As seen in Guitar Girl Magazine Issue 4.
One of the best-kept secrets in the vocal technique world that is gaining some recognition lately is that of the Straw Technique or Straw Phonation. If you ever experience vocal fatigue, strain for higher notes, or just want to improve your vocal skills, grab a straw (preferably a reusable one)!
According to Dr. Ingo Titze, a world-renowned voice scientist who discovered and is popularizing the use of a straw in vocalization, it can help reduce strain and can train your vocal folds to produce sound correctly. There is a lot of science to back up his claims, but here are the main ways using a straw can improve your singing if used regularly:
- Your vocal folds will stop working so hard to create sound.
- Your vocal folds will take on a better, more efficient shape for easy singing.
- You will learn how to use breath more efficiently.
All of these things result in a much clearer and more powerful sound that is easier to produce – what singer doesn’t want that?
Let’s look at how to get the most out of using a straw to warm up your voice.
How to do the Straw Technique
First, you have to find the right straw to use. Dr. Titze recommends a narrow straw (a bit narrower than your regular drinking straw). The narrower the straw, the more benefit you will get from the exercises.
Next, you simply place the straw between your lips and begin to make sound, almost like you are humming, only with a straw in your mouth. If this seems strange to you, don’t worry; you will get used to it. One tip is to imagine that your lips end at the end of the straw.
It is very important that all the air is coming out of the straw. Check to make sure no air is seeping out around the straw and that no air is coming out of your nose either. As you begin to make sound, you can pinch your nose shut, and there should be no interruption in the sound. You can also place your hand at the opening of the straw to feel the air flowing out of it.
As you start to vocalize, you will want to notice your breath flow – is it steady and even? To check, you can also get a tall cup that is half full of water and hum through the straw into the water. You want to get a very steady stream of bubbles coming through; if you get splashed in the face, you are blowing too much air at one time and creating big air bubbles. Aim for a steady flow as you “sing” through the straw. You will also notice this will automatically engage your core muscles very gently, which is great training for breath support.
Once you get the hang of singing through the straw, I recommend put together a simple warm-up routine you can do any time. You can make it anywhere from 5-15 minutes long, and then move on to your regular warm-ups and singing, either for practice or performance.
5-Minute Straw Technique Warm-up
1 minute of sirens up and down, no particular pitches, just try to get a smooth sound from top to bottom
1 minute of emphasized siren sounds, imagine you are making sounds like engines revving, up and down your whole range
1-2 minutes of scales or vocalizes
1-2 minutes of vocalizing using the melody from a piece of music you are working on
To get the most benefit from the Straw Technique, you should try to do it once every day for at least 5 minutes to get started, but you can do it more often if you want. At a minimum, I recommend doing a straw warm-up prior to every time you are going to practice or perform. Straw Phonation is also great for cooling-down after singing and for rehabilitation of a tired or strained voice.
Of course, if you are experiencing frequent vocal strain or fatigue, it is important to work with a professional voice teacher speech-language pathologist familiar with singers to assess your technique.