Years ago, when I was teaching a lot of children, I started using the straw. I'd ask them to sing their favourite song into a bowl of bubbly water and make as many bubbles as they could. I didn't know why I was asking them to do this but they loved these little plastic goddesses and so I made up reasons like it was good for their ear and for their breath support.
When you start doing something, as the saying goes, "you have to fake it until you make it" and that's what I was doing. I had no idea. Most of my teaching was throwing ideas at a wall and watching to see if any would stick.
Thankfully, many of them did and the straw was one of them.
At the time, I still didn't know why.
The first thing I noticed was the instant improvement in the children's voices after they used the straw. I tried it. I felt like a different singer. Magic. Had I bought 100 magic wands for 99p from Sainsburys? What was happening?
Now, after further exploration as a vocal coach, I know that the straw isn't imbued with magic powers yet it's very real power to improve a singing voice is backed by science and it's not just myself who worships the little plastic sticks. They are used in speech therapy for the most severe vocal problems, they are used by singing teachers like myself and now I hear that some of the West End shows have a thing called "Bubble club".
If you're not in the bubble club, now's the time to get onboard!
For the science based why and how the straw works, read this brilliant piece on the naked vocalist website:
But, for those in a hurry, I'll attempt to simplify the mystery of why singing through a straw is a good thing to spend some time doing.
1) Without trying, it engages the breath support muscles. As you sing you'll notice your lower stomach tightening in organic and natural support. You'll notice that the stomach works harder as you sing higher. This will fix the muscle memory into your support system so it works automatically when you start to sing.
2) You will be making a sustained steady flow of air, teaching the muscle memory needed for singing. Your chords will not vibrate without a airflow. If they aren't vibrating well then you will struggle to sing. We all hold our breath at times when we're singing. You'll can hear breathing problems in in "tightness" and tone loss (often as you go higher and don't increase the support).
Try putting the straw in water.
Making bubbles = steady support visualised.
If you fix your attention on the bubbles or just continually blowing through the straw then you're teaching your body the right thing to do.
3) The tube will bounce the sound waves back into your mouth (pharynx) and offer a cushion to the vocal chords so they don't need to fight to control the force of air coming through them. Like a vocal chord cuddle. Crucial for anyone going through nodules or vocal cord injuries.
What is glorious about using a straw is that you don't need to think. Sing through the straw and all the right things will happen. Try singing afterwards and your muscles will remember. Then you'll sing better.
Try sirens (smooth slides up and down your range), try your scales, try singing the song you're working on. Observe how it feels as you do it and carry that feeling into your singing. Even if you can't do that, your muscles will remember and you'll carry it through anyway.