Read Before Using Singing Straws

Singing Straws have gained enormous popularity over the last few years. For those of you that have not come across the wonder of these straws. They can provide you a healthier, stronger, and more balanced voice instantly at least according to the companies that sell them. The general idea is that the straw provides resistance which helps balance the vocal mechanism. You can even customize your experience by using different lengths or diameters of straw and even by partially submerging the straw in water.

Sounds incredible! For disclosure, I was on team straw for a while after seeing a great presentation by Ingo Titze and several others on the benefits of a few minutes of phonation. However, like most things that promise instant amazing results the truth is a bit more muddy. So let's take a look at what the research actually has to say about singing straws and the larger group of semi-occluded vocal tract exercises (SOVTe).

SOVTe’s are any exercise where the vocal tract is more closed than it would be during ‘normal’ phonation. This includes common exercises such as: humming, lip-trills, tongue trills, hand-over-mouth, and of course straws. Each exercise has a bit of its own flavor and provides a different amount of occlusion. This occlusion of the vocal tract increases supraglottal pressure, the air pressure above the vocal folds, this air pressure can increase up to near balanced with subglottal air pressure. This balance is thought to be beneficial for training the vocal mechanism to function more effectively. 

Straw phonation adds a few exciting additional properties. Because you can select different lengths and diameters of straw you can have a consistent amount of occlusion. The added length of the straw also lengthens the vocal tract, lowering the first formant. This lowering of the first formant can also aid in singing.

All of this is amazing, incredible, wonderful. But here’s the problem, the research doesn’t necessarily back the claims. A review of fourteen studies representing a wide range of SOVTe’s shows an astounding variety of results (table 1).

Table 1
A breakdown of results from use of SOVTe’s.

A few additional notes on the results above. Andrade et al. only found a decreased closed quotient for participants after doing lip-trills. Duke et al. found no statistically significant difference between singers that completed no warm up, a traditional classical warm up, or an SOVT warm up. Clifford Dargin et al. noted that the laryngeal and pharyngeal adjustments were highly variable between participants and that “singing teachers and Speech Language Pathologists (SLPs) may need to more carefully assess the impact of specific SOVTs when decided which one(s) to prescribe as a teaching or therapeutic exercise”.

Only Kang et al. studied the effects after a period of time. They found that phonation threshold pressure quickly returned to the baseline within five minutes, and only increased airflow remained after twenty minutes.

Table 2
A variety of SOVTe's were used during each study.

A few other effects have been documented using x-rays, ct scans, and MRIs. Completing SOVTe’s temporarily lowers the larynx and widens the vocal tract. As with the majority of other studies no long term effects have been documented.

So What

Semi-occluded vocal tract exercises have been a part of singing pedagogy for centuries and there is not any reason to remove them, though there is significant room to discuss why we as teachers are assigning them to specific students. 

Unfortunately, despite the overwhelmingly positive discussion in research, studios, social media, and e-commerce platforms of the benefits of singing straw, the research is just not supporting it yet. Much of the positive research is based on using straws with singers and non-singers with dysphonia and not with healthy voices. The effects, if they exist, are not consistent across the population. And the effects according to research thus far are incredibly fleeting. 

Is Straw Phonation Dangerous

Normally, no. I find myself wary of some of the straw phonation advice I’ve seen on social media suggesting submerging a straw into a half-full cup of water (somewhere around 10+ cm of water). I don’t have a lot of research to point to on this topic, but in discussions with some researchers I’ve heard 1-3 cm water thrown around as a good amount of resistance. 10 cm of water is simply a lot of resistance that is going to train your voice to push harder than is ever required to phonate normally and could have potentially negative effects.

I Tried Singing Straws and It Made Singing Easier

Absolutely! Of course it did. SOVTe’s and singing straws especially provide resistance based on the length and diameter. This increased resistance while doing exercises is harder than without and so when you take away the resistance singing is going to feel easier and freer. Things you just tried to do will be easier to accomplish. Additionally, if you are singing anything where a lower laryngeal position or increased resonance are beneficial (all of classical music and a not insignificant part of CCM) those effects are going to be temporarily beneficial. 

All of this is to say despite all of the attention that straw phonation is currently receiving in the singing community the research does not back that these exercises are beneficial to the general population or have any lasting pedagogical impact. And just to come out and say it, just because you can phonate through a 2mm diameter straw into a full cup of water doesn’t mean you should.

References

Don’t take my word for it, here are the articles that I read for writing this article.

Amarante Andrade, P., Wistbacka, G., Larsson, H., Södersten, M., Hammarberg, B., Simberg, S., Švec, J.G., Granqvist, S., 2016. The Flow and Pressure Relationships in Different Tubes Commonly Used for Semi-occluded Vocal Tract Exercises. Journal of Voice 30, 36–41. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jvoice.2015.02.004

Andrade, P.A., Wood, G., Ratcliffe, P., Epstein, R., Pijper, A., Svec, J.G., 2014. Electroglottographic Study of Seven Semi-Occluded Exercises: LaxVox, Straw, Lip-Trill, Tongue-Trill, Humming, Hand-Over-Mouth, and Tongue-Trill Combined With Hand-Over-Mouth. Journal of Voice 28, 589–595. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jvoice.2013.11.004

Antonetti, A.E.D.S., Vitor, J.D.S., Guzmán, M., Calvache, C., Brasolotto, A.G., Silverio, K.C.A., 2023. Efficacy of a Semi-Occluded Vocal Tract Exercises-Therapeutic Program in Behavioral Dysphonia: A Randomized and Blinded Clinical Trial. Journal of Voice 37, 215–225. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jvoice.2020.12.008

Bhatt, S., Scearce, L., Frank-Ito, D., Nixon, T., Umstead, K.A., 2023. A Human-Centered Design Approach to SOVTE Straw Phonation Instruction. Journal of Voice S0892199723000188. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jvoice.2023.01.023

Brockmann-Bauser, M., Balandat, B., Bohlender, J.E., 2020. Immediate Lip Trill Effects on the Standard Diagnostic Measures Voice Range Profile, Jitter, Maximum Phonation Time, and Dysphonia Severity Index. Journal of Voice 34, 874–883. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jvoice.2019.04.011

Dargin, T.C., DeLaunay, A., Searl, J., 2016. Semioccluded Vocal Tract Exercises: Changes in Laryngeal and Pharyngeal Activity During Stroboscopy. Journal of Voice 30, 377.e1-377.e9. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jvoice.2015.05.006

Dargin, T.C., Searl, J., 2015. Semi-Occluded Vocal Tract Exercises: Aerodynamic and Electroglottographic Measurements in Singers. Journal of Voice 29, 155–164. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jvoice.2014.05.009

Duke, E., 2015. The Effect of Traditional Singing Warm-Up Versus Semioccluded Vocal Tract Exercises on the Acoustic Parameters of Singing Voice. Journal of Voice 29.

Fantini, M., Succo, G., Crosetti, E., Borragán Torre, A., Demo, R., Fussi, F., 2017. Voice Quality After a Semi-Occluded Vocal Tract Exercise With a Ventilation Mask in Contemporary Commercial Singers: Acoustic Analysis and Self-Assessments. Journal of Voice 31, 336–341. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jvoice.2016.05.019

Gaskill, C.S., Quinney, D.M., 2012. The Effect of Resonance Tubes on Glottal Contact Quotient With and Without Task Instruction: A Comparison of Trained and Untrained Voices. Journal of Voice 26, e79–e93. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jvoice.2011.03.003

Guzman, M., Rubin, A., Muñoz, D., Jackson-Menaldi, C., 2013. Changes in Glottal Contact Quotient During Resonance Tube Phonation and Phonation With Vibrato. Journal of Voice 27, 305–311. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jvoice.2013.01.017

Kaneko, M., Sugiyama, Y., Mukudai, S., Hirano, S., 2020. Effect of Voice Therapy Using Semioccluded Vocal Tract Exercises in Singers and Nonsingers With Dysphonia. Journal of Voice 34, 963.e1-963.e9. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jvoice.2019.06.014

Kang, J., Xue, C., Piotrowski, D., Gong, T., Zhang, Y., Jiang, J.J., 2019. Lingering Effects of Straw Phonation Exercises on Aerodynamic, Electroglottographic, and Acoustic Parameters. Journal of Voice 33, 810.e5-810.e11. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jvoice.2018.05.002

Manjunatha, U., Nayak, P.S., Bhat, J.S., 2022. Can Straw Phonation Be Considered As Vocal Warm Up Among Speech Language Pathologists? Journal of Voice 36, 735.e1-735.e6. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jvoice.2020.08.016

Mills, R.D., Rivedal, S., DeMorett, C., Maples, G., Jiang, J.J., 2018. Effects of Straw Phonation Through Tubes of Varied Lengths on Sustained Vowels in Normal-Voiced Participants. Journal of Voice 32, 386.e21-386.e29. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jvoice.2017.05.015

Nam, I.-C., Kim, S.-Y., Joo, Y.-H., Park, Y.-H., Shim, M.-R., Hwang, Y.-S., Sun, D.-I., 2019. Effects of Voice Therapy Using the Lip Trill Technique in Patients With Glottal Gap. Journal of Voice 33, 949.e11-949.e19. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jvoice.2018.07.013

Pozzali, I., Pizzorni, N., Ruggeri, A., Schindler, A., Dal Farra, F., 2021. Effectiveness of Semi-Occluded Vocal Tract Exercises (SOVTEs) in Patients with Dysphonia: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Journal of Voice S0892199721001958. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jvoice.2021.06.009

Smith, S.L., Titze, I.R., 2017. Characterization of Flow-resistant Tubes Used for Semi-occluded Vocal Tract Voice Training and Therapy. Journal of Voice 31, 113.e1-113.e8. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jvoice.2016.04.001

Titze, I.R., Maxfield, L., Cox, K.T., 2022. Optimizing Diameter, Length, and Water Immersion in Flow Resistant Tube Vocalization. Journal of Voice S089219972200306X. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jvoice.2022.09.029

Watts, C.R., Diviney, S.S., Hamilton, A., Toles, L., Childs, L., Mau, T., 2015. The Effect of Stretch-and-Flow Voice Therapy on Measures of Vocal Function and Handicap. Journal of Voice 29, 191–199. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jvoice.2014.05.008

Wistbacka, G., Andrade, P.A., Simberg, S., Hammarberg, B., Södersten, M., Švec, J.G., Granqvist, S., 2018. Resonance Tube Phonation in Water—the Effect of Tube Diameter and Water Depth on Back Pressure and Bubble Characteristics at Different Airflows. Journal of Voice 32, 126.e11-126.e22. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jvoice.2017.04.015

Josh Manuel

Josh Manuel, a voice instructor and founder of VoiceScience, is dedicated to empowering singers by providing evidence-based techniques and knowledge for enhanced performance and vocal health. His expertise and passion in the field of vocal science have made him a trusted resource for singers seeking to improve their skills and achieve their full potential.

Our goal at VoSci is to provide the most accurate and up to date information available on the internet for singers and teachers. While we strive for perfection, there is a lot of misinformation available and new information that becomes available every day. If you find information on this page or any page on VoSci that you believe is out of date please let us know using our contact form so we can look into it.