do, keep working from that mouth and tongue position until you are able to comfortably hold that note. From there, continue to experiment with different mouth and tongue positions to produce different notes.

Technique #2: Whistling out with your tongue

This technique typically produces a loud, sharp, attention-grabbing whistle. Most people who can whistle with their tongue will be able to do just one or two notes at a time.

  • Step 1: Set your lips

You want your lips more or less out of the way for this whistling technique. Press your upper lip against your top teeth, then press your lower lip against your bottom teeth so that it isn’t curling up over them.

  • Step 2: Position your tongue

Positioning your tongue just right is the trickiest part of this technique. You want to make it as wide and flat as possible, getting the tip as close to your bottom teeth as you can without touching them.

  • Step 3: Blow

When you blow, try to blow downwards toward your bottom teeth. As you do, you’ll need to keep your tongue and lips in the exact right position. It’s the trajectory of breath through this slightly strange-feeling mouth position that produces a loud, sharp whistle.

Technique #3: Whistling with your fingers

Like whistling with your tongue, whistling with your fingers typically produces one or two loud, sharp tones. If you’ve seen or heard someone use this whistle, it was likely to call to their kids, grandkids or dog out in the yard or to hail a taxi on a busy street.

  • Step 1: Pick your fingers

Most people who can whistle with their fingers use the same two fingers every time; if they tried to use a different pair of fingers, they might not be able to do it. Start by using the thumb and index or middle finger of one hand. If you make it through the steps and are unable to produce a sound, try your thumb and index or middle finger on the other hand. If that still doesn’t work, try your right and left index fingers, right and left middle fingers, or right and left pinkie fingers.

  • Step 2: Position your fingers

Once you’ve decided which two fingers to use, press the tips together and bring them to the center of your bottom lip. Next, bring the tips of your fingers behind your back teeth and under your tongue. Finally, close your lips tightly so that there is only a small opening right between your fingers.

  • Step 3: Blow

Start by blowing gently through the hole, which should produce a shrill sound. If nothing comes out, try adjusting your position or using a different pair of fingers.

Technique #4: Whistling in

This final whistling technique may be the simplest of the four, as it requires the least amount of precision in mouth positioning. However, like techniques two and three, it will likely only produce one short, consistent note. Why? It’s much more difficult to suck air in for a long time than it is to blow air out.

  • Step 1: Pucker your lips

Lick your lips to make sure they’re wet, then pucker them as if you are going to give a kiss. They should be extended away from your teeth.

  • Step 2: Keep your tongue loose

This technique works best if you keep your tongue loose in the middle of your mouth for the air to travel over (as opposed to pressing it into your teeth or curling it).

  • Step 3: Suck in

Suck air in through the hole in your lips. Your jaw may drop slightly. This will produce a relatively soft and high-pitched whistle.

Want to up your whistling game? Give your lungs a boost

The stronger your lungs, the longer and more easily you’ll be able to whistle a tune. Here are four easy ways to keep them in tip-top shape.

Belt out your favorite songs

Sure, exercising daily strengthens respiratory muscles to keep lungs operating at their peak. But in good news for those who can’t help singing along with Dolly or Shania, simply raising your voice in song does the job, too (and is way more fun!). In fact, researchers reporting in BMJ Open Respiratory Research found that singing for 16 minutes enhanced measurements of lung function by as much as 366%. That’s a benefit on par with taking a brisk walk.

Breathe in minty steam

Inhaling warm, moist air opens airways to increase lung capacity up to 147%, a study in the European Respiratory Journal suggests. But to boost the benefits, add spearmint. Findings in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found the oil widens passageways in the lungs known as bronchi to improve breathing by 50%. To do, fill a large bowl or basin with hot water, then add a few drops of spearmint essential oil. Place your face about 12” from the water, drape a towel over your head, then breathe deeply for 3 to 5 minutes.

Enjoy a nightcap

Love kicking back with a glass of wine, beer or your favorite cocktail at the end of a busy day? Your lungs do, too. Research in the journal Alcohol reveals folks who enjoy one serving of alcohol daily have lungs that function 129% better than folks who drink lower amounts. Turns out a moderate intake of alcohol protects lungs from cell-damaging inflammation. 

Boost your body’s magnesium stores

Lungs rely on the mineral magnesium to fully expand. That’s the reason a Lancet study determined that shortfalls in the mineral lowered lung function as much as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day for 12 years. The simple way to shore up stores and breathe more deeply: Enjoy two to three servings of magnesium-rich foods such as leafy greens, beans, nuts, and pumpkin or sunflower seeds daily.

This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.

A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.

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