One of Ingo Titze‘s favorite vocal warmups is semi-occlusion of the vocal tract by singing/phonating into a straw.
What is semi-occlusion? Well, it is a ‘partial closing’ of the vocal tract through the use of certain consonants like [m] or [n], lip trills or tongue trills, or in this case, a straw.
Titze likes them because they get the respiratory muscles into full action rapidly. They also have the benefit of minimizing the upward force on the vocal folds because of the positive oral pressure. Straws can also spread the vocal folds to vibrate their edges only.
There’s one really great additional usage of the straw that often isn’t mentioned:
You can practice and warm up in environments where normally it would be inappropriate to sing!
There are many circumstances when you can’t just ‘start singing’ due to other factors, and using the straw is a great way of mitigating them.
Here are some examples:
- Warming up before an audition
- Warm up in the early morning without waking up neighbors/roommates
- Warm up on public transit in an inconspicuous way
- Warming up in a hotel space, or some other location where it would be inappropriate to ‘burst into scales’.
- Warming up at the audition space so that you don’t disturb others (this is a big one: a lot of singers warm up in the bathrooms of the audition space. USE THE STRAW!)
- Any situation where you might need to be quiet, but also need to exercise your voice – (around babies, pets, etc etc…)
Also, note that the circumference of the straws will give you more or less resistance. If you sing into a coffee straw, that is going to provide your voice and vocal tract with the most resistance. A bubble tea straw, with a very wide circumference, is going to offer you the least amount of resistance.
Good luck, and put a straw in it!