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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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  • @Alex You're right. Similarly, as far as I'm aware it's not possible to hum through the mouth, just through the nose. Anyways: related and awesome video: Bobby McFerrin produces three notes at once, plus percussion.
    – user28
    Jul 3, 2011 at 23:31
  • Here's an interesting video demo about singing more than one note: youtube.com/watch?v=b0nI2f98ykw. Jul 3, 2011 at 23:38
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    I'm not a vocalist, but right now I've been able to hum a constant tone while whistling different tones. Not the other way round, though!
    – Kos
    Jul 6, 2011 at 13:54
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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, 2011 at 12:14

4 Answers 4

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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, 2011 at 16:09
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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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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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@Emanuel You sound just like me, -ish ;-) I was wondering about what sound you all meant (some posts here used "whistle" for "sing, while in whistle-register"). Your advice makes me want to go out and get that mic/heaphones cable I need, to try this myself with any gap-bookstand-pair notes/parity I can't do yet.

Your advice is what I used to finally get whistling to work at all, outwardswise at a very late, bordering teenage date. I found a barely-more-laminar-than-breath note, and micro-adjusted over a day or two. Before that, I could only whistle inhaling, at OK+ level, at best, at all.

Found out (parents clueless) I was a musician in 2014, still haven't found a single person place to rehearse/duet/jam with. But suddely today it looks like here is where I'll find advice to change that with (godz tho', how much easier it is for people whose 'rents/siblings playey or sang anythin ever, to find a band, or an obsession, or anything like a musiciany life).

A week of internet/ustube in 2013 or '16, including three 10 min vids, then the next actual night an encounter at the old Sudoroom Hackerspace doorway with @OaklandThinktank leading to 20mins with a whiteboard and an empty resonant room, and suddenly I was hearing the shaped or rooms and Tuva-overtoning all but whistle "beltone" styled (I was fraid, rightly so, to press that hard there yet. Got it reliably last week when I remembered to try again).

Since maybe 2018 or so, I got online again quasiregularly, and found Youtube was still getting learner-coacceleration stuff right. This past year with the sensorage and accountblock stuff I hesitate to bult there, but I learn a lot of (post) Calculus and find it pointing me here (MO stack) and suddely, nothing feels like Trumpland meets Kluelesness w/ Deeepfakeland anymore. There are places to just learn and play and jam on more learning without ANY asininities. And almost every stack on this exchangr, for example, is a pretty wide sperth of havenage, for a start.

Now I want to add (literally) every acoustic/diaphragmatic bronkephawindist technique possible to humankind. It's amazing what VIMEOTUBE and wikipedia/stacksite has done. Now suddenly the first taste of the most "advanced" crazy-impossible sounding stuff is often 3 15-minute videos and half-a-day of plaayful experimentation away. I'm thinking of singing (all parts of) Beethoven's IXth and whistling all of Vivaldi as reachable goals in the next few years. Maybe while hanging out in Germany and Georgia and teaching language-vacuumcleaner prodigies like ourselves.

If anyone has recommendations for online-jamwith recording-function capable bandcamp/soundcloud/whatelse? sites, I need to choose one. Likewise for whistle+breathsound -optimised double mic (stereo) positioning setup and distance/angle recording ergonomics, please inform. I'll post properly later, but if it's somewhere and I've missed it, please post me a link to the place I find people to actually form a whistling multet with. In SF, tenderloin, but soon to travel anywhere. Our (4-blocks) local Conservatory Of Music could use a Whistling Faculty, too. Anyone up for cofounding it (assuming they're a good place for faculty... otherwise NO).

Nice to find you all. Cheers. Please forgive my spew.

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