How to sing higher (and lower) without straining

As human beings, we rely largely on our bodies to communicate. Whether you are speaking or singing, not only are the vocal cords at work so much as the entire body. Every athlete understands the importance of a thorough warm-up to circulate blood, optimize performance, and avoid injury, and singing can be compared to intensive sport. When it comes to singing efficiently and impressively, maintaining proper form is essential, as it ensures the health of your vocal folds and, ultimately, how far you can stretch your vocal range. In this guide we will delve into how using the SOVT straw during your warm-ups can expand your vocal range and keep you singing for years to come.

What is SOVT?

SOVT stands for “Semi-Occluded Vocal Tract.” The vocal tract is a tube through which air passes from your lungs and out your mouth. Inside this tube is your larynx, or your “voice box,” which contains a couple of tiny, intricate muscles known as vocal folds that help you make sound. When you speak, sing, or make subtle changes above the larynx, like moving your tongue, lips, jaw, or soft palate, the shape of your vocal tract changes too. “Occlusion” is a fancy word for “blockage” or “narrowing.” So, a semi-occluded vocal tract is a partial blockage of the mouth. SOVT exercises were primarily used by speech language pathologists in voice therapy, but singers and vocal coaches have popularized them in recent years as the terminology and methods have become more commonly available.

How does the SOVT straw help?

Your vocal folds (or vocal cords)  are quite small; their lengths in diameter can range from the size of the diameter of a dime to that of a nickel. In order to make sound, the vocal folds must oscillate, sometimes thousands of times a second. When we sing, the force of the air from our lungs gets sent straight to the vocal folds, prompting oscillation. Simultaneously, the vocal folds must resist the intensity of the air pressure all on their own. In order to sing efficiently and reduce collision of the vocal cords, which causes fatigue and can ultimately lead to damage, proper form is imperative. 

When we put something in the way of our vocal tract, like humming or singing from a straw, some of the air leaving our mouth when we sing gets reflected back down to the vocal cords. This is known as back pressure. When you introduce back pressure, the vocal folds now have pressure both underneath them and above them, creating an “air cushioning” effect. This is beneficial because it relieves the vocal folds of resisting lung pressure on their own, the vocal folds in turn experience less collision, and the air particles trapped in our vocal tract are able to vibrate in an acoustic space, encouraging efficient vocal cord oscillation. 

In other words, using something like an SOVT straw while doing vocal exercises is like having a spotter when lifting heavy weights. Your form is perfectly in place while you work on your strength training.

What kind of straw do I use?

The resistance you get depends on the diameter of the straw. If you want more of an athletic workout, you will do well with a thinner straw. If you want a more therapeutic massage for your voice, opt for a straw with a thicker diameter. For your convenience and modular experience, the SOVT straw can be manipulated to vary in length and aperture, so you can customize your workout to fit your resistance and vocal needs.

What are the exercises?

Put the SOVT straw in your mouth as you would if you were about to sip a drink and try some of these basic warm-up exercises. 

  • Sirens – Glide your voice from the bottom of your lowest note to the top of your highest note and back down. If you experience any cracking in the middle, good! Doing this exercise with the straw will help your sirens to smooth out over time.
  • Octave Leaps – Start on a root note that feels comfortable in your range and leap up to the octave and back down. Move up the scale.
  • Major Scale – Hum the major scale through your SOVT straw.
  • Your Favorite Song – Choose your favorite song and hum it through the SOVT straw.
  • For added resistance (and to relive your childhood): Put your straw in a glass of water and commence with the usual vocal warm-ups.

How long do I exercise for?

Every body, and thus every voice, is different. For best results, do the exercises for 5 minutes at a time and spaced out throughout the day. 15 minutes total each day is more than enough, but experiment with your voice and see if you can benefit from even more. 

Note on longevity

Remain relaxed when doing these exercises and feel free to play. Pay attention to your voice and its needs. The SOVT straw is not a cure-all by any means, but it can assist in training safely while you work on the fundamentals and on increasing your range. If you are going about your day or working through a song and feeling tired or strained, take out the straw and perform the aforementioned exercises. Build upon your foundation daily and you will achieve a flexible, effortless voice to be reckoned with.

In Conclusion

SOVT is an effective way to rehabilitate your vocal chords and keep you singing for years to come. We are proud to have partnered with RAYVOX, a company making significant strides in the scientific and artistic fields of vocal work to provide a discount on their own SOVT Straw and get you on this helpful technique. Use code ICONEDU30 at check out for 30 percent off!

Let us know!

Have you tried vocal exercises with the SOVT straw? Let us know how it’s going by reaching out on social media: @iconcollective.

About Icon Collective

ICON Collective is a Los Angeles and Online music production school that teaches you core technical skills while unlocking your unique creative process. Mentorships with industry professionals let you access real-world insights and help you personalize your music education. Check out our Music Production Programs.


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