Human whistling is the production of sound by means of a constant stream of air from the mouth. The air is moderated by the tongue, lips, teeth, or fingers to create turbulence, and the mouth acts as a resonant chamber to enhance the resulting sound, thus acting as a type of Helmholtz resonator. Whistling can also be produced by hands, or using an external instrument, such as a whistle or even a blade of grass or leaf. The ability to whistle is possibly enabled by a genetic trait, possibly the same one which allows for curling of the tongue.
A whistled tone is primarily a simple oscillation (or sine wave) produced in the resonant chamber, and thus timbral variations are slight. The pitch of a whistle can be altered by changing the volume and shape of the resonant chamber (most typically by using the tongue).
In duotone whistling, use of the lips and tongue are combined to produce two tones at once, which can also start and stop at different times, but must be close in pitch. Simple duets can be whistled solo in this way.
It is also possible to whistle and hum at the same time. With enough practice, it is possible for one to hum and whistle two separate melodies at the same time. One of the most prolific "hum-whistlers" is A.J. Johnson, of Leeds, who, in recent years, has appeared in a number of West End and Yorkshire-based plays demonstrating his craft with a live orchestral backdrop.
Some languages and code languages use whistles as a part of their communication; this is referred to as whistled speech.
"Loud whistling" is a non-musical type of whistling that used to indicate both satisfaction and displeasure, usually at, but not limited to, sporting events, political rallies, social gatherings, and movies. (Edward T. Hall, "Essential Do's and Taboos: The Complete Guide to International Business and Leisure Travel", 2007). It is also used as an attention-getter for such purposes as calling dogs, flagging down taxis and alerting bus passengers in India. This piercing style of whistling is very loud and the sound can carry very far. It can be made in a number of ways with and without use of the fingers.
One specific type of whistling called "wolf-whistling" can also be used to denote physical attractiveness in the one being whistled at. Though it was frequently heard in cartoons and films of the 50s and 60s, it is now considered very poor manners in the Western world and can even be considered a form of harassment in a professional setting. The usual setting is a man whistling at an attractive woman, but it can happen between virtually anyone. It may also be used jokingly as a compliment between closer individuals, in a romantic relationship, for example. It can also be directed to inanimate objects to signify appreciation, as with impressive buildings, or high-powered cars. The wolf-whistle usually consists of a pitch-bend up, a brief stop, followed by a quick pitch-bend up that smoothly comes back down in a continuous manner.
Pucker whistling is the most common form of whistling used in most Western music. Typically, the tongue tip is lowered, often placed behind the lower teeth, and pitch altered by varying the position of the tongue body. In particular, the point at which the dorsum of the tongue approximates the palate varies from near the uvula (for low notes) to near the alveolar ridges (for high notes). Although varying the degree of pucker will change the pitch of a pucker whistle, expert pucker whistlers will generally only make small variations to the degree of pucker, due to its tendency to affect purity of tone.
By contrast, many expert musical palatal whistlers will substantially alter the position of the lips to ensure a good quality tone. Venetian gondoliers are famous for moving the lips while they whistle in a way that can look like singing.
In Serbia, it is said that whistling indoors will attract mice, while in Korea and Japan, whistling is thought to bring snakes. Whistling on board a sailing ship is thought to encourage the wind strength to increase. This is regularly alluded to the Aubrey-Maturin books by Patrick O'Brian.
In Hawaiian lore, whistling at night is considered bad luck because it mimics the sound of night marchers.
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