A light-hearted look at a Facebook group message that got over 64 comments. The funny group dynamic took it to boozy new heights and with a little science thrown in there, hopefully others learned about inertive reactance since Renee Fleming is already a fan.
I am a member of a classical singer forum on Facebook and never have I witnessed such a long winded comment section on a post until the other day. I wanted to share it with you all because I couldn’t help but laugh out loud.
It began innocently enough with someone mentioning a recent master-class given by Renee Fleming. Ms. Fleming had been teaching singers to carry a straw with them at all times to warm up without disturbing others in close proximity with a full-out vocal blast to the ears. The comments began slyly rolling in about how straws should be saved for whiskey drinks, but others were intrigued. “Mind blown!” one said, “Great tip!” said another.
There were those who were confused, “How is it different than humming?” they wondered, “How is this straw supposed to work?” There were those who were gung-ho, “Is there a consensus among us that this works?” and, “Straw business is so hot right now.” (images of Hansel from Zoolander begin to swirl around in my head.) And there were those who were less than amused, “I hope she offered more than that.”
Folks were sneaking to fast food joints to grab a straw to try and experience this strange phenomenon and one woman even attempted with a turkey baster, to which her comrades replied that they hoped she removed the rubber part before attempting.
Some were defending this technique as if were their own flesh and blood, “It is not a sick joke! This was actually useful advice.” One man even mentioned that a speech pathologist had taught him this trick and that he found it helpful. I smiled a bit there because straw phonation has been a shining star in my bag of tricks because of its ease of use. For easy to use diameters, try these. Narrow diameters produce more occlusive effect, like these. For the more environmentally conscious vocalist, these metal ones are great!
I chimed in with, “Straw phonation is a form of semi-occluded vocal tract exercises. Humming and lip trills and tongue trills and straw phonation are all semi-occluded vocal tract exercises. This allows for the singer to phonate with no excess glottic tension at the level of the vocal cords. It also elongates the vocal tract and narrows it, providing inertive reactance (back pressure) at the vocal cords. The vocal tract actually assists the vocal cords in vibration, easing their load.”
One man thanked me for being scientific at this time of the morning and I provided video input from Ingo Titze’s YouTube demonstration of straw phonation to aid quelling in any further confusion. The conversation soon turned to things I will not mention here on this blog, but in it somewhere were people mentioning Titze, tools, more alcohol, drunk tenorial overlords, and a woman carrying a straw since ’82 and a commenter telling her she better change straws because that one is probably old. Ha.
When I speak to professional voice users about the many ways straw phonation can be used, I usually demonstrate how you can go from singing a line in a song, to straw phonating that line, to singing the line again to help improve your body’s ability to reduce tension. You can access some materials for making this interesting and fun here.
It helped me immensely to sing back and forth, with and without the straw to improve my own abilities and to cut back on vocal cracking and obtain a more easy and pleasant sound overall. No audience wants to watch a strained singer right? The audience likes to be enveloped in the artistic moment while watching a singer who produces notes and phrases as though it were syrup dripping right off the stage into the onlookers’ laps.
Anyway, back to the Facebook hysterics, I tried to verbally explain this all to someone I hoped would find it as funny as I had, and he was not amused. Here’s hoping the musician humor can be translated here.
Kristie Knickerbocker, MS, CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist and singing voice specialist in Fort Worth, Texas. She rehabilitates voice and swallowing at her private practice, a tempo Voice Center, and lectures on vocal health to area choirs and students. She also owns and runs a mobile videostroboscopy and FEES company, Voice Diagnostix. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Group 3, Voice and Voice Disorders, and a member of the National Association of Teachers of Singing and the Pan-American Vocology Association. Knickerbocker blogs on her website at www.atempovoicecenter.com. She has developed a line of kid and adult-friendly therapy materials specifically for voice on TPT or her website. Follow her on Pinterest, on Twitter and Instagram or like her on Facebook.