Whistle Tones


Whistle Tones occur when the air is moving slowly with very low pressure, like a gentle exhale. vibrations happen at the lip plate instead of inside the tube.  These delicate whistle sounds can be held on random whistle tones in free cascades according the harmonic series or on a single pitch. Whistle tones have a very limited dynamic range, perceived pp-mp. The timbre of a whistle tone is enough to carry the sound in hall. However, whistle tones will easily be covered when combined with high pitches in other instruments, especially strings. 

Whistle tones speak best on fingerings in the third-octave on most flutes. This is especially true for the lower flutes (Alto, Bass, Contrabass) where the lower whistle tones might not even sound due in part to the size of the tube. Rapid passages of specifically fingered whistle tones, especially in the lower registers, are not advised.


Production Tips

Turn the flute out slightly, and exhale an extremely slow, gentle airstream with a very loose embouchure and an open throat—warm, moist air much like fogging a mirror. To produce a stable third-octave pitch, finger the note and blow very softly with the mouth shaped as if you would whistle a very high note. Once the resonance of the tube and the shape of the inside of your mouth match, you can play exactly pitched whistle tones. High whistle tones are generally easier to produce. When using low note fingering as a starting pitch, you can pick out partials above the fundamental, just like the harmonic series. Despite the high frequency of Whistle Tones, the support needed is more like that of a low pitch. In order to fluctuate Whistle Tones through the harmonic series, change the shape of the mouth cavity using different vowel shapes (or moving the tongue up and down).


Extended Variations

  • Inside the flute: Another way to produce Whistle Tones is by sealing the embouchure hole completely with the lips. The mouth cavity is shaped similarly to an external Whistle Tone. Experiment with different shapes and tongue placement in the mouth to achieve different frequencies. This can be done either exhaling or inhaling.


Notation Examples
Video Examples

Flute 1

Sustained high G, followed by harmonic series on low C at random

Flute 2

Inside the flute


Steady and random Whistle Tones


Random on various fingerings


Random on various fingerings

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