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How Does a Whistle Work?

Foram Mehta
Ever wondered how a whistle makes that high-pitch sound? How a beautiful melody can be created by merely blowing air out of our mouth? Read more for understanding how a whistle works.
It is magical to know how the air blown out by us can turn into a loud sound or a beautiful whistle. Not all of us know how to whistle, but all of us can try.
One does not really require a training to be able to whistle, but one requires an understanding of how it is to be done. It is definitely a skill, which can be achieved with constant efforts and practice. First let's see how it works.

How a Whistle Works

Whistling is a sound made when air streams collide with each other. Originally, whistling was done by making a small aperture with your lips (like a small 'O'), and then blowing out and taking in the air from it. Your lips, teeth, and tongue, structures itself in a way to make this sound.
Normally, while whistling your tongue will not come in contact with the hard or the soft palate, and the floor of the mouth. Instead, it will lie straight and stiff between them, pointing outwards. There will be a constant movement of the lips and the tongue while whistling, and that enables the sound.
You can whistle by adjusting your mouth in a particular way, or by using two fingers, or even by using a device. The sound that each style of whistling will make, will be different. This is because the air streams flutter against each other in different ways, thus creating different sounds.
When you blow the air out while whistling, the pressure that comes along with the air pushes the already existing air farther. When these air streams collide with each other, the shrill sound of a whistle comes out. When a whistling sound is made, the air blown by us gushes in the same direction and in the end it whorls.
The process of air streams collision in a whistle cannot be seen by our naked eyes. However, if we could, we would see small whirlpools of air bursts moving around us.
There are different types of whistles.
  • Lip whistling/pucker whistling
  • Teeth whistling
  • Whistle using your fingers
  • Whistle using a device (whistle, a blade of grass)

Using a Whistle

Whistles are not used by people to just grab others attention or to call someone, but it is also used to make music.
The techniques used in the whistles listed earlier are different. Though how they work is almost the same. When you are using a whistle (device) to make a whistle sound, the same process as that of a lip whistle takes place.
When you blow air from your mouth through one end of the whistle aperture, air streams are blown into the whistle. These streams collide with each other and then fight for an escape through the other end of the whistle. The collision of the air streams makes the whistling sound, while creating air bursts outside.
There is a little ball placed within the whistle. It's not that a whistle sound cannot be made without the ball, but the ball makes the collision of air streams more intense. It also gives the right amount of vibration required to make that high-pitched whistle sound.
If the ball is removed, then a flatter sound will be generated, not making the whistle as loud and effective. The ball used in the whistle does the job of a tongue in our mouth while whistling.
Whistling has been globally and traditionally used in different cultures for different purposes. It has been used to call someone, to make a musical note and also as a language. It's a great thing to understand how the clashes in the air streams blown by us can make sounds and beautiful melodies. You can learn how to whistle if you make regular attempts.
It's like how one cannot forget how to ride a bicycle, even when one hasn't ridden it in a long time. The same way, you can't forget how to whistle once you have learned how to do it. Though, to whistle more efficiently, more practice and strength will be required. Which will follow once you start practicing it.
"You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow." - Lauren Bacall.