Semi-Occluded Vocal Sounds and Exercises

A natural semi occluded exercise - boy blows on a dandelion seed

Do you have a favorite technique for warming up your voice? Have you ever used exercises such as the lip-bubble or tongue trill?  These are examples of sounds that we call semi-occluded. Training the voice with semi-occluded sounds is a technique used by voice therapists; by teachers of singing; by acting coaches; and by choral directors and it should become part of your regular voice routine!

Semi-occluded WHAT??

To semi-occlude the vocal tract means to partially block off the flow of air and sound waves while we sing. These sounds are often called SOVT exercises in the industry. Common examples include: lip bubbles; tongue roll (or tongue trill); puffing up the cheeks as if attempting to whistle (trumpet face); and singing into some sort of tube such as a narrow drinking straw.

Don’t be fooled! These exercises might seem crazy. You may even think they are not doing too much for your voice. However, voice scientists have established that SOVT exercises are immensely valuable (Titze 1996, 2000, 2006; Nix & Simpson 2008).

Some of the benefits of exercises the voice in this way include:

  1. Warming up the voice;
  2. putting the singer at ease;
  3. regulating air flow
  4. preventing the singer from pressing or forcing the voice
  5. stretching and uncompressing the vocal folds
  6. improving vocal resonance; and
  7. helping the singer co-ordinate register changes.

In short, these types of exercises can address multiple areas of voice technique simultaneously. There are many ways you can harness the power of the semi-occluded exercises. Performing rapid arpeggios, glides and scales on a lip-bubble or tongue trill is a great way to warm-up your voice.  Problematic phrases from songs you are studying can be isolated and performed on a semi-occluded posture. Alternatively, entire vocalises or songs can be performed this way.  Also, at the end of a period of strenuous vocal activity, these semi-occluded exercises are a great way to warm-down or relax the voice.

For those who want to know more:

  • Total Voice TV – The Lip Bubble on YouTube
  • 5 Ways to practice SOVT exercises by The Voice Council
  • Dr. Ingo Titze’s Straw Exercises on YouTube
  • Nix, J & Simpson C B (2008) “Voice Research and Technology: Semi-Occluded Vocal Tract Postures and Their Application in the Singing” in The Journal of Singing 64 (3)
  • Titze, I (1996) ”Lip and tongue trills–what do they do for us?” in The Journal of Singing, 52 (3).
  • Titze, I (2000) “Voice Research: Phonation Into a Straw as a Voice Building Exercise” in The Journal of Singing 57 (1)
  • Titze, I (2006) “Voice Training and Therapy With a Semi-Occluded Vocal Tract: Rationale and Scientific Underpinnings” in Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 49

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