I have a young student with cerebral palsy. Singing is a real struggle for her because she is very tight and tense in certain areas of her body.
We played with the straws today, and out came an entirely different sound. Her tone was clear and free, her body looked calm, and she sang to an E5, her highest note ever.
We both burst into tears. Neither of us knew she could sing that efficiently and sound that clear. It was beautiful on so many levels.
Straw Phonation [the straw] is life changing information for singers, and it’s simple and doable.
Singer and MSN, APRN, PMHNP-BC
How to do Voice Exercises with Straws
1) Grab a normal sized drinking straw. Of course, an eco-friendly straw is always best, but start with what you have on hand. (Some people really love coffee stirrer straws, but try these after you get used to the process.)
2) Grab a glass of water.
3) Put the straw in the water AN INCH or less. If you put the straw too far into the water, you will work too hard, make too many bubbles, and potentially cause a scene. (Jk about making a scene. We actually believe in making the straw known.) Might we suggest a cool cup with a lid, such as our straw phonation cups.
4) Blow bubbles into the water and hum, or “turn on” your sound. This step may take some getting used to, but keep at it. Make the bubbles steady, and if you are not using water make sure air is coming out of the end of the straw while you make sound.
5) When you are comfortable making one sound, change the pitch of your voice – move your voice up and down to sound like a slide whistle. Go slowly at first so you can feel the sensation of changing pitch (or tones) while making steady bubbles.
That’s it! Simple, right?
You can also exercise with straws without using water, but the bubbles in the water help you verify that airflow is steady.
To test the efficacy of the straw on your voice, conduct the following experiment(s):
1) Count to 10 in your “best” voice. Think full, clear and projected sound.
2) Use the straw as described above for 2 full minutes.
3) Count to 10 again in your “best” voice.
4) Notice how your voice feels and sounds after using the straw. We believe you might be surprised at the results.
1) Sing an 8 bar passage of your favorite song in your “best voice.” Pick a section of music that requires some energy, if possible.
2) Sing that same 8 bar passage several times through the straw, using steady, even bubbles as described above. Do not articulate or produce choppy airflow. Repeat the passage as many times as needed to straw-sing for a full 2 minutes.
3) Sing the 8 bar passage again in your “best” voice.
4) Notice how your voice feels and sounds after using the straw. Especially if you have a “big” voice, we believe you might be surprised by what you hear and feel.
To get the full impact of any Straws For Voice experiment, record yourself before, during, and after the straw. Use the voice memo app on your Smart Phone. You can always send your recordings to us so we can share them on our Straw Stories page!
Here’s a quick video that demonstrates straw exercises:
Why Does the Straw Work?
The straw often feels like magic, and many people call it a magic trick! Physics is now able to explain some of the reasons a straw can improve vocal sound so dramatically.
When using water, it is possible to see and therefore produce steady airflow. Many people do not like using water with their straws and say it is unnecessary. We can see their point, and over years of teaching straw phonation (the fancy term for vocalizing through a straw), we’ve found that the straw is an opportunity to increase airflow production for both speaking and singing. Increasing airflow in the vocal tract automatically helps the vocal cords open and close with through a very cool principle call the Bernoulli effect. The Bernoulli effect is the same thing that causes an airplane to rise into the air, and a flag to flutter in the wind. The air flowing between the vocal cords allows them to open and close with very little tension. We like to say that the cords are just “flapping in the wind.”
Dr. Ingo Titze of the National Center for Voice and Speech taught me about straw phonation in 2012. He is a pioneer of straw or SOVT (semi-occluded vocal tract) research and dissemination, and reminds us to STRETCH and UNPRESS the voice while using the straw. Remember these words, and they may help you get more out of your straw exercises.
Another reason the straw works is because it creates “back pressure.” Acoustic energy and airflow are moving from the level of the vocal cords, into the mouth. When these forces reach the level of the lips and suddenly encounter a very small opening, part of this energy gets reflected back into the vocal tract, or mouth and throat. This causes something called back pressure. The build up of back pressure in the vocal tract changes the acoustic properties of the sound, as well as changes the shape of the inside of the mouth and throat. The effect is more resonance or “ring” in the voice after the straw is removed.
How long does the effect last?
Research is yet inconclusive about how long the effects of the straw last on the voice. This is why we encourage people to do gentle straw phonation every day, even several times a day, to see how it improves their voices over time. We get to experiment on ourselves, and over time science will provide more complete evidence.
Is the straw for everyone?
No. Some people feel no effect with the straw, and we’ve even heard voice teachers complain about it’s overuse in the studio. We all need to be logical about the straw. The straw is a tool in the vocal toolbox, and doesn’t work for all voice issues. It can be a very powerful tool, however, and we want to tell as many people as we can about it just in case we reach someone who could really use it.
One of the greatest benefits of using a straw is low impact between the vocal cords, or vocal folds. These are very small folds of tissue that are potentially opening and closing hundreds of times per second. Having a way to vibrate the vocal folds with minimal impact, especially for warming up the voice, is invaluable.
SOVT or semi-occluded vocal exercises, in general, help minimize impact between the vocal folds. The straw adds incredible length to the vocal tract, which not only dramatically alters the acoustics of the vocal tract, but is also something no other SOVT methods offer.