#31  Occluded Air Flow Exercises

Occluded Air Flow Exercises for Warming Up, Developing Support and Reducing Hyperfunction or Fatigue

A fine way to warm up the voice, develop your support or relieve vocal stress is to employ exercises which slow the air flow through the vocal folds.

These are called occluded air flow exercises and the following are a variety of methods with which you can experiment;  lip trills (also known as lip buzzes or raspberries), tongue trills, voiced consonants, singing through either a drinking or stirring straw and using your hands to form a cupped closure around the mouth.  All of these provide different alterations to the speed of the air flow and all have a beneficial effect on warming up the voice,  training the abdominal and intercostal muscles to stream the air evenly and smoothly and reduce hyperfunction or strain on the voice when it  is fatigued.    

Warming up the voice

In the speech language pathologist’s guide, The Voice Book,  Kate Devore and Star Cookman  suggest using occluded air flow exercises as a way of warming up the “playing field”.  By producing simple sirens or glides with any of the of methods a gentle closure of the vocal folds occurs  which is an excellent way to increase circulation in the vocal folds to facilitate their stretching.  These exercises are also a helpful way to keep the voice warmed up during the course of the day or in settings where you might not want to sing full out such as back stage or in a shared  dressing room.   

For Development of Support

Richard Miller in his Solutions For Singers suggests that these types of exercises are an appropriate way to strengthen the muscles needed for developing the skill of appogio which is the ability to maintain the  shape of inhalation even as one is flowing out the air during the sung phrase.   Betty Jean Chipman recommends using occluded air flow exercises in Singing With Mind Body and Soul  so that one can feel, by resting the hands on the ribcage and abdomen,  the muscular engagement at the onset of the tone.     

Therapeutic Use

In The Functional Unity of the Singing Voice Barbara Doscher advises that in order to counter the hazards of working long practice or rehearsal session occluded air flow exercises are useful to give the voice a respite.  She explains that our support system can become fatigued and when this occurs there is an inadequate control of the air flow through the larynx and the vocal folds which subjects the vocal folds to too much sub glottal pressure causing friction and irritation.

An important therapeutic aspect of these exercises is discussed in Karen Wicklund’s  Singing Voice Rehabilitation Specialist.  Wicklund  includes the use of occluded air flow exercises as a way of reducing hyper function (too much effort, tightness or constriction in the vocal tract).   

A variety of methods.

Lip trills (lip buzzes or raspberries) may be made by flowing the air across the lips as they are loosely pulled together while allowing a tone to originate at the vocal folds. Using your fingers on either sides of the lips can help to stabilize the lips vibrating.  

Tongue trills are the sound of a rolled “r”, and are made by flowing the air across a loose tongue tip. Some people find the tongue trill harder to produce than the lip trill  and vice versa.  

Voiced Consonants are made with the sounds TH as in the word “the”, V as in the word “vibrant” , DJ as in the word “jeweled” and Z as in the word “zebra”.   Find which is the easiest voiced consonant for you to maintain with a steady stream of air flow.   

Drinking Straws and Stirring Straws both offer different amounts of resistance to the air flow.  For reducing vocal fatigue vocal scientist Dr. Ingo Titze has an online video clip presentation you can observe with suggestions for how to use the flow resistant straws as well as explanatory text available on line in the  May 2010 Journal of Singing publication.      

Cupped Hands  are an  interesting alternative which Katherine Rundis endorses in Cantabile, her guide for singers, voice teachers and choral conductors.  Make a circle with your thumb and forefinger around your lips and then create a cap with the other hand.  Sing into the  occluded space being sure to make a good closure with your fingers.  Personally, I’ve found this a valuable technique as I can actually feel the quality of the air flow whether it’s smooth or choppy. 

Try This:

Experiment with the variety of occlusions with some simple octave glides and arpeggios.  Aim towards an even and smooth air flow.

Notice which methods are easier and which are harder.   Vary the systems and notice how your support improves.

Sing Pretty,