Why Am I Singing Through a Straw, You Might Ask?

A columnist shares her latest go-to dysarthria exercises

Dagmar Munn avatar

by Dagmar Munn |

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I’m always open to learning new things, especially when they involve simple ways to improve my life with ALS. When I come across something super helpful, I just have to share it with my readers.

My most recent discovery involves a simple plastic straw. In fact, it’s become a permanent addition to my daily exercise routine.

For the past six years, I’ve been challenged by the ALS symptom of dysarthria, which affects my ability to speak. Dysarthria feels like having a bad case of laryngitis and a lazy tongue that is two steps behind what my mind wants to say. Thus, when I speak, it’s with a gravelly, monotone voice. I’m often asked to repeat myself, which I do, but I default to saying the same words, only louder. It’s frustrating, and speaking this way strains my vocal cords and throat.

But maintaining the ability to communicate is important for me. So in the past few years, I’ve explored and experimented with various ways to keep and preserve the little voice that I do have.

In addition to practicing diaphragmatic breathing and doing exercises to improve my posture, I learned vocal techniques used by actors and singers as taught in “The Living Speech Series,” by Andrea Caban.

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What about the straw?

Over the holidays, I watched a YouTube video featuring a person with ataxia. The other guest was a speech-language pathologist (SLP) who described a series of techniques called semi-occluded vocal tract (SOVT) exercises. These exercises are used in many warmup and treatment protocols for professional singing, and by speaking coaches and voice and speech therapists.

Intrigued, I learned that SOVT exercises also use plastic drinking straws. The SLP described how spending a few minutes every day breathing, humming, and singing through a straw can relax the muscles surrounding the vocal cords, as well as in the neck, and reduce fatigue when speaking.

Of course, I went on a deep internet dive to find out more and discovered a wealth of how-to videos and supporting research.

A quick how-to

Here’s how you do it: Sit tall and place a plastic drinking straw in your mouth. Hold the straw lightly with one hand, and:

  1. Breathe slowly and evenly for a few minutes.
  2. Inhale and exhale with a long “Ahhhh” sound.
  3. Try humming or even “singing” a song.

Whenever I finish these steps, my throat feels very relaxed.

These simple exercises can be repeated anytime you feel your voice or throat need a rest. Here’s a good, short video on the vocal straw exercise to help you follow along.

Are you ready to sing through a straw? I hope you give it a try. Let’s continue to learn how to live well while living with ALS.

Note: ALS News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of ALS News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to ALS.


Louis Savarese avatar

Louis Savarese

Thank you Dagmar for all your posts. You are a wealth of info and a resilient blessing.

One question, does a larger diameter work best?

Dagmar Munn avatar

Dagmar Munn

Louis, the larger diameter might be good to get used to how to breathe through a straw, but some of the experts I watched in the videos recommended narrower ones... even using that little "cocktail straw" (to build the diaphragm muscle to handle resistance).

James Foot avatar

James Foot

Interesting find with the straw. Thanks for sharing.

Brian Stanfield avatar

Brian Stanfield

Thanks for another great and informative article Dagmar. Have you been evaluated for a Diaphragm Pacing System? It's made all the difference for me.

Dagmar Munn avatar

Dagmar Munn

No, I haven't tried it Brian. So far, I can practice my diaphragmatic breathing exercises on my own without needing an electrical stimulator. But I'm glad it is helping you. :-)

Leslie Mincks avatar

Leslie Mincks

I also use my harmonica.
Sun Valley, Idaho
9 years with Bulbar Onset

Dagmar Munn avatar

Dagmar Munn

Fantastic!! I've been pondering trying out a harmonica. Now, I'm really motivated too! Thank you

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