Straws may sound like unlikely candidates for singing tools, but the research is in, and they come with a wide variety of benefits. Straw phonation (i.e. simply singing through a straw) is excellent for pedagogical reasons, like breath management, but it’s also great for vocal recovery. In this article, we’re going to talk about the history of straw phonation, why it’s used, and how we should use it.
A Brief History of Straw Phonation
Who knows how long inventive voice teachers were having their students sing through straws? The National Center for Speech and Voice suggests that it’s been going on for several hundred years beginning in Northern Europe. But the man who made straw phonation famous was Dr. Ingo Titze, one of the world’s leading voice scientists, who published a variety of academic papers on the topic.
What Straw Phonation is For
As with other semi-occluded vocal tract exercises, singing through a straw is a great way to work on breath control. The narrower opening not only makes the air stream tiny, but it also gives you great aural cues for when you’ve just blown out all the air and deflated.
Ease of Vocal Fold Vibration
Having the mouth partially closed creates more back pressure on the vocal folds (i.e. pressure above the vocal folds instead of just below them), which allows them to vibrate more easily.
Helps With Resonance
One of the acoustic energy boosts that you get from singing through the straw creates a formant between the 2000 and 4000 Hz range (the twang region). This is the range that vibrates sympathetically with the human eardrum, so without any increased power from breath, we perceive sounds that fall into this region as louder and more piercing.
Vocal Health and Rehabilitation
The pressure from the semi-occlusion builds down to the vocal folds and in between them, allowing a nice cushion that keeps the vocal folds from slamming into one another with so much force. This is excellent for both warming up and cooling down after you’ve begun to wear your voice out.
How to Sing Through a Straw
First, enjoy this video of Dr. Ingo Titze explaining straw phonation.
And if you’re the type who prefers written directions for your how to’s, we can do that for you too!
- Put a thin straw in your mouth, just as you normally would when you’re taking a sip of something.
- Start with a pitch glide from low to high and back down.
- Do another pitch glide, but this time, add some hills along the way, going up and down on pitch, getting a little higher each time.
- Vocalize a song through the straw.
Tips and Tricks
- Don’t let any air escape through your nose or mouth.
- Use support just as you always would.
- Pinch your nose to make sure the sound doesn’t change when you do that.
Molly is the founder of Molly’s Music. She is a dedicated singer and pianist whose musical journey spans 2.5 decades, with stops along the way to sing for the pope, pass Certificate of Merit at the highest level, study with Gwen Verdon and Ben Vereen, and record an original album.