What is my (whistling) malfunction?
March 2, 2007 7:47 AM   Subscribe

Why can't I produce the classic taxi whistle (you know, two fingers in mouth, very loud)? And I've just spent quite a while in the attempt, following these directions.

Last night, after seeing this question and the link to Google Answers therein, I spent quite a while attempting to produce this whistle. No go.

So, why not? There are two basic possibilities, I guess:
1 - despite detailed instructions, I'm not doing it right
2 - my particular anatomy does not enable me to do this
2a - my tongue is ... larger than average, and my orthodontist says I'm a "tongue thruster". Relevant?
2b - My tongue is currently pierced. Although, I remember trying this years ago, and couldn't do it then either (the directions may have been lacking at the time). During the initial healing period, I was unable to whistle at all, but once the longer barbell was replaced with a shorter one, my regular whistling ability returned.

So, ability or anatomy? Is it possible to be physically incapable of producing this sound in this manner?
posted by timepiece to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (19 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite

It is easier if you use two hands. Put your index and pointer fingers from each hand into your mouth forming a V with the index fingers touching. Roll the tip of your tongue up toward the roof of your mouth and place the tips of your fingers on the bottom of your tongue near the tip. Blow. Once this is mastered you might find it easier to learn with the thumb and index fingers of one hand.
posted by caddis at 8:06 AM on March 2, 2007

Are you making any kind of sound? A sort of proto-whistle? If you are they you just need practice. It's all about getting the physics right and it's not the most intuitive thing. Tweak it and try it, as I always say! (I've never said that)

It's definitely possible that your face-jewelry is causing problems. Does it feel like it's in the way? Do you feel air coming through your tongue-hole?

I always found the 4-finger method a bit too much. You can do it with two index fingers or thumb and index on one hand. If you do the latter, play around with the shape your fingers make: round v. pointy, you know? You'll probably do better with pointy.
posted by wemayfreeze at 8:21 AM on March 2, 2007

Upon checking that link: I've never rested my fingers on my teeth. If there is finger-tooth contact it is purely inci-dental (count it!). More of a resting on the bottom lip kinda thing for me.
posted by wemayfreeze at 8:24 AM on March 2, 2007

I agree with caddis its Ability. I started with the four finger approach, two from each hand. Make a V and place on tongue, now you need to adjust two things: First the angle in your mouth by pointing your finger at the roof of your mouth or the back of you throat, and second the width of the V. slowly make adjustments until you hear a sound. Then just keep at it until you get the ear splitting blast that you are after. As a side note, no one likes it when you are at an event, sports, music or other, and the guy behind them blasts out their eardrums with a shrill whistle. Have fun!
posted by Morgangr at 8:27 AM on March 2, 2007

I'm a skeptic.

Having extensively practiced various techniques over the years I have concluded I am physiologically incapable of making the sound.
posted by MasonDixon at 8:35 AM on March 2, 2007

I spent the better part of sixth grade recess learning how to do this, here's what works for me:

Right hand in the "OK" position (index and thumb arced into a circle, tips lightly touching).

Fold your tongue into a "Z" shape (imagine a side view cutaway of your head): the top bar of the Z is the part leading back to your throat, the bottom bar of the Z is the tip nearest the front of your mouth.

Insert the index/thumb circle into your mouth, into the middle of the Z. The joined finger tips will touch your tongue just about where most people I know with tongue piercings have their doohicky so maybe that is indeed what is holding you back.

Curl the tip of your tongue up around your fingertips and open a tiny gap between your fingertips until you find the sweet whistling spot. It helps to experiment with long slow exhalations rather than trying to just blast one out at first.

I also discovered in seventh grade that it no longer works with any appreciable fingernail length (1/16" max) because I had suddenly discovered boys and subsequently stopped biting my nails somewhere during that summer.
posted by jamaro at 9:20 AM on March 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm totally incapable of doing this also.
posted by DieHipsterDie at 9:39 AM on March 2, 2007

I was never able to do this but jamaro's Z explanation brought me close, in conjunction with experimenting with angle etc.
The Google answer explaned that the upper teeth are the bevel that creates the sound; that prompted me to experiment with that area.

Hey, never expected to learn that after all!

Now it's a matter of practice.
posted by jouke at 10:01 AM on March 2, 2007

I think these instructions were discussed further in a previous AskMe whistle thread, fwiw.
posted by onlyconnect at 10:16 AM on March 2, 2007

I have no idea when it happened, but at some point I learned to do this very loud whistle without using my fingers. I always figured it was the same whistle as the two-finger whistle and that the fingers were just optional--for show, perhaps. But after reading those directions, I think it isn't.

If your goal is to simply whistle loudly (and you don't mind skipping the show of putting fingers in your mouth) then there is Another Way:

1. Stretch your upper and lower lips down (and up) over your teeth and pull them tight. Like you're doing an impression of a toothless old wo/man. "Get off my lawn!" should resemble a muppet talking as you can't make shapes with your lips fixed like that.

2. Shape your tongue into a bowl shape--slightly curled up on the sides and also at the tip. Place it against your upper lip that is curled around to the back of your upper teeth. Just place it lightly there but make a complete seal all the way around.

3. Close your mouth and blow a little bit. You should have a complete seal so no air comes out. Now open your mouth slightly and blow a bit. You still should get no air coming out because your tongue is sealed against your upper lip. Now, move just the tip of your tongue down to let a little air out.

4. Play with this and follow your ears. While keeping this basic shape/seal, move your mouth more open/closed, smile/pucker, tongue tip more open/sealed. Practice! It may take more than just a few minutes of fiddling to get. Hopefully at some point your shhhhh should become more of a sssssss, gain some hollowness, and eventually a whistle.

It make take a little more air than a normal pursed lips whistle at first. A lot of air will make it very very loud.

Good luck!
posted by nonmyopicdave at 10:44 AM on March 2, 2007

I've never been able to do this kind of whistle. Another that I could never do was that oboe-type sound by cupping your hands together. Oh how I loathed the other kids who could do that.

I could, however, make the blade of grass squeak.
posted by smcniven at 12:02 PM on March 2, 2007

I also have failed miserably at this in the past. I'm gonna give these suggestions a go when I'm not working. I will be thrilled if the advice here finally gives me the ability to do this.
posted by quin at 12:08 PM on March 2, 2007

I could, however, make the blade of grass squeak.

Ooh, I was really good at this. I could actually change the pitch by adjusting the tension on the blade. It was my one noise-related talent.
posted by quin at 12:09 PM on March 2, 2007

Thanks, nonmyopicdave - that's two whistles I can't do now.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 12:16 PM on March 2, 2007

Here's a video of a guy (with a great South African accent) showing how to do it. (I still can't, but I can whistle super-loud just in the regular way.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:20 PM on March 2, 2007

All I have now is a couple of slobbered up fingers.
posted by papakwanz at 3:39 PM on March 2, 2007

caddis: "Put your index and pointer fingers from each hand into your mouth..."

What do I do if my index finger is my pointer finger?!?
posted by team lowkey at 10:30 PM on March 2, 2007

Bite harder.
posted by flabdablet at 4:48 AM on March 3, 2007

Man. Now I have spittle all over my computer screen.
posted by roger ackroyd at 10:58 PM on March 10, 2007

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