06 December 2011


A performance from the early 1980s on a Detroit talk show, posted today at Neatorama.  Ralph ‘Whistler’ Giese uses a curious open-mouth style that I've not seen before.  I can't find a video of one I saw years ago of a remarkable pursed-lip whistling champion who I thought was Norwegian, but here for comparison are some segments from an international whistling competition:


  1. Oh my goodness, I can whistle like that first guy. I can actually ONLY whistle like the first guy - I can't whistle through my lips.

    The only fun I've ever had with it was whistling in class as a kid - the teacher couldn't tell which direction the whistle was coming from, and none of the kids had the tell-tale pursed lips.

  2. Elly, where do you make the sound? Is it between the tongue and the palate?

  3. I can whistle both ways.

    To whistle like Ralph Giese, you form the sound behind the teeth instead of the lips using the tooth gap and sometimes tongue to shape the notes. The sound is usually a bit shriller than the pursed lip method.

    The pursed lips method which most people learn is much easier. Just pucker up and blow. :)

  4. Ralphie should be glad his technique was interesting to watch, because the sound produced is vastly inferior to many performers I have heard (including my brother-in-law!)

    I can whistle both ways, although behind the teeth, open-mouth (taught to me by my grandfather) is more reliable, although for me has less musical range.

  5. And there's this style, which I haven't mastered although this fellow is amazing


  6. And then there is me :(
    39 years old and have never been able to whistle at all.

  7. Agreed, traditional method significantly more melodical (and I'm not just saying that because it's the only way I can whistle ;-)

    A friend of my parents could've done very well there: extremely precise pitch, wide range, a pleasure to listen to (except for those who *hate* whistling, which is a surprisingly large number). And he could do a pretty good Flight of the Bumblebee...

  8. One of the whistlers I really admire is Ron McCroby, who die in 2002. I can tell you what he's whistling (the tune is Tom Jobim's "Wave") would make a jazz flautist proud:


  9. (reposted to revise)

    Reminds me of the "whistled sibilant" consonants found in some African languages:

    There's some dispute about whether they're pronounced with the lips or not. I can make a whistle in the way rip describes, which is possibly how whistled siblilants work. Physically, it's similar to pronouncing an "s," with the tongue curled a bit.

  10. I whistle by rolling the tongue against the upper palate where it curves away past the upper teeth. Air speed and tongue shape control the note. It was years before I also learned to whistle with my lips.
    My husband can also whistle in either method. I have failed to master whistling with my fingers and lips. I wish I could though, because I could use the volume when calling my kids.

  11. My whistle comes from right behind my top front teeth - the place the tongue hits when one says the letter T.

    I am pretty sure that I could not whistle when I was very small, so I can't tell you whether or not the shape of my front teeth have anything to do with it. But they are not abnormal in any way. :)


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