Double Tongue Whistling

by jefftkjefftk1 min read2nd Oct 20191 comment

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I can whistle about seven notes per second, which corresponds to a reel at 105bpm. [1] While this isn't a problem for whistling basslines it's slightly too slow for melodies at contra dance speed (~110-122bpm). I want to figure out how to whistle faster, and I know there are people who whistle faster, but I don't know how it's usually done.

I see two main routes:

  • Do what I currently do, but faster.

  • Figure out how to do something else.

The former doesn't seem very promising: I've been playing around with whistling for decades and I suspect I'm pretty close to a local maximum with my current approach. On the other hand, I'm just trying to get from seven notes per second to eight, which seems like it might be possible?

The latter is pretty open, and probably involves doing something that's slower at first but will eventually be faster. The main problem is, how do I know that after I put in all that effort I'll actually end up with something faster? Ideally there would be people demonstrating on youtube or something, with "here's how to whistle quickly" videos, but I'm not seeing that.

Still, it seems like some sort of double-tonguing should work. Normally when I whistle I mark the notes with my glottis, the same as the two glottal stops in "uh-oh". A different option, though, would be to mark the notes by making a velar closure with my tongue, the same as the two velar stops in "cook" ("k"). And then I could alternate between them, which seems like it should let me get up to twice the speed of the slower one. Here's what the three sound like:

I find velar stops harder, partly because it's not what I'm used to, and partly because I'm already using my tongue to form the whistle. Currently I can them 4-5 times per second. When alternating I can do a little better, 5-6 times per second, but that's still less than the 8-10 you'd expect from doubling my velar-only speed. I can go te-ke-te-ke with closures 10-11 times per second, so I am optimistic.

Has anyone learned to double-tongue their whistling successfully? Does this work?


[1] Or a jig at 140bpm, since that's six notes per measure instead of eight.

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I can get sharp and rapid changes in my whistle by changing the way air flows across the lateral part of my tongue. In my normal whistling posture, that part of my tongue does something like what it does during a particularly hard /ɹ/ sound: it basically presses into the top molars. During fast whistling (and arpeggios), one side moves to let air pass more like what that part does during an /l/ sound. The rest of the tongue seems to move a tiny bit forward and up to accomplish this change. The end result is a very fast "flipping" feeling between notes and a bit of adjustment needed to hit the pitch I'm going for. By going back and forth between the two tongue positions rapidly I can something like double my whistling speed compared to glottal air control, though at absolute top speed there is a reduction of pitch accuracy and I find it hard to keep a bit of an excessively airy tone out of the whistle. The point, though, is that what used to be top speed is very comfortable while "double-tonguing". (I don't know if there's a common term for this move. I just kind of figured it out back in high school after I heard somebody else do it and they couldn't explain it beyond "I don't know. I just do it.")

I hope this is an accurate and detailed enough description to get the idea from. I'm a bit unused to discussing tiny movements of mouth parts, I'm afraid. Best of luck learning!