Jeffrey Amos at the International Whistlers Competition

How to Palate Whistle

As a child, I seldom thought about how I whistled. However, I knew that I did it differently from most whistlers since I didn’t pucker my lips. The sound (and air) came from out of the top of my mouth between my tongue and my teeth. Much later, I realized that my method of whistling is called palate whistling.

Palate whistling is also known as "roof whistling", since the sound is produced by forcing air between the top of the tongue and the roof of the mouth (also known as the hard palate). Palate whistlers may also move their lips in order to aid the sound. For example, to whistle a high note, I usually stretch my lips as wide as I can.

Here are some tips on how to palate whistle:

  1. Make sure your mouth is moist by sipping some water (preferably ice water).
  2. Open your mouth slightly so there is about a half inch opening between your top and bottom teeth.
  3. Draw your lips and the corners of the mouth back as far as possible.
  4. Position your tongue so that it is almost touching the section of the hard palate behind the front teeth.
  5. Broaden and flatten the tongue, then hold the tongue taut – try to seal the area between the molars with the sides of the tongue.
  6. Blow air gently through the tight space between the tongue and the palate – this should create the whistle
  7. Use movements in the tip of the tongue to change the key of notes and to create such musical effects as vibrato.
  8. Use breath control to determine the loudness of the notes and the create such musical effects as staccato.
  9. The position of the lips can also be used to create effects in the music. For example, opening the lips just as the air is coming out creates a kind of chirping effect. Also the lips can be twisted around and that changes the sound too -- give it a try!

Of course, not everybody can whistle in this manner, but it is worth a try. Palate whistling can be combined with other styles of whistling (such as pucker whistling) to broaden a whistler’s range of options and styles when performing a piece. However, everybody has his or her own preference for how to whistle.

It is possible that there is a physiological basis for being a good palate whistler -- something about the shape of the mouth or the area of the palate behind the teeth. My mother can also palate whistle and this is her preferred method of whistling, so there may be some truth to the physiological argument in my own situation.

But regardless of how you whistle, just make good music to make the world go round!!!