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
If you’ve never used a straw for voice, here are instructions to get you started.
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.
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 create 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 using 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.
Many studies have been done on a category of voice exercises called Semi-Occluded Vocal Tract (SOVT) exercises. SOVT exercises are anything that causes a partial occlusion, or narrowing, of the vocal tract. The straw falls into the SOVT category because it causes a narrowing at the lips, and narrowing of the entire vocal tract because of the straw itself.
The straw also adds length to the vocal tract, which has been proven to aid in vocal efficiency.
SOVT exercises have been used in voice therapy settings for a long time. (Kapsner-Smith, et al. 2015) Scientists have discovered that SOVT exercises, in general, increase something called reactive inertance in the vocal tract. Reactive inertance is a phenomena that helps the vocal cords vibrate more efficiently, causing the voice to work with more “vocal economy.” (Titze & Laukkanen, 2007)
This is the special “bonus” of using a straw for vocal exercise: the added length of the straw creates even MORE reactive inertance than other SOVT exercises. (Titze & Verdolini Abbott, 2012)
This is a fancy way of saying that straws provide added benefits for the voice that no other SOVT exercises can give! These benefits become evident the more we experiment with straw singing for ourselves.
What are the effects of straw phonation?
The effects of singing or vocalizing through a straw can be startling. In our experience, people often feel and produce “better”sound. Straw phonation helps boost frequencies in the voice that change the way the voice resonates. (Titze & Laukkanen, 2007)
These changes in resonance, or sound, happen all by themselves after singing through a straw.
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 research 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 how we approach straw exercises. The straw is one tool in the vocal toolbox, and does NOT work for all voice issues.
The straw 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.
learn more about THE SCIENCE OF straw phonation exercises
To get the full scoop on how straw phonation works, we must refer back to the researchers who have pioneered the field of vocology (voice science) over the past few decades. Our job at Straws For Voice is help promote the benefits of this simple and potentially voice-changing tool.
We believe everyone should watch the iconic “Vocal Straw Exercise” video on YouTube made by Dr. Ingo Titze at the National Center for Voice and Speech in 2010.
Dr. Titze’s famous instructions for straw phonation (straw singing) are to “STRETCH and UNPRESS” the vocal cords. Remember these words, and they may help you get more out of your straw exercise!
If you’re interested in learning even more about the science behind straw phonation, watch three more YouTube videos entitled . . . you guessed it: “The Science Behind Straw Exercise: Videos 1,2, and 3.” We cannot recommend these resources highly enough!
Kapsner-Smith MR, Hunter EJ, Kirkham K, Cox K, Titze IR. A Randomized Controlled Trial of Two Semi-Occluded Vocal Tract Voice Therapy Protocols. J Speech Lang Hear Res. 2015;58(3):535–549.