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I can whistle and hum at the same time, by making the breath from my humming go out through lips formed into a whistling pucker. I've found that no matter how hard I try to do otherwise, whatever note I hum is the same note I whistle.

  • Is there a neurological reason for this? Is there something like exactly one place in the brain that I can use to generate tones with my mouth?

  • Has anyone used simultaneous whistling and humming at the same time in performance? If so, were they able to harmonize with themselves?

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Almost without doubt, the reason is physiological. I'd be amazed if the voicebox is capable of producing sounds at two widely different fundamental frequencies simultaneously! –  Noldorin Jul 3 '11 at 23:21
    
Also, I'm not sure this question really belongs on thie SE site (Music), but I'll let the voters decide that one of course. –  Noldorin Jul 3 '11 at 23:22
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@Noldorin: But whistling has nothing to do with the voice box, does it? Isn't the pitch of a whistle determined by the shape of the cavity formed between the tongue and the palette? (I don't know this for certain; I can't whistle.) –  Alex Basson Jul 3 '11 at 23:29
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This is definitely on topic. It's a vocal performance extended technique. –  NReilingh Jul 4 '11 at 2:38
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I'd say it's only a matter of training, I can change my whistling tone while keeping the sung note constant, and the other way around. Logically you could train to control them separately at the same time, as with left and right hands. –  Gauthier Nov 4 '11 at 12:14

3 Answers 3

up vote 18 down vote accepted

The only difference between singing and humming is really where the air is going. Since you're directing the air through your mouth to form a whistle, this can't be humming, you're actually singing and whistling at the same time.

When I taught myself how to do this, I did notice that the two pitches were moving together at first, but I'll bet if you worked on it in the right way you could learn to control the distinct muscle groups individually. This is actually rather similar to multiphonics on a brass instrument, where the lip buzz and the sung tone must be controlled individually in many cases.

There is probably some innate neural reason why we have trouble with this; whatever it is, it is clear that 99% of human-controlled musical tones are single line, so we have a very strong neural link between a single pitch and a muscular setting. Audiating two pitches at a time and then controlling different muscle groups for each is a pretty tall order given that context, but it can be done.

Here are some things you can try:

  • While singing or whistling alone, identify the minimum amount of musculature that you can move to effect a change in pitch. For me, I can change a pitch in my whistle by moving the tongue only, and can change sung pitch by only moving the throat.
  • Become very familiar with those muscular movements
  • When singing and whistling simultaneously, don't think about the notes. Think instead of individual muscle groups.

Given that, try singing and whistling simultaneously. Once you've got it steady, try moving the tongue back and forth. If you're only thinking about the muscle and not about the note, you should hear a change in pitch of the whistle. Changing sung note while sustaining a whistled one is the same thing with the opposite muscle group. I'd recommend starting with the tongue because it's a very easy muscle to localize your brain's control over.

After you've got that down, then it's just a matter of refining control and linking each individual muscle group back to your musical mind. Good luck!

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Good answer. In particular, trying to change the whistle note by moving your tongue while keeping the sung note constant is a great place to start. That's how I learned how to do this on the didgeridoo, which is essentially the same technique. –  yossarian Oct 27 '11 at 16:09

There are two reasons that you will struggle to whistle and hum at the same time:

  • Psychological: If you struggle to play a tune on an instrument and sing a harmony, you will also struggle with whistling and humming different notes. You may need to work on developing a sense for harmony before you can do anything interesting.

  • Physical: The notes you make with whistling and humming occupy the same air, and so interfere with each other. If you sing tenor, then the whistled and hummed notes are relatively close to each other, and the interference between them will make the whistling harder. If you sing a deep bass, you will have an easier time of it.

As for performance, you can find a few youtube videos lately on the subject (I found two that were relatively good). If you have a particularly spectacular whistle and voice, you may just be able to attract an audience. You may need to add some percussion, and then bill yourself as a one-man-band.

When I whistle and hum, with great virtuosity if you ask me, nobody is particularly impressed - it is fun though, and best done in the shower.

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Nice.. I finally found something on this matter.

I started singing and whistling a couple of years ago, really kind of by accident, and I was just fascinated to hear two different notes coming out of my mouth...

At first it seemed impossible to control any of it. If I would let´s say sing higher, the whistling would follow, and the interval between the notes was random every time. But this was fun in a way, and I tried to just concentrate on one note at a time. After a lot of practicing I found that I could lock the singing on just one note, and move the whistling. This was really the point where I realized that with more practice I could actually control each sound individually. After some more practice I was already able to sing in simple intervals like thirds or fifths. Usually I used my singing for the lower notes, and whistle the higher note. At that point it was starting to get really fun, because I could sing and whistle simple songs together in harmony! I started with simple stuff like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, using my voice for the bassline and whistling the melody, etc. Then after a lot of practice I already did harder songs and it just became a challenge to hit harder intervals (like the dominant seventh). I didn´t really show it to many people, just a couple of my friends. I do however think I will record something to let everyone hear what im talking about..

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This is kind of an answer and a question. If you have an actual question, ask one as a new question. –  Andrew Jul 3 '13 at 0:38
    
I have removed your question part - as Andrew said, please ask it as a new question if you want. –  Dr Mayhem Jul 3 '13 at 8:42

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