The eerie and captivating sound of a wolf’s howl has fascinated humans for centuries. Whether you’re an actor looking to portray a wolf in a performance, an outdoor enthusiast wanting to communicate with wildlife, or simply someone who enjoys experimenting with vocal expressions, learning how to howl like a wolf can be a fun and rewarding skill to acquire. Whether you seek to join the Canine Chorus, need to learn for an acting gig, or simply wish to liven up a night around the campfire, we’re here to help you announce your wolfish presence to the world. Get ready to howl!
Something to Howl About
I recently had to relearn to howl for my role in the 11th Hour production, The Hunted. When I was younger and my voice was higher, I could howl with no problem. My voice was well within canine range and I didn’t have to break into my falsetto.
Cut forward several years later though and my vocal range had dropped considerably, and the depressing lack of demand for howling in adult life had left me somewhat out of practice. With three weeks to figure out a passable howl, what do I do?
Listen to Real Wolf Howls
Before attempting to howl like a wolf, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the tonality and characteristics of actual wolf howls. Listen to recordings of wild wolves or visit wolf sanctuaries to observe their behavior and vocalizations. Pay attention to the pitch, duration, and nuances of their howls, as well as the mouth shape and body posture during the vocalization. This will serve as a foundation for your own howling practice.
The simplest and most straightforward method to learning how to howl is to start by listening to wolves themselves. Many websites dedicated to educating people on wolves, especially those created by wolf conservatories, include videos or audio samples of wolves howling, mixed in with videos and images of them playing with their handlers. Listen to these videos and mimic the pitches like you’re at a sing-a-long. Videos are better since you can see the wolf’s mouth shape and work to replicate that in your own vocalizations.
This article gives a fairly singular and specific method of imitating a wolf howl. But you don’t have to be accurate or precise. There are many different varieties of howls. Different wolf species have higher or lower pitches, and even individual wolves of the same wolf pack have slight variations in their vocalizations that allow them to identify each other across vast distances.
Anatomy of How to Howl
As with most sounds, a typical wolf howl can be broken down into three sections: the attack, the sustain, and the decay. Mastering each section is crucial in learning how to howl.
The attack (or beginning) of the howl is the initial part where you start your vocalization. It can start at any pitch within your vocal range and can be the same note as your sustain. The duration of the beginning is typically short, lasting only a couple of seconds. However, using more breath to reach a higher or lower note can add authenticity and power to your howl.
The beginning of the howl can start anywhere in your vocal range, and even be the same note as your sustain. The most important part of the Beginning is to choose a note that feels comfortable and doesn’t require a lot of your air supply to hit. The duration of the Beginning is short, only lasting for a couple of seconds at most (Flamberge and Falls generalized this to 0.5 seconds), but using more oxygen to reach an especially high or low note can prove to be your undoing in the other portions of the howl, cutting your sustain Short or making your End peter out weakly.
The sustain is the main part of the howl where you hold a long, sustained note. It’s important to choose a pitch that feels comfortable in your vocal range and requires minimal effort to sustain. Experiment with different pitches to find the one that sounds most natural and wolf-like. Use your diaphragm to control your breath and maintain a steady, strong tone during the sustain.
The heart of imitating the howl lies around your falsetto range. The sustain will invariably be a few steps above where your falsetto starts, and the break in your voice when you cross into your falsetto actually assists in mimicking the throaty sound of the howl. No matter if you start in your mid-range and smoothly transition up, or start high and slur downwards, the sustain should land roughly in the same place in your vocal range, give or take a fourth.
For me, this was the hardest part of learning the howl. Because I never properly trained my falsetto, the gap between my normal range and my falsetto was considerable, my high range was weak, and my voice cracked uncomfortably while transitioning between vocal ranges.
The decay (or ending) is the final part of the howl where you transition smoothly from the sustain to a lower note, often a minor third or a major third below the sustain. This downward glide should be done with control and precision, adding character to the howl and making it sound natural. Practice this transition to ensure it’s smooth and seamless.
The end of the howl should be pitched equal to or lower than the Sustain. As you begin to run out of breath (whatever your estimate of a quarter of a tank is), use the last of your air to gradually decrease the volume until the sound fades out. The stereotypical howl will end on a similar pitch that it started on, similar to the sound of an air raid siren. However, it’s not uncommon for a real wolf’s howl to end closer to the Sustain.
Focus on Breath Control
Breath control is a critical element in mastering how to howl. Wolves howl with full breaths, and you should aim to do the same. Take a deep breath before you start your howl and use your diaphragm to control the airflow as you sustain the note. Avoid shallow breaths or running out of breath midway through the howl, as it can make the howl sound weak and less authentic.
Practice and Experiment
Like any skill, mastering the art of howling takes practice and experimentation. Be patient with yourself and practice regularly to improve your howling skills. Experiment with different pitches, durations, and transitions to find the best combination that works for your voice. You can also try imitating the howls of different wolf species or individual wolves to add variety and authenticity to your howl.
Incorporate Body Language and Emotion To make your wolf howl even more authentic, consider incorporating body language and emotion into your performance. Wolves often howl in social contexts, expressing their emotions and communicating with other pack members. Use your body posture, facial expressions, and emotions to convey the intensity and emotions of a wolf’s howl. This can add depth and authenticity to your performance.
Your Night to Howl
Now that we’ve broken down the basics of each part how to howl, it’s time to string it all back together. The sound you’re going to be using is, as expected, an elongated “how-woo”. The “how” makes up the attack section of the howl, while the “woo” makes up the sustain and decay. You could conceivably use other vocalizations to shape the howl, but the important part is to maintain an O shape with the vocalization.
Howling like a wolf can be a fascinating and enjoyable skill to master. By listening to real wolf howls, mastering the three sections of a wolf howl, focusing on breath control, practicing regularly, experimenting with different techniques, and incorporating body language and emotion, you can improve your howling skills and achieve a more authentic and convincing wolf howl.
Remember to be patient with yourself and allow time for practice and refinement. It may take some time to find the right pitch, duration, and transitions that work best for your voice, but with perseverance and dedication, you can achieve a compelling and realistic wolf howl.
Lastly, always respect wildlife and their natural habitats. Avoid disturbing or imitating wild wolves in their natural environment, as it can disrupt their behavior and habitat. If you’re interested in observing or learning more about wolves, consider visiting a reputable wolf sanctuary or learning from wildlife experts.