What is SOVT? Straw Phonation? Singing straws? HELP!
We're answering the big question today once and for all - What Is Straw Phonation? But before we do, we need to explore what SOVT is in general, just for a little context...
What are semi-occluded vocal tract exercises?
SOVT stands for 'Semi-Occluded Vocal Tract' - which actually is just a really elaborate way of saying that the mouth is partially closed. This partial occlusion allows air pressure and acoustic energy to be reflected backward from the lips, decompressing and helping the vocal folds vibrate more easily, and with less muscular effort.
This 'back pressure' provides some important benefits to the voice user, allowing for an overall more efficient sound production process by...
- ...Sending 'positive' pressures back down the vocal tract to counter and balance the other pressures coming from the lungs. This provides a 'cushioning' later preventing harsh collision forces - basically, it FEELS easier to sing!
LOWERING PHONATION THRESHOLD PRESSURE
- ...Lowering phonation threshold pressure (PTP), which basically means your vocal folds have to do less work to resist the buildup of pressure coming from the lungs. This allows the vocal folds to more easily be set into motion!
ENTRAINING THE VOCAL FOLDS
- ...Entraining the vocal folds to sustain their movement and oscillation with ease once PTP has been achieved.
ALIGNING THE VOCAL FOLDS
- ...Aligning the vocal folds more aerodynamically, which means that they're more complimentary to the airflow.
SOVT exercises help with creating sufficient airflow as well as helping to check that the voice isn't being overworked. More importantly, SOVT is gentle enough to be used as a way of warming up the voice for singing, warming down the voice after singing, and everywhere in between - these exercises can also be used as a 'reset' button. In addition, SOVT can be used to help ease tired and fatigued vocal folds, as the exercise works to minimise the vocal fold collisions by providing a protective 'air cushion'.
Active v.s. Passive SOVT
Broadly, I define two types of SOVT - active and passive. The difference is simple, passive SOVT is when you use a straw or tube to create the occlusion, whereas active SOVT is pretty much everything else.
With 'active SOVT' you, the singer, are manually controlling the occlusion, which dictates how the airflow is traveling through the system and out of the body - and this is the important bit. For example, the lips are an aperture reducing mechanism, as you can control how wide or narrow they are, which changes how much air can escape - so this is a method of occlusion. You can also control things like tongue position, or whether the soft palate is open or closed - which also control the level of airflow by either redirecting it through the nose, or using the tongue to create smaller pathways, and thus create more or less of an SOVT effect too.
However, the issue with these types of SOVT is that because you are mechanically manipulating your own mechanisms yourself, and you may inadvertently introduce tensions into the system. You may also find it hard to reliably create the same level of occlusion, and thus the same level of resistance each and every time - which makes this method much less reliable when compared to using a specialised SOVT Straw.
So, what actually is straw phonation then?
There are many different interchangeable terms for Straw Phonation depending on what type you're doing, including: straw singing, tube phonation, singing straws, voice straws, water resistive voice therapy, straws and water, and a few more. Whichever you choose, Straw Phonation is just a type of SOVT technique. I classify it as "passive SOVT" as you don't need to manipulate anything internally to produce the effect, instead, you're just using some kind of singing straw to create the SOVT effect passively.
Straws are great because they exist independently of the body and can be easily manipulated to suit the needs of the individual. In most instances you'll need to use your lips to seal your mouth around the straw, but this is a very light mechanical operation in comparison to fully active SOVT, so is much less likely to induce unwanted tension.
Additionally, straws of differing types, styles, sizes, and lengths have different resistances, which in turn inform how much back-pressure is achieved. This is a really important point. The laws of fluid dynamics dictate that the resistance offered by a tube is directly proportional to its length, and inversely related to the diameter of the straw opening. Therefore, the longer the tube, and the more constricted the straw opening, the greater the resistance. This means that longer, narrower straws will produce more of this SOVT effect, whereas wider, shorter straws will produce less. This gives you an incredible range of options to choose from when deciding how much resistance is right for your own voice, as you can really fine-tune what works for you.
When used with our specialised SOVT Straw, you create an elongation of the vocal tract too, essentially lengthening it by the protruding distance of the device from the mouth. This helps to reposition (up or down) and stabilise your voice 'break', making higher pitches more easily accessible. All of these incredible benefits of SOVT make it SO much easier for you to use your voice. Plus, it also teaches your brain and body to work in harmony, encouraging even more efficiency.
Want to know more about the science and theory behind SOVT?
I've put together a 2 hour CPD accredited streaming course, which will teach you the core science and theory behind semi-occluded vocal tract exercises/straw singing, and how and why they work, as well as how to select the right straw configuration for the person you're working with (or yourself). Check it out.