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The physics behind human whistling-where does the sound come from?

  1. Jan 23, 2013 #1
    The physics behind human whistling--where does the sound come from?

    In most whistles, air is split somehow. When humans whistle (by forming a small hole with their lips), this is definitely not the case. I would assume that the mouth is the resonance chamber because pitch can be altered by moving the tongue, palate, etc. However, our mouths are open at BOTH ends. And we can whistle by both exhaling and inhaling. How is it possible that blowing air OUT of our mouths could create enough vibration that then resonates INSIDE out mouths? What is creating the whistling sound, and where, and how?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 23, 2013 #2


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  4. Jan 24, 2013 #3
    Re: The physics behind human whistling--where does the sound come from?

    I have read it. It is very vague about what is actually happening. I have asked a few physics professors about how whistling works.

    One person is absolutely adamant that the vibrations are caused because of the air being pressurized as it goes out the lips, causing the lips to vibrate. Another claims that vibrations are caused outside of the mouth, as the air stream forms vortices that interfere with each other. And another insists that the tongue causes vibrations in the mouth, acting like a reed. Which is it? I'm not crazy about any of these explanations.
  5. Jan 24, 2013 #4
    Re: The physics behind human whistling--where does the sound come from?

    maybe this one is more clear, although still a bit basic:

    The basics is just moving air inside a hollow tube that's closed at one end will do to produce a clear sound. You can only make whistling sounds at the resonance frequencies of your mouth, because only at the resonance frequencies the pressure changes due to the moving air will get amplified. You can change the resonance frequencies by changing the position of your tongue. You can move to higher order resonance frequencies by blowing harder.

    The initial pressure oscillations are caused because the air becomes turbulent in the back of your throat and at your lips.
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