When Whitney Nichole Cytryn discovered the benefits of straw singing she was blown away – but concerned about her growing use of single use plastic. So she came up with her own reusable, environmentally friendly version. Here’s here story.
We’ve all been there, right? Gigging, touring, using our voice non-stop – and the unthinkable happens… IT’S GONE! All of a sudden, we’ve barely got a voice. It’s either breathy and takes extra effort to create sound, or worse, we can’t even phonate.
That’s where I found myself back in 2014. I was touring at the time to support my first full-length album release, and somewhere between the late-night back to back shows, sleeping on couches and in vans, and talking to audience members in loud clubs to sell CD’s (yeah, I know – who even sells CD’s anymore? This was 2014…) – I was getting more and more vocally fatigued every day. It was not sustainable for the health of my voice.
Luckily, in between the first and second leg of my tour I came across the magic (er, science) that is straw phonation. Huge shout out to the pioneer in this field, Dr Ingo Titze, who was speaking about it at a Vocology in Practice conference I attended, and it changed everything.
I began using straw singing in my routine – throughout the day on and off, for warm-ups and cool-downs before and after shows. The result, and I’m not kidding, was like night and day. The second leg of my tour I had zero stamina issues. I had the same level of vocal use but sailed through it effortlessly thanks to the magical powers of the straw.
One thing I did not love, however, was that the plastic straws I was using at the time were terrible for the environment. They were flimsy and easy to lose. If I tried to keep them beyond a single-use, they would get dirty, I’d lose them or they would break. And it wasn’t just me – I was stocking them in my studios and preaching to everyone I knew how awesome straw singing was.
I searched everywhere for a reusable alternative. But all that existed was thicker, drinking straw sizes. You see, the thing is that with straw singing, size matters. The thinner the diameter of the straw, the more back pressure you get – and (generally speaking) the more benefit you’ll receive at the vocal fold level. So I decided to create one myself! Introducing the Singing / Straw – the very first reusable, environmentally friendly, customisable, affordable and easy to use vocal tool for singers to take their voice to the next level.
How it works
Singing through a straw is a powerful “semi-occluded vocal tract” (SOVT) exercise. What does that mean exactly? Semi-occluded translates to “partially blocked” – which means that the air coming out of your mouth as you sing is restricted. This means you feel a bit of resistance as you sing (the thinner the straw, the more resistance you feel), and that resistance helps to send energy back to the vocal folds, balance the pressures in the vocal tract and re-align the vocal folds in an easy, efficient and optimal pattern. Sounds crazy, right? That’s why I think of it like voice magic.
My favourite metaphor yet for straw phonation is that it’s like yoga for your voice. In the words of Dr Titze, straw phonation helps to “stretch and un-press” the vocal folds. Why is this important? Because the back-pressure and intertive reactance (stay with me) triggered by using the Singing / Straw ultimately helps your voice become more efficient. Remember – your vocal folds are oscillating hundreds and thousands of times per second. That impact, especially when laden with tension or swelling, can be a lot for even the best singers to handle. Straw singing lessens the impact on the vocal folds, promotes optimal vibration and reduces muscular tension.
How to get started
Don’t believe me? Try it for yourself. Here’s how to get started: Find a thin straw (ideally an environmentally friendly version like the Singing / Straw!) and this may sound obvious, but just sing through it. Get set up like you’re going to drink with it, and instead of slurping through it like you would on a tasty beverage, start vocalising. Make sure all your air is going through the straw (none should be leaking out the sides). Pinch your nose to double-check that you aren’t just humming.
Start with some glides through your range or perhaps your favourite song melody – if you can’t think of anything just go with Happy Birthday or the latest pop sensation you’re listening to. It doesn’t really matter, the important thing is that you’re gently phonating through the straw.
You will notice resistance – this is a new feeling, so be aware of it and pay special attention to it. The resistance is your friend, you want to work with it, not against it. If you find yourself pushing against it and straining, or puffing out (losing sound), try reducing the resistance by using two or three thin straws at a time, and then work your way back down to one.
A little goes a long way, so you can do this for a minute or so – then go back to singing and speaking and see if you notice a difference. If you’re doing it correctly, you’ll feel ease come into play – a lightening. That’s your voice getting more efficient. Boom, magic.
The great thing about straw phonation is that its benefits don’t stop there. It has a variety of applications that help singers not only with warm-ups, cool-downs and preventing fatigue, but it also has immense power in finding balance, flexibility, long-term vocal health, and overall vocal development. When used correctly it can help smooth out register transitions, even out cracks, release vibrato, find ease in a belt, train agility and flexibility for riffing and that is just the beginning.
Photos by: Niall David
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