Making It Work:
Taking care of your voice is an important component of self-care for music educators. We are talking, singing and laughing with our students all day and then using our voices when we are off duty with friends and family. If we don’t tend to our vocal health we can have big problems in the long run. There are many things one can do to take care of your voice and minimize vocal issues.
First, take care of you!
- Keep yourself hydrated with as much water as you can reasonably drink at work. I keep a leak proof bottle with me and sip throughout the day while I teach. This keeps my voice and body hydrated without having to worry about my lack of bathroom breaks.
- Keep your voice and nasal passages healthy. I use a humidifier at home and a steamer for myself at work when the room is particularly dry. Saline nasal spray is also helpful during dry periods.
- Limit caffeine intake. I, like most of you need my morning coffee to feel human. Limiting caffeine intake to one drink each day helps to reduce the negative effects of caffeine on the vocal folds.
- If you smoke, quit. Smoking or breathing smoke regularly is detrimental to vocal health.
- Addressing physical ailments such as reflux, asthma, snoring and allergies is important to vocal health, as well as getting as much quality sleep as possible.
- Ask questions about medications. When my doctor prescribes medications or recommends that I take over the counter medications I ask about the possible side effects on my voice. Many medications can be drying and result on vocal fatigue and hoarseness.
- Find alternatives to clearing your throat. I can’t stand the feeling or sound of a gunky throat. Breathing or singing through the congestion has worked for me, as well as sipping warm herbal tea.
- Give your voice a break. I choose times when I am able to give my voice rest. Sometimes singing along with the radio or talking to myself out loud are not in my best interest and I have to remind myself to take time to be quiet. Look for short periods of time when you can just not talk for ten to fifteen minutes. The benefits will add up.
Prepare yourself for teaching with vocal health in mind.
- Warm up. Before I begin each day of teaching I warm up my voice. I do about three to five minutes of humming and light singing while I set up my classroom for the day. These few minutes of self-care make a huge difference in maintaining vocal health.
- Use amplification. I use voice amplification and this is a life saver. I am lucky that I was able to have this purchased through my school if they did not I would buy it for myself in a heartbeat, it is that important. My students are good listeners and when we are drumming, folk dancing or playing xylophones it is a strain to talk over the music making and joy.
- Craft lessons with vocal care in mind. While teaching I look for ways to use my voice less like having a student read directions from the board or modeling what I want students to do without talking. If I am not feeling my best and I have a segment of direct instruction I video record myself explaining the details one time and play it for all of the classes in that grade. Sometimes it seems they are more attentive to video me, than live me.
- Let your students do the singing. A wise colleague told me “Sing for your kids, not with your kids.” After the children have learned a song, I don’t sing with them and they have to keep the music going. If we are playing a game and the singing stops, the game stops. I have to remind myself often to let them sing on their own as I enjoy singing the songs and games as much as the kids do.
- Talk when they are listening. I use a variety of “attention-getters” to get kids quiet when needed, and rarely raise my voice or talk over students (only in emergency situations). Speaking softly (not whispering, which is harsh on the vocal folds) is a great way to get kids to listen as well.
- Speak at the “front” of your voice. Speaking with your voice set at the back of your throat puts stress on the folds. Create the feeling that your voice is “spinning” just behind your front teeth when you speak. It will sound a bit odd to you (and to your students) at first, and it really works.
- Have a “back up plan” for vocal emergencies. It is usually not the best idea to try to power through when your voice is not performing well. Have centers, video lessons, listening lessons or other student directed activities ready in advance for days when you need to take a break from talking and singing all day. That day will come, I promise! Having ideas and supplies ready in advance will save time and stress when vocal rest is needed.
If you suspect trouble, act fast.
Lastly, if your voice does not feel right don’t wait to get checked out by a professional. Generally, if vocal problems are caught early they can be healed, waiting too long for care can result in permanent damage that will impact your teaching and vocal utilization outside of school for the rest of your life.
What are some tips or tricks you use to keep your voice healthy? Please share your ideas in the comments so we can all help each other to make vocal health work!