To supplement the plethora of free straw phonation resources online, here is more to think about. Aren’t you excited?
Did you know there are mistakes you can make while using a straw for your singing or speaking voice?
If no, then read on dear voice friends . . .
#1 Air and sound leakage
Whether you prefer to use a cup of water with your straw or not, it’s important to keep the lips sealed around the straw while phonating. This keeps all the sound and airwaves contained in the tube of the straw, which has essentially become an extension of the vocal tract.
Looking to the physics of a moving column of air through a tube, the length (L) of the tube is very important for calculating how that air behaves. The length used in these calculations assumes a sealed tube with no leaks. By letting air (and sound) leak out at the level of the lips, you won’t the same effect as keeping your lips sealed. With leaks the equations are upended, and the system is compromised.
(There are other good reasons for keeping your lips sealed, but that’s another post for another time.)
Think of the ventilation system in your home. If there are leaks throughout the tubing, not all of the air gets to its final destination. This is the same for using a straw for singing. Air leaks are inefficient to the system as a whole.
#2 Vowel shape woes
As you ascend (go up) in pitch, the body tends to constrict or tighten. This is natural, and something singers work to train out of themselves while singing.
Using the straw doesn’t automatically mean you’ll stop tensing, squeezing, and tightening while singing. It’s important to play around with the shapes inside your mouth while doing straw exercises, or even lip trills, in order to release the struggle.
Try changing to an “ah” or “oh” vowel inside the mouth while going up to higher notes. This can tend to make straw phonation feel more “open” or “free” up top. Once you figure out what feels good, you will never go back.
#3 Airflow. Period.
For singers and speakers that do not know how to regulate or access sufficient/efficient airflow, the straw and water together are an exceptional tool for teaching the body to MOVE AIR.
What do I mean by sufficient/efficient? The movement of air helps keep the vocal folds in motion because of physics principles. These are the same principles that keep an airplane in the air and cause flags to flutter in the wind.
Did you know it’s possible to sing while practically holding your breath?
No? Well, neither do most people. And we singers are holding back air regularly in order to get specialized sounds, or to conserve air for long notes, or because we don’t know any differently. The voice can make sound on very, very little airflow, but at the expense of the vocal cords.
The straw gives every singer and speaker a chance to see their airflow in real time. This then helps the vocal folds move with much less mechanical impact to the tissue.