vocal health

Making It Work: Vocal Health

Making It Work:
Vocal Health 

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. 

vocal health

  • 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!  


LeslieAnne Bird

LeslieAnne Bird is a music and movement educator at University Schools in Shaker, Ohio. She teaches general music and choir to fifth through seventh grade young men and is an adjunct Professor at the University of Akron. She has previously taught in North Olmsted & Cleveland Ohio as well as in Prince George’s County, Maryland. LeslieAnne is a national presenter. She has served as vice president and membership chair for the Greater Cleveland Orff Chapter and is currently serving as the content curator for the Teaching With Orff community. In addition, she is the owner and CEO of Three Little Birds Music Education Services LLC where she offers teacher training, coaching and musical experiences for children and adults. She earned Orff Certification from Baldwin Wallace University in 2014, and has completed Music Learning Theory General Music Level One, Level One World Music Drumming training, Level One Google Certification and has earned the Ohio Master Teacher designation.

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  1. Mary on March 7, 2018 at 12:39 pm

    Can you recommend any amplification systems? Thank you for the expert advice!

    • Maureen Meyers on March 9, 2018 at 6:45 am

      I have a Chattervox, which I like a belly pack speaker attached to a mic near your face. It works very well. When I’m at the keyboard, I use a standard mic on a boom stand.

    • Leigh Tarwater on March 9, 2018 at 1:01 pm

      My district purchased a setup called Front Row To Go for all our elementary music teachers. It is a stand-alone speaker with wireless connectivity to a headset mic and/or and hand-held mic. I charge my headset battery every other night or so. The speaker stands in a corner by my desk and stays plugged into the wall. Whenever I want, I can also unplug the speaker and carry it with me anywhere – excellent for school assemblies. The battery lasts for about 8 hours. I can also plug it directly into my computer if I want to play music from my iTunes playlists or a CD and it also still amplifies the person wearing the headset. Expensive, but WELL worth it!

  2. Danielle on March 7, 2018 at 12:43 pm

    This is a fantastic list! I particularly love the point about student ownership because, as you stated, it allows for vocal rest for the teacher and also students can be more engaged in their participation by not relying on the teacher’s singing voice as a vocal ‘crutch’, so to speak. Students learn how to become active and independent music makers! I’ve also found student ownership helps with assessment because the focus is less on me constantly directing the activity, but rather stepping back, fully observing, and listening to my students. It’s a win-win!

  3. Drue on March 7, 2018 at 12:49 pm

    This post is CHOCK FULL of GREAT advice, LeslieAnne! I agree with you 100%, the kids will often listen better to a video of me than live me!

  4. Jeanne Novacek on March 7, 2018 at 12:54 pm

    Thank you – all of these tips are so helpful to be reminded of – no matter how long we have been teaching!

  5. Marianne LaBarbara on March 7, 2018 at 4:02 pm

    Excellent advise!

  6. Kathy Wolter-Kampa on March 7, 2018 at 9:26 pm

    I spend time in the steam room whenever I visit my health club. Steam is very healing for the voice.

  7. Ronni Cherrnay on March 9, 2018 at 9:46 am

    I’ve been looking to purchase a humidifier for home and school use. Many are too large or have problems, like too bright night lights. Any brands you suggest?

    • LeslieAnne Bird on April 9, 2018 at 6:35 pm

      Ronni, I bought mine at Target. I will need a new furnace soon and will replace my room unit at home with a new whole house unit. I have to clean it regularly (I soak it in vinegar) but it works well for me.

  8. Clay Crowe on March 10, 2018 at 7:02 am

    Excellent article. Vocal health is something I have been really trying to concentrate on recently. You mentioned using herbal tea. There is a product I use called throat coat tea that you can buy in the tea aisle of most supermarkets. If I wake up with a scratchy throat it does wonders to help me get through the day.

  9. Becky on March 14, 2018 at 8:54 pm

    Can you recommend a good way to find a doctor for vocal problems? Not all doctors understand!

    • LeslieAnne Bird on April 9, 2018 at 6:36 pm

      Becky, I would find professional singers in your area and ask who they see. Word of mouth is usually a good way to find a good fit.

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