Why can’t I whistle already?
People aren’t born knowing how to whistle; it’s a learned skill. In theory, everyone can learn to whistle to some degree with consistent practice.
In fact, according to a New Yorker article, whistling is the native language of people in a town in Northern Turkey. Instead of using words to communicate, the town’s inhabitants whistle in a manner similar to bird calls.
If you haven’t yet mastered the art of whistling, give these techniques a try. Practice makes perfect, so don’t be discouraged if it takes several practice sessions before you get it right.
Option 1: Whistling through your lips
If you want to whistle your favorite tunes, you’ll need to learn to whistle out of your mouth using your lips.
- Wet your lips and pucker them.
- Blow air through your lips, softly at first. You should hear a tone.
- Blow harder, keeping your tongue relaxed.
- Adjust your lips, jaw, and tongue to create different tones.
Option 2: Whistling with your fingers
This type of whistling is great for getting someone’s attention or catching a cab.
To whistle with your fingers:
- With your thumbs facing you and holding down your other fingers, place the tips of your two pinkies together to form an A shape. You may also use your index fingers, or your thumb and index finger on one hand.
- Wet your lips and tuck your lips inward over your teeth (as if you’re a baby whose teeth haven’t come in yet).
- Push your tongue back on itself with the tips of your pinkies until your first knuckles reach your lip.
- Keeping your tongue folded, your lips tucked, and your fingers in your mouth, close your mouth tightly. The only opening should be between your pinkies.
- Blow gently. Air should only come out of the opening between your pinkies. If you feel air escaping anywhere else, your mouth isn’t closed all the way.
- Once you’re sure you’re in the right position, blow harder until you hear a high-pitched sound.
Option 3: Whistling with your tongue
This type of whistling produces a softer tone than whistling with your fingers or through your lips.
Follow these steps to give it a try:
- Wet your lips and pucker slightly.
- With your mouth slightly open, place your tongue on the roof of your mouth, just behind your two front teeth. You should hear a high-pitched sound.
- The more you pucker and the harder you blow, the louder the tone.
- Puckering and widening your mouth as if in a narrow smile will produce different tones.
Option 4: Whistling by sucking in air
It may be hard to whistle a tune with this technique. But if you do it loud enough, it’s an effective way to get someone’s attention.
- Wet your lips and pucker.
- Suck in air until you hear a whistling sound (your jaw may drop slightly).
- The harder you suck in air, the louder the sound.
I still can’t whistle! What’s going on?
If you’ve practiced and practiced with no luck, there may be an underlying medical reason for your lack of sound.
When you whistle, a muscular sphincter in your throat called the velopharynx must close completely. If it doesn’t, whistling may be difficult, although there’s no scientific evidence one way or the other.
According to Seattle Children’s, conditions that may cause velopharyngeal dysfunction are:
- cleft palate
- adenoid surgery
- weak throat muscles
- too much space between the palate and throat
- motor speech disorder
Am I the only one who can’t whistle?
Many people love to “whistle as they work,” as the famous song goes. But for some, it’s a feat that is easier said than done. Why some people can whistle easily while others struggle to make even the slightest toot is somewhat of a mystery.
There are no scientific polls on the number of people who can’t whistle. However, in an informal internet poll, 67 percent of respondents indicated they can’t whistle at all or not well. Only 13 percent considered themselves excellent whistlers.
The bottom line
In most cases, whistling doesn’t have to be that one elusive skill that you just can’t get the hang of. Unless you have a condition that makes whistling challenging, keep practicing and you’ll soon be whistling with the best of them.