There is an acronym whizzing through the ethers of the vocology cosmos causing some people to delight and others to raise their fists in the air. Introducing: SOVT, which stands for semi-occluded vocal tract. Voice nerds use it to describe vocal exercises, as in “SOVT exercises.” You see it in scientific journals and hear it on the streets, depending who you hang out with. It is an attempt to codify the language around voice, and for this reason I’m rather elated it exists.
This post stands as a tiny, little tutorial on SOVT and SOVT exercises. Once you get the gist, you can identify any number of vocal exercises that employ its benefits. I’ll list a few of the most common SOVT exercises, pin links to free resources that explain it, briefly describe a few of its incredible benefits, and list videos just in case you like your coffee pixilated. (SOVT exercises are a sort of get-up-and-go drug, afterall.)
Occluded, occluded, occluded . . . ching!
Love this word! Means what it says – obstructed, or made closed. So, whenever you partially close, or semi-occlude, the vocal tract you are creating circumstances that “minimize collisions between the vocal folds when maximal lung pressure and maximal cricothyroid muscle activity is generated for the stretch.” (Titze, Abbott, Vocology, 2012, pg. 198) In layman’s terms, this means that partially blocking the vocal tract, however you do it, helps minimize the collision impact between the vocal folds, and as they are stretched. Narrowing the vocal tract also lowers the amount of air pressure required to phonate or make sound. (302) And lastly, occluding the vocal tract helps train vocal resonance, especially in the mixed register or middle of the voice. “SOVT therapy, which includes phonation into a straw, has been explicitly designed to produce resonant voice in this mixed register.” (303) Scientists have discovered many acoustic and physical reasons why SOVT exercises work, and I encourage you to read up on the specs in your spare time.
For now, it is sufficient to rely on the bottom line – SOVT exercises work.
I’ve personally known people who’ve helped themselves recover from vocal fold injuries as well as regain their voices using SOVT techniques. This is no joke. (Renee Fleming says the straw has changed her life, just in case you needed further convincing.)
SOVT exercises (just a few)
- Lip trills
- Phonation through a straw
- Holding the jaw
- Humming on mmmmm, nnnnnn, vvvvvv, zzzzzzzz, or oooooooo (esp. with lips pursed)
- Singing on “ng”
- Tongue trills
- Fill in your favorite here: ______________
Want a website?
Once again, we come back to voicescienceworks.org. <<They got’s it goin on.>> Here is their page on SOVT exercises, with heavy emphasis on straw phonation. They also have a free, downloadable handout on SOVT you can use for your studio or classroom. Who doesn’t love a good handout? Right?
The National Center for Voice and Speech has a book called Vocology, referenced earlier in this post. To purchase the text, go here:
The LRVS (love revolution vocal studio) SOVT Video Sampler
- Ingo Titze’s seminal video on straw phonation for singers AND speakers. I encourage teachers, especially, to watch this one!
2. SLP Tom Burke’s beautiful video on straw phonation and how it will save your voice. He offers a range of ways to use the straw, not just with water.
3. #22secondsofvoice on SOVT, what is it?
4. #22secondsofvoice on a specific SOVT exercise, the lip trill.