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SOVT (Semi Occluded Vocal Tract) exercises are my absolute favourite warm up and training method for the voice, and the straw is one of the most effective of them all.
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Warm up versus work out exercises explained.
A warm up routine:
A good vocal preparation routine to kick start your voice can be very helpful for any singer, and that is something you should always do before singing. What is called semi occluded vocal tract exercises (SOVTs) are great tools for this!
These are resistance exercises have both acoustic and physiological benefits as they help balance out your airflow with the vibrations at vocal fold level. This is giving you the freedom to sing with “value for money”; less effort for more output: more acoustic output with very low risk of damaging your vocal folds.
You may already do semi occluded exercises such as lip or tongue trills, blowing “raspberries” and even sirens and hums and voiced fricative consonants (the ones that let a lot of air escape i.e. Zzz or vvv) that causes resistance of the airflow. Not only do these types of exercises help both the natural vocal fold vibration and breath management, they also help the muscle handover and acoustic transition that happens as you go higher up in your voice. The most effective of them all is the straw; make sure you are not humming through the notes and monitor the airflow. Gradually “rev the car” first, then move on to cover a larger part of your range. It may be helpful to blow on a tissue to see that the air is flowing through rather than escaping through your nose. It won’t make a big noise, which is an added bonus if you are warming up before a gig or audition with lots of people around!
You could then do this over the song you are working with, to help the coordination of these exact pitches.If you want to find out more about the research behind straws and SOVTs, check out the books and papers written by Ingo Titze and https://www.amazon.co.uk/Science-Singing-Voice-Johan-Sundberg/dp/0875805426 amongst others.
The voice is just muscles and ligaments, like any other physical skills and, like your ears, can be trained and improved; made stronger, more flexible and consistent!
Singers are in many ways vocal athletes (even if some of you might still be hobby athletes), and everything can be trained. While athletes might use dumbbells or treadmills and stretch to improve their fitness and flexibility, singers use vowels, consonants, straws, trills and scales to build their muscles.
As opposed to the semi occluded exercises, workouts need to be personalized for you and your vocal issues or points for development, and this can sometimes be hard to understand as you can never hear you voice as well as someone else. Going back to the premise of power – source – filter; the workout should address whichever one of these that are holding you back from creating the sounds that you want in a healthy way.
This is of course enough material for an entire book, but a few simple concepts are:
- Hard consonants are great for regulating air. If you need more power in your voice, hard consonants can help you “grab onto something” and build power.
- Soft consonants are great for giving release from tension and strain and open up the higher registers.
- Vowels and the semi occluded exercises are good for developing a balanced tone and flexibility.
- Slowing down phrases are great for flexibility, riffs, runs and pitching.
- Descending arpeggios can help with release of tension/straining.
- Sirens and other glide movement can help with bridge control.
- Long scales (like a double arpeggio or 1 ½ octave scale), helps build coordination, flexibility and bridge control.
- The blues scale, harmonic minor and other scales that have variation in intervals are great for riffing and flexibility.
Working with a singing teacher, you can tailor this to help your exact voice, and you should see improvement very quickly!
Me in my vocal studio after receiving the lovely wooden box and saying exciting quite often in 20 seconds 😉