We highly encourage the exploration of non-petroleum based plastic straws. 8.3 billion single-use plastic straws end up in the ocean each year and will never biodegrade. We have had great success with paper straws, corn-based plastics that will break down over time, and metal straws. OkStraw is an affordable option. See www.thelaststraw.com.au for more information on plastic straws and what you can do to help mitigate the damage they are having on our world. Another option is to use paper cups and poke a hole in the bottom of them.
what is straw phonation?
Straw phonation is when you put a straw in your mouth and make sound through the straw.
It is part of a series of researched warm ups called SOVT Exercises.
SOVT means Semi-Occluded Vocal Tract, a fancy way to say the mouth is partially closed.
why is it so cool?
There are four main benefits to straw phonation that you can read about below.
The short answer is that during straw phonation there is less impact, collision, and stress on the vocal folds.
Straw Phonation can be compared to doing exercises in a pool. There is less impact and stress on the muscles while still allowing them to stretch.
WHAT ARE OTHER OPTIONS?
Try poking a hole in the bottom of a paper cup to receive the SOVT benefits while still moving your lips. See SOVT Exercises for some more examples.
benefit 1: more acoustic energy in the vocal tract
Acoustic Energy (back pressure) in the vocal tract is a huge contributor to vocal fold vibration. Without the vocal tract the vocal folds would not be able to sustain vibration. See our page on Vocal Folds for more information.
When the positive and negative pressures of the vocal tract line up with the opening and closing of the vocal folds, it's like giving someone a push on the swing at the exact right time.
With straw phonation, back pressure from the vocal tract increases. So to go with the swing metaphor, the vocal folds are getting a stronger 'push' without having to 'pump' as hard.
Straw phonation = less vocal fold fatigue.
benefit 2: balanced vocal fold alignment
While some pressure always returns, when the mouth is partially closed (semi-occluded), more pressure reflects at the lips and returns to the vocal folds.
This back pressure helps align the vocal folds in a more balanced, squared-up position.
This balanced position is key for coordinating around transition points in the voice, and for creating flexibility and power.
Sliding slowly on the straw through tricky 'break' points (coordinations) in the voice trains the vocal folds to vibrate in a more optimum way instead of shifting abruptly from one position to the next. This is true regardless of the singing style, even if the goal of the style includes regular/rapid vocal fold adjustments like in yodeling.
benefit 3: Inertance and The Twang region
The scientific word for acoustic back pressure is "inertance." Inertance is one of the more difficult acoustic concepts to understand, so this is just a teaser. Think of inertance like balance. Inertance is the ultimate result of the balance between breath pressure from below the vocal folds and acoustic back pressure from above the vocal folds. When these pressures are in balance, the vocal folds can operate most efficiently. Inertance increases when energy boosts from the vocal tract work together, increasing the overall acoustic energy that returns to the vocal folds (see Acoustic Strategies for more). Think of it like "acoustic support" as a replacement for the idea of "breath support." Technically speaking, inertance is part of the whole concept known as acoustic impedance. For a taste of the complexity, the "Inertance Family Tree" shows the series of different variables under consideration, and reinforces why remembering the following makes life much simpler:
"SOVT exercises lengthen the vocal tract and narrow the opening, creating increased acoustic back pressure that helps the vocal folds vibrate more easily."
benefit 4: Lowering all formant values (E.G. ENERGY BOOSTS)
Vocal tract energy boosts, known as formants, occur throughout the vocal tract, and are one of the reasons that the voice is unique among instruments. When an energy boost created by the vocal tract aligns with a harmonic from the vocal folds, that harmonics becomes prominent in the sound, gets louder, and feels more stable.
This energy boosts can change which harmonics they boost. When the size of the vocal tract changes and size of the opening (the mouth opening) changes, the pitch of the energy boost changes.
A longer vocal tract with a smaller opening will vibrate at a lower pitch. See our page on Harmonics vs. Formants for a full explanation. This creates opportunity for teaching the vocal folds to respond to the energy boosts by changing the location of them to lower in the vocalist's range, thereby allowing them to practice complicated energy boost/harmonic alignments in an easier-to-navigate part of the range.
A visual display of a 'whoop' timbre, where the fundamental pitch is the strongest out of all the harmonics present. The fundamental pitch comes from the vocal folds and is amplified by a low formant pitch in the vocal tract. This low energy boost (formant pitch) in the vocal tract requires a long column of air, easily created with straw phonation. This is one example of an under vowel resonant strategy that can be enhanced by SOVTs.
During straw phonation, the vocal tract is longer, and the size of opening is smaller. Straw phonation creates lower energy boost (formant) values than the /u/ vowel.
Creating this low formant value in straw phonation can help singers understand the sensations of a new acoustic strategies.
See our page on Acoustic Strategies for more information.