Two-Handed Whistling
[ Theory | Technique | Other whistles: 1-hand , mouth-only | Related Links | Write Me ]
Generally I can teach someone how to whistle with their hands in two minutes or less, but that's when they are standing in front of me and I can show them the technique. Still, I suspect that if you give it a try you'll get the hang of it in ten minutes of real effort. Write me and let me know how it goes. 
The theory
As with any sound, whistling involves vibrating air. Unlike the string of a violin or the reed of an oboe, with whistles the vibration comes by dividing a stream of air across a surface so that some of the air goes over the surface and some of it goes under the surface. That's how it works with the 2-handed whistle, also. 
The technique
Reverse these directions if you are left-handed.
Start with both hands cupped as for swimming, open and side-by-side in front of you. The fingers are together, the thumbs are separated from them.
Use your right hand as a base: Keep it palm up, still curved. Bring the right thumb in to form a C-shape when viewed from the side.
Place the pinkie-finger side of the left hand at the base of the fingers of the right hand. With the left pinkie as a hinge, fold the left hand down so the left fingers press into the the right hand between the fingers and the thumb. Try to form an air-tight seal as you do so.
Bend the thumbs and bring the thumbs together so the parts with nails touch. Notice that by varying how the thumbs press on the finger that the thumb knuckles may point away from each other, toward each other or parallel (straight up). Make them point parallel. There ought to be an opening about the shape and size of a keyhole between the thumbs' second-digits.
Line up the thumb knuckles with the undersurface of the first finger. It is this undersurface which is going to split the stream of air.
Ensure that your hands form an air-tight cavity except for the thumb keyhole. Pay particular attention to squeezing together the wrists to close off the bottom.
Put your lips on your thumb knuckles. Your upper lip rests on your thumb first-digits. Do NOT close the 'keyhole' with your bottom lip. Their air that you are about to blow into your hands needs a place to come out!
Blow moderately with your knuckles on your lips. This steady, not-soft-not-hard breath should be like trying to blow a soap bubble using a dipping wand.
You should be hearing a whistle or a raspy almost-whistle. Adjust your fingers and thumbs to keep the air seal while remembering that whistling is splitting a stream. Feel the air coming out the bottom of the keyhole to ensure that you aren't closing it off with your lips or squeezing it closed.
Congratulations! It may be slight, but you've got a whistle!! With practice and adjustments, it should become easier and easier, and will sound crisper and clearer -- more recognizeable as a whistle.
Experiment by blowing harder and hearing the note rise slightly, then softer and hearing the note lower. Squeeze your hands together to get a higher note, and relax them to get lower. (Don't create new holes!) Once you've gotten good at that, try bending your fingers to a greater and lesser degree to control the note even more. Even more tricky is to flatten out the fingers of the right hand while whistling, making a large air hole -- the note becomes very high, and VERY loud. (You'll find you have to blow hard to make this happen.)
For the daredevils, instead of cupping the hands together lace the fingers together as if praying, and press the wrists and the pinkie-finger side of the hand together. Position the thumbs as before. Whistling like this is harder, and the note is higher (because the cavity is smaller), BUT you can control the note much more, and may be able to play music on your hands.
Other whistles - One-Handed
Several people have asked questions similar to this one:
> Wondering if you reasoning knew how to make that loud, taxi cab hailing, whistle ?
> There are many variations I have seen... One hand, two hands, no
> hands...
*SO* many people have asked me that. I found someone I work with who can do it (2 fingers from one hand) and BEGGED him to teach me. He said,
I can't teach you. You've gotta do what I did. I found someone who could do it, and asked him to teach me, and he said, 'I can't. You have to teach yourself.' So I blew and I blew and blew my brains out until, finally, I made a sound.
I did the same thing, and finally started to get quite a piercing whistle. I lost it after a few months of not practicing [my wife didn't like the sound], unable to get anything except a whisp of a weak whistle. After a few days of concerted practice (outside, while walking to work), I got it back, with a few insights:
I use thumb and middle finger, in my mouth, inserted just past my teeth and under the tip of my tongue. The tongue tip itself loosely lies on the fingers, and doesn't touch the roof of the mouth.
The rest of that hand hangs down at my chin. I
suspect that the cup that results from the curved hand against the chin/lower lip becomes a sounding chamber, with half the airstream going into this chamber and half going over it.
The whistle comes when I vary whether the thumb and middle finger are
touching or slightly spread out.
Other whistles - Mouth-Only
I was asked on December 16, 1998: > > how do you whistle regularly, with just your mouth? >
I whistle in two distinct ways with just my mouth:
TONGUE UP: I place my tongue on the roof of my mouth like I'm doing the English letter "d", lower just the tip so air can slip between it and the roof, purse my lips a little (like giving a kiss), and blow. The note changes by pursing the lips tighter/looser and by moving the back of the tongue in some way I can't yet describe.
TONGUE DOWN: Tongue in front of bottom teeth and behind bottom lip, arching the middle of the tongue up into the mouth cavity. Purse the lips. Note changes by pursing lips tighter/looser, by changing the arch of the tongue, and subtle movements of other muscles in the mouth that I can't yet describe. This seems the most common form of mouth-only whistling, but is harder for me than tongue up.
Related links
Jeremy Shafer's handwhistling page
Mike Riston's Hand Cooing page

How to Whistle Loudly

Musical whistling entertainment by the whistler - Robert Stemmons

Finger flute club

Whistle with an Acorn Cap
Remember to write!
Please let me know if these instructions worked for you. What sentences were unclear? What phrases only make sense in the U.S.? Write to: Steve Thompson,