Why does whistling get no respect?

From a musical standpoint, it seems that whistling gets little respect as a form of musical expression when compared to the human voice or other wind-type instruments. This question may not have a GQ answer, but are there any solid reasons for this?

Sitting here I have a 19-note whistling range compared to a 16-note vocal range (not counting falsetto). I can whistle musically with pursed lips on both the inhale and exhale, so I don’t have to pause for breath. Touching my tongue to the roof of my mouth briefly produces a sort of liquid warble (thanks, Mark Twain) much like vibrato. I can whistle with my lips drawn back, using just tongue and teeth, which produces a different sound (tone? timbre?) with a higher but smaller range. Using fingers, I can produce higher notes yet although I can’t control the pitch very well. It seems to me that there is a lot of potential there that could be explored with proper training.

Whistling seems to produce a pretty pure tone, without a lot of complex harmonics or depth, but then so do a number of wind instruments. Humming under the whistling adds additional complexity and warmth, as do glottal stops and other tricks.

Is it purely aesthetic prejudice that makes it impossible for me to find a professional whistling coach and be first whistler in the London Philharmonic? If I moved to some exotic land, would I encounter a rich tradition of whistling music?

Why don’t you make a video and put it up on YouTube. It will get you some exposure and I’m sure you’ll also receive a great deal of positive feedback. I’d like to hear it myself. I once saw a college kid from UW-Green Bay get up on stage with a blues band and proceed to whistle the blues. The kid was outstanding.

I have no illusions that I’m a great whistler. In fact, I’m not even particularly fond of the sound of whistling. Then again, I’m not fond of the sound of operatic sopranos, either, but people devote a lot of time and energy into developing that particular sort of highly stylized sound, just as others devote themselves to the bagpipes, or hurdy-gurdy, or steel drums, or any number of other things that I can’t bear to listen to.

For some good whistlers, check out the documentary Pucker Up, which airs periodically on the Sundance cable channel.

I understood them all except the “throat whistling.” Well, I understood that one–just couldn’t make any coherent sounds trying it.

Surprisingly, there were no little old ladies in rocking chairs in this doc.

I can’t give any advice to the aspiring whistler but you might enjoy listening to Toots Thielman, or this guy.

The range of whistling is generally in the same range as the piccolo or penny whistle, which tend to grate on the ears as a solo instruments because IIRC their tone is close to a sine wave.

I’m not sure this so much has a factual answer, so I’m gonna go ahead and take a stab at it. I think whistling suffers from a few fundamental problems that prevent it from being more prevalent. First, something you touched on, while it’s not as flat as many people may think, it certainly is quite limited compared to virtually any other instrument. I don’t think your comparison between whistling and vocal ranges is representative. I’m a fairly decent whistler with a range between 1.5-2 octaves (I can’t test my range now since I’m at work), and even though I have no formal voice training, I have a much larger range with my voice both lower and higher. Most other instruments will also have a larger pitch range.

Second, and this is a bit of a WAG, but it just doesn’t work so well in groups. In times before modern amplifying equipment, most instruments, particularly brass and woodwind, could get a lot louder because of resonance. With whistling, in order to achieve similar volumes, it has an effect on the timbre and the range. Similarly, in an orchestral setting, many similar instruments could be stacked and achieve a louder sound with very minimal chorus effect; I have a sense that this would be much less true with whistling.

Third, there just plain isn’t any real musical tradition for whistling. You may find it to be present in folk tradition several hundred years ago, but it just hasn’t been in popular music at all, which limits influence. In fact, I can only think of a couple examples where I’ve heard recorded whistling at all, and they’re tv show themes (like the Andy Griffith Show).

Finally, and I think this is the most telling one, is why whistle when you can sing? They’re both vocal instruments, and yet singing has much more range in pitch, timbre, volume, expression, and that you can actually sing lyrics. I’d also venture to guess that singing is a preferable sound to most people and carries much higher prestige. I’m sure there are some people who are very good whistlers and don’t have a good singing voice, but chances are if that describes them, they may just completely overlook whistling and pick a different instument.

There is a guy who works in the same office as me who is the best whistler I have ever heard. He doesn’t do it a lot but sometimes while he is working he will start whistling a tune. They are always instantly recognisable and everyone stops working to listen to him.

You can always design some fancy looking “instrument” that you put in front of your mouth while you whistle. That way you are not a whistler but a brossonicum player (or whatever you choose to call it)

Do this! My bird would *love *you!

Remember *The whistler and his dog *? A big hit some years ago. Try to emulate him.
Oh! and Colonel Bogey. I can whistle that. It’s an easy one. You don’t have to be gifted.

I can remember Ted Weems whistling Heartaches. He was really good.

I think it’s because most people can’t do it well and it is hard to teach. You either have the ability to hear and produce accurate pitch or you don’t, it easier with signing where the range of options is larger and the noise is produced via a mechanism that everyone uses everyday. Also, it’s a throwback to an older simpler style of music that doesn’t get a lot of respect anymore and is now considered a sort of cheep and cheesy device rather than real music.

The same is true of handclapping, which doesn’t have to be a “let’s get the audience involved” device, but has more or less turned into one. But good whistling when used well, is often very effective. Most of the people I know’s favorite parts of songs like “dock of the bay” is the whistling bit. This is the case with most pop songs that incorporate whistling, but good whistlers are hard to find. Listen to the next person who tries to whistle along with Otis when Dock of the Bay comes on the radio if you need convincing.

Oh and because I mentioned it, here is a youtube clip of the Weeping Songby Nick Cave that uses handclap very effectively (starting after the first chorus around 1:30) as a genuine musical device. What the heck, here is Dock of the Baytoo. (Whistling at the end of the song, starting at about 2:20)

Clevelanders of a certain age will remember *The Whistler and His Dog *as Captain Penny’s “Pooch Parade” theme.

Edwin Goldman encouraged the audience and band to whistle along to his march “On the Mall,” and you can hear that on most recordings of the song.

I’m a pretty good whistler. I can whistle the piccolo part from “The Stars and Stripes Forever.”

I was Kaiser Bill’s Batman.

Heh, now just TRY to get that damned tune out of your head.

BTW, yes, the actor on that track is lip-synched. Who exactly “Whistling Jack Smith” was is not certain. Believed to have been John O’Neill:

*Most *recordings. Just avoid the Blossom Festival Orchestra’s version with the demented children’s chorus doing the la-la-la’s. Holy crap it’s awful.

I think it’s because a lot of people do it, mindlessly, and they can’t do it well. I could listen for a long time to someone who can whistle well…I enjoy it. But just mindless, tuneless whistling absolutely drives me nuts and makes me angry. My husband does it all of the time and even admitted a couple of weeks ago that he does it just to piss me off…nice. I have a friend who is deeply in love with his wife, but will admit that he wants to punch her fucking teeth in when she whistles.

No one’s mentioned Roger Whittaker’s Mexican Whistler by now? :slight_smile:

As for myself, I know I have a bad habit of ‘whistling’ under my breath when I’m concentrating. When I was at school (so I know it’s an old habit) one of my friends called it my “deranged budgie” impression…it’s not proper whistling, more whistling thought my teeth…nuts, hard to explain.

My mother whistled while she did her housework. I grew up thinking that this was the norm and on those rare occasions when I wash a dish or scatter dust, I find myself whistling.

Zeldar noticed it right away and was pleased.

“Heartaches” was one of the earliest songs that I can remember. I grew up confusing the names Ted Weems and Ted Williams.

Anyone whistle arias?