Dictionary of Whistling

口哨辭典 • Wörterbuch des Pfeifens • 口笛辞典

endorsed by the International Artwhistling Philharmonic Society

J.M. Schlitz

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(warbling, wharbling 鳥囀). An ornithological term referring to a type of bird behaviour; it has no meaning or specific application in music. Even among those who use the term, there is no agreement on any single definition, and it may refer to (depending on the individual) any of various techniques or effects, including flutter, tremolo, trill, uvulare, nodale, laterale, vibrato, etc. — or even some combination thereof. Hence there are, effectively, as many different meanings of “warbling” as there are whistlers who use the term.

(wharbling). Common misspelling of warbling.

whistle onset time (口哨)塞音發音起始時間. (aka WOT). See voice onset time.

whistle synthesizer 口哨合成器. Hand-held device, in two sizes, invented by Dr. Ugo Conti which transforms the sound of human whistling by modifying pitch, timbre, and other aspects. See Siffleur Vol 1 No 3.

Whistledom (口哨國) das Pfeifreich. A term referring loosely to various performances, performers, events, venues (both real and online), and writings that have focused specifically on whistling. Whistledom is thus, contrary to being a single entity, rather a very general term referring to the various (and usually unrelated) doings of those who have devoted special attention to the phenomenon..

whistlephilia (戀哨狂) Pfeifphilie. Pejorative term, referring to indiscriminate fondness for whistling in any form, whether artistic, non-artistic, musical, non-musical, or otherwise. Whistlephilia has sometimes been proposed as a point of distinction between whistling enthusiasts (who tend to exhibit an interest in all things whistling-related) and (artwhistlers (musicians concerned only with the medium’s musical applications). Also used in contradistinction to whistlephobia.

whistlephobia (懼哨症) Pfeifphobie. Aversion to human whistling. One theory suggests that some people are naturally, albeit to varying degrees, adversely sensitive to high-pitched sounds (innate whistlephobia). This includes not only human whistling but also piccolo playing, high electronic beeps, squeaking, etc.; evidenced by the fact that many individuals find themselves less averse to whistling as the whistled register is lowered. Acquired whistlephobia on the other hand is conditioned by conclusions based on previous exposure, which for most people consists almost of entirely of casual whistling (99%, for argument’s sake), and occasionally (1%) performed whistling in the form of bird emulation or theatrics, TV commercials, and other non-artistic applications.

whistling champions 口哨冠軍. see contests.

whistling 口哨. Whistling may be understood as a phenomenon, a medium, or a musical instrument.
        In its broadest sense, whistling may be understood as a general phenomenon (something that occurs): any prolonged sound close to or resembling a pure sine wave that occurs in unstable or variable high frequencies (pitch). This would include the whistling of humans but also, for example, the whistling of teakettles, the wind, and certain radio phenomena.
        As a medium (something that has a human or other sentient agent), whistling may be understood as a tool used for any number of purposes, musical or non-musical, including bird mimicry or soliciting the attention of a taxi driver.
        As a musical instrument most people tend to associate whistling exclusively with singwhistling, though in fact it falls under the category of flue instruments. See mouthflute.

whistlist 口哨演奏者. Term originally used by Edward Dolbey to promote himself as a performing whistler. Presumably he used this term to distinguish his operatic-style whistling from the Woodward School and other performing whistlers who incorporated bird chirps, which was especially popular through the 1930s.

whistletainment 娛樂口哨. Whistletainment, as the term suggests, is an approach to whistling that is entertainment-oriented and aimed at reaching the widest possible public. Repertoire is generally limited to well-known songs, either folk or popular, which are whistled instead of sung; and this is sometimes combined with bird emulation and/or some type of theatrics. While some whistletainers also incorporate classical pop tunes to add a sense of artistic legitimacy or seriousness, the overall appeal of whistletainment still depends largely on novelty.
        History. Whistletainment originated as part of the variety entertainment (music hall or vaudeville) movement that flourished in western countries from about 1890 to 1940. During this time, hundreds of cylinders and phonographs were recorded by scores of professional whistlers, which was also spurned in part by the fact that in the early days of recording, the sound of whistling (a nearly pure sine wave) was the most easily captured by phonograph technology. While whistletainment is no longer a popular phenomenon, it is still the most common approach to performed whistling today and occasionally features in television talk shows, morning shows, circuses, and amateur whistling contests. Since about 2004 it has also begun to develop a core of performers in Japan.

Woodward, Anna Agnes (1872-1938). Anna “Agnes” Woodward, who preferred to use her middle name, is best known for having founded and directed a school of whistling based in California, which flourished from c.1909-1945 (see also Woodward School, below). She was born in Waterloo, New York but grew up in Tecumseh, Michigan. She studied for two years at the Detroit Conservatory under two mentors: Ida Norton, an obscure voice teacher who had studied in Europe, and the somewhat well-known tenor Harold Jarvis. It is uncertain which of these two gave Woodward, as part of her vocal training, the unusual requirement of practicing a variety of whistling exercises; but Woodward had always felt that these studies were incomplete because they did not include bird emulation. After graduation, Woodward continued to teach and perform locally as a soprano, until she over-strained her singing voice. Then, shortly after the death of her father in 1902 (but no later than 1904), she, her mother (Martha), and her mother’s sisters (Ella and Elizabeth) all moved to California. After modeling certain species of birds in the Sierra mountains, Woodward began to teach whistling privately and was able, with the earlier successes of Alice Shaw still fresh in the public’s mind, to attract many female whistling students. She formally opened her school in 1909 in Los Angeles (see below).

Photo by permission of Al Jazeera (see license). No information was provided; but I believe the three women are: 1. (sitting) Agnes Woodward herself, circa 1917; 2. (standing, white hair) Martha Woodward (b.1848), who was Agnes’s mother; and 3. (standing, dark hair) Ella McGlashan (b.1854), who was Agnes’s aunt and Martha’s youngest sister, and who also served as the school’s main piano accompanist until her health failed. The apparent age differences match with my data, and the sitting woman’s likeness is consistent with other photos I have of Agnes, albeit at different ages. The further fact that Agnes’s other aunt Elizabeth (or ‘Lizzie’, b.1850) is not pictured also makes sense, since due to mental health she was confined largely to household chores.

Woodward School, the. Posthumous term referring to the school of whistling founded by Agnes Woodward (1872-1938). Officially it was called the California School of Artistic Whistling, and Woodward called her approach to whistling The Bird Method. Woodward codified her method in her book Whistling as an Art (1923, 1925, 1937). In both published and pre-published forms, this was also the manual/textbook for her school, which flourished from roughly 1909-1945. Despite the school’s name, Woodward’s method should not be confused with artwhistling. Woodward’s method instead crossed voice emulation with bird emulation, by combining a core repertoire of operetta or parlour tunes decorated with bird-chirp ornaments. Each ornament was associated with a specific bird and assigned a specific symbol, such as a linear spiral. These symbols were inserted into standard music notation, and students were then taught to read the resulting sheet music. Proponents of Woodward’s approach nonetheless drew a careful distinction between “the Bird Method” and traditional bird mimicry, which is non-musical. Although male students also enrolled, the school was most famous for the concerts given by its Women’s Whistling Chorus, which numbered (at its height) 30-50 women and boasted its own touring bus. The school’s most talented recording artist was Margaret McKee, though the most oft-heard was Marion Darlington, who provided the whistling talent heard in most of the early Disney films, including Snow White and The Seven Dwarves. By the time of Woodward’s death in 1938, vaudeville (American music hall) had already declined, as parlour tunes and novelty performances gave way to the rise of big bands. Ownership of the school passed to Helen Ward Jeffs, who kept it functional into the mid-1940s. At one time, the school had licensed instructors in several states.
        It should also be mentioned that the Woodward school, though perhaps the most successful, was neither the only nor first formal school of whistling. By Agnes’s time, several existed in other parts of North America alone; and there is mention of other schools in Britain nearly a century earlier. See schools of whistling.


Thank you for your suggestions, questions, additions, etc. Your message will not actually appear, but I do recognise contributors within the entries themselves (if you wish). Generally speaking, (1) this dictionary does not include living whistlers, and (2) I try to publish only whistling-related content that is of interest to musicians.

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