Associate Professor of Voice, Shenandoah Conservatory Artistic Director of the CCM Vocal Pedagogy Institute
Straw phonation is all the rage right now in the vocal pedagogy world. Today I want to talk about a variation that I like to use to improve flow phonation. Dr. Ingo Titze says “Flow phonation is a term used in voice therapy and voice pedagogy to describe a production that feels effortless and efficient because ample airflow is passed through the glottis when the vocal folds vibrate.” It is the opposite of pressed phonation, where the vocal folds press together, limiting airflow, resulting in labored vocal production that will quickly lead to fatigue. Students often have a hard time telling if they are in flow or pressed phonation. This exercise helps them distinguish the two by providing a visual aid – bubbles in water.
Grab a bubble tea straw or other wide tube (Lowe’s sells clear tubes in multiple sizes that can be cut to length). Have the student place the straw/tube in a half-full bottle of water and blow bubbles. While they are blowing air, ask them to find a depth that does not produce too much resistance but keeps the straw/tube consistently below the waterline while bubbling. Now have the student vocalize on /u/ or /o/ through the straw into the water. When the water bubbles during phonation, the student is in a state of flow phonation. When the bubbles stop or become inconsistent, they are in pressed phonation. I begin with simple 1-2-3-2-1 patterns and then expand as needed. When it is time to work repertoire, we first sing the song using the straw/water bottle combo and then repeat without while trying to maintain flow.
You can simultaneously use this exercise to help the student find a relaxed and open vocal tract. Encourage the student to feel as if the air pressure in their oral cavity and pharynx creates an air pillow that opens the throat and mouth. If they are an aural learner, ask them to focus on the mids and/or bass in the sound they hear instead of the treble. Pedagogically speaking, a constricted throat raises the formants of the singing voice leading to a brighter timbre while a relaxed throat (more open) lowers formants leading to a warmer timbre. I find this especially helpful when teaching musical theatre performers to sing Golden Age “legit” ballads.
Do you have variations of this exercise you like to use in the studio? If so, please leave a comment below. If you are not yet following the blog, please sign-up on the bottom right of this page to receive an email when there is a new post. As always, thank you for reading!