Both speech and singing are elaborations of our innate emotional and contact calls. An essay Cry, Speak, Sing, Whistle discusses the similarities and differences between these elaborations and considers their role in society. Click on the title to read or download.
The skill of whistling is very similar to tuning the resonance of the voice to make vowels. When we speak we control voice pitch and resonance independently. Some singers refine this independence by whistling and singing two different melodic lines simultaneously. Click here to hear this extraordinary skill demonstrated in this extract from The Whistling Woman BBC Radio 4 broadcast on the 23 February 2013
To hear the harmonics series brought into focus by virtuosa overtone singer Anne-Marie Hefele click here
There are now many free apps that you can sing into and it will track the harmonics of your vowels and show the noise band of consonants. My favorite is FFT. As an example I sang the first line of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star , do do so so la la so, into my phone. You can see how many of the harmonics of the so line up with the harmonic of the do.
Have you noticed the sound of bouncing glass? You may have heard this sound while washing up and not thought much about it. If you gently tap drinking glasses together sometimes you can hear the individual bounces. but if you hold them together a little tighter so they bounce more than 16 times a second then we can hear them sing as in this recording.
The rolled R is made by blowing air through the flapping tip of the tongue. It flaps about 13 times a second, just a little too slow to make a pitch. However if we press the tongue harder against the roof of the mouth and apply more air pressure we can cross the boundary into pitch, as demonstrated in this clip The Singing Tongue. Normally the tongue is controls pitch by its position as in whistling and overtone singing but here it is using pressure like the trumpeters lips and the vocal chords. Perhaps you will recognise the tune.
Somewhere in the region between pulse and pitch is the sound of the woodpecker happily tapping at the bark of a tree around 20 times a second, about the rate of a human shiver from cold or fear. The hummingbird beats its wings 70 times a second to make a note around the lowest of the bass voice.
The change of sensation as a repetition is accelerated to become a pitch can be explored on the Android app pulse2pitch which has a special page on this site..
To read about the the topsy-turvey maths of the vibrating string click here
The perception of ptich varies from person to person. Some folk, around 1 in 10,000, have absolute pitch which meant that they can quickly name random notes. The other 9,999 have imperfect pitch in that they can still differentiate between low middle and high with varying degrees of accuracy and can more preceise with practice. There are some, usually music makers, who have relative pitch who are good at idetentifying the interval between two notes, e.g. up a ferfect 5th, down 3 frets with out knowing the names of the notes.