US-based singer, vocologist and vocal coach Mindy Pack is the driving force behind The Voice Straw, a vocal training tool for singers. The product – a sleek collection of stainless steel straws of differing diameters presented in a neat velvet pouch – can be used for straw phonation exercises. Pack spoke to BAST about her career and the science behind her new product.
I landed my first professional singing job at 16 and went on to perform all over the world. During this time my voice always worked – and I thought everyone was in the same boat. It was only when I started teaching that I realised that this was not the case. This made me want to learn everything I could about the voice. I was accepted into a voice degree college programme, but it was in the classical world and that wasn’t my cup of tea. So instead I joined Speech Level Singing and learned how vowels and consonants work and scale application. But I felt something was missing.
I branched out and studied other methodologies and voice scientists and then – after a traumatic experience – suffered a vocal injury myself, and thought my life was over. I didn’t get injured because I was doing something wrong, rather the trauma I endured meant that I didn’t sleep for months and my voice went out. But the shame I got from the industry was difficult to deal with.
This taught me so much about myself and my identity and that I never wanted another singer to experience what I did. I started to network with ENTs, SLPs and laryngologists and begged them to let me observe the rehabilitation process. I also studied at the National Center for Voice and Speech to become a Clinical Vocologist. These classes covered the science behind singing, rehab and voice disorders and the study and observation of different methodologies. My clientele changed after I got this certificate. I now deal a lot with professional touring artists, vocal rehabilitation for singers, transgender clients, motivational speakers, ministers and clients wanting to improve their voices.
Why did you develop The Voice Straw?
After I completed the Vocology Certificate I knew how important straw phonation was for any voice user. I knew that because the voice is dealing with human tissue it was always going to be a moving target. I wanted to create a full product that had different size options, workouts and the cups in order to provide one of the first complete vocal kits out there that marries aerodynamic pressures on the vocal folds with acoustical pressures. It took time and a lot of demos, but I am happy with what we have and the results we are hearing about. Plus, I wanted to have something that was sustainable. No more plastic!
Why are there different sized straws in The Voice Straw Kit?
When you purchase the complete kit, it comes with a downloadable audio guide that walks you through what size you need. However, that may change based on how your voice is feeling that day. If you are feeling tension, squeezing or pulling then you need to go to the bigger straw/straws. If you feel like you are blowing air, then you need to go to a smaller size straw. The size of straw can also be determined by how you’re feeling. For example, if you’re experiencing allergies, just woke up or if you are menstruating. I consistently interchange my straws based on how I’m feeling on any particular day.
What’s the science behind the product?
The Voice Straw is all about pressure equalisation. The opening of the straw diameter is just smaller than the approximation of the average opening of the vocal folds. The smaller the opening the more resistance (aerodynamic pressure) you are getting.
When the vocal folds vibrate there are varying ranges of open phases and close phases. What we want is to get the average of the opening of the vocal fold movements. Whatever that average opening of vocal folds, it should be very similar to the diameter of the straw, which is why you need to play around with the size. The Voice Straw is the only straw kit around that offers different sizing options in one complete kit. The idea is that you wouldn’t want a huge diameter in the straw because that would not help with your vocal efficiency.
That is why graduating to smaller straw sizes make sense because you are closing the vocal folds and putting them in a squared-up position. In other words, the diameter of the straw matters. Every voice is different. Some people need more closure and some need less. The Voice Straw kit allows you to mix and match.
We know through scientific discoveries by Dr Ingo Titze, that the longer the tube and/or straw, the more back pressure you get. Hence the reason you have both longer and shorter straws. The straw is about putting the source (the vocal folds) in its optimum and most squared up configuration. What we are trying to train is the lower part of the vocal tract and the position of the vocal folds. You are getting the function of the vocal folds in its optimum position which then helps train our sound. Function before sound! Our target is not vowels and speech. Our target is the epilaryngeal tube, position of the vocal folds and the pharynx which should remain relatively constant. We are going for the constant aerodynamic pressures and putting everything in place to then get the inertance, or acoustic energy to work in tandem.
When we take away the straw what we are trying to emulate is the feeling of resonance. Resonance is the positive and negative measure you get above the vocal folds. When you use the straw, you should notice a change in sound. Some people feel a buzz or different vibration throughout their throat, face, lips and cheeks. What you are feeling is a sympathetic vibration that is happening because of what is going on down on the vocal fold level. It is a by-product. By using The Voice Straw you are now training resonance. Then we change everything above the vocal folds to benefit our sound even more. Hence, The Voice Cups!
This is the question I get asked the most. Obviously, you cannot talk and sing when you have a straw in the mouth. The straw is not training vowel and consonant position. That happens in the upper part of the pharynx. When you add the cup, we are now adding vowels and consonants and creating the muscle patterns of keeping the vocal tract in is optimal position. By keeping the straw in the cup, you are still creating the aerodynamic changes on the vocal folds and helping the acoustical pressures. In other words, we are marrying the aerodynamics and acoustical pressures to create the “vocal bang”.
How often should a singer practise with a straw? What exercises should they do?
I have my singers use the straws daily because it is resetting the vocal folds. The kit comes with a download of audio tracks. However, if I don’t have time to sit down and do it daily, I make it a point to do pitch glides through the day to consistently reset my voice. It really depends on the singer and their voice demands.
It’s possible to over train in the gym. Can you over do it with straw exercises?
There is always a point where something can become obsessive and too much. This depends on the person. I would recommend that once you feel your voice balanced, connected and reset, then you stop with the straw and then jump into the song or speech. I will always do a vocal cool down with the straws after any major vocal use.
What feedback have you had from users of The Voice Straw?
People are really excited about it. I’ve had reviews from people who have had a complete vocal reset and feedback that adding the cups is a vocal game changer. The thing that I can’t stress enough is that people need to play around with the different sizes. It isn’t a case of one size fits all. I am excited to have a complete vocal training tool on the market that people can use when they don’t have access to a coach and in addition to training with a coach. It has really been a game changer for me, my touring clients, rehab clients and daily voice users.
For a limited time only The Voice Straw is offering BAST Training readers a special 10% discount. Visit www.voicestraw.com and use the discount code: BAST. (Offer ends May 12, 2020.)