School will soon be back in session. Whether you are a voice, music, or theater teacher, theater director, or a student singer who has had the summer off, it is a good idea to start preparing your voice now for the increased demand that comes with the return of the school year. Leda Scearce’s Manual of Singing Voice Rehabilitation: A Practical Approach to Vocal Health and Wellness (2016) is an excellent resource for all things voice care. Here are some things to consider and some things Scearce suggests:
- Practice good vocal hygiene. Make sure you are drinking at least 64 oz of water per day. Minimize caffeine/alcohol intake. Always implement dietary and behavioral reflux precautions, even if you don’t have significant reflux issues.
- Start/get back into a routine of regularly exercising your voice. If you’ve given your voice a break over the summer and have not been doing much singing, jumping back into a school year with heavy singing or the significant voice demands required for classroom teaching is a recipe for vocal fatigue and potential vocal injury. Start getting back into a routine of daily vocal warm-ups and technical exercises now. Start with 10-15 minutes of vocal exercise once or twice daily, and then gradually increase it as you get closer to the start of the school year.
- Teachers, set up your classroom for your vocal success. Plan to use amplification while teaching. Letting a microphone project your voice can save it a lot of vocal wear and tear. Arrange your classroom so you can maintain neutral alignment while teaching, such as positioning music stands so that you can see your music while maintaining a neutral head position. Position student seating in a way that minimizes the distance between you and your students, allowing you to see them all easily. Make signs and/or recorded examples of frequent cues, instructions, or warm-ups to minimize vocalizing these things daily in the classroom. Prepare alternative ways to communicate in the classroom to minimize unnecessary voice use.
Once the school year has begun, here are other things to consider:
- Use excellent speaking voice technique. You spend more time speaking than you do singing. As such, it is just as important to use healthy voice production technique when you speak as when you sing.
- Plan your voice use. When you have increased vocal demands, schedule less vocally-demanding tasks during class times, avoid/minimize social activities, and take a break from any singing you do outside of your teaching or academic duties. Color-code your schedule to indicate the level of voice demand required by various activities in order to assess your daily voice demands quickly, rearrange tasks to more evenly distribute voice demands throughout the week, and schedule specific times for voice rest.
- Always warm-up before teaching. Your warm-up needs to be specific to your voice and your vocal demands so warming up with your students is not sufficient. If you do not have a warm-up routine, consider working with a voice teacher colleague to establish a warm-up routine that meets your vocal needs.
- Use amplification. Projecting your voice for 4-6 hours a day or more (even if done well) will eventually take its toll on your voice. Rest your voice. Let a mic do that work for you, even in a “small” classroom.
- Practice excellent vocal pacing in and out of the classroom. Prioritize your voice use each day, looking for ways to reduce or eliminate the unnecessary voicing so that you maintain adequate voice rest throughout your daily routine.
- Delegate vocal tasks that do not specifically require YOUR voice and expertise. Appoint classroom/section leaders to make announcements or give vocal demonstrations. Use written communication (i.e. website, handouts, email, etc) for conveying information.
- Don’t speak over your students. Avoid speaking/giving instructions while your students are vocalizing. Ensure that they actually hear you and reduce the likelihood that you will need to repeat yourself by only instructing when students are.
- Model only when necessary. Use descriptions and other cues to help your students achieve the desired sound. Record modeled examples and play this back during lessons or rehearsals.
- Warm-up. This should be specific to your voice type, genre of singing, and specific vocal needs. General group/choral warm-ups may not be sufficient. Work with your voice teacher or choral director to establish a warm-up routine that meets your needs and run through this before choir rehearsal starts.
- Prioritize. Consider the different vocal demands you have – speaking and singing, social and academic. Academic requirements trump extracurricular or social requirements. If singing is truly important to you or is your chosen field of study, those demands and care of your voice take precedence over social voice use, particularly in noisy environments – i.e. loud parties, cheering at sporting events, vocally demanding summer/after school jobs.
- Learn to practice efficiently. Learn to practice “mentally” as much as vocally so you don’t tire your voice out simply learning the music. Use recordings to help you learn or memorize music. Scearce (2016) suggests “Listen three times, sing once.” Work on the portions of the music that need the most work. Use unvoiced lip/tongue trills or other unvoiced sounds to practice breath control. Schedule shorter, more frequent practice sessions.
- Minimize recreational singing. Remember your vocal priorities. Singing in the car or doing karaoke is always fun. But, if you’re committed to various performances or have academic voice demands, those take top priority. Give your top priority singing requirements your best possible voice by implementing vocal hygiene and vocal pacing strategies. Save the recreational singing for times when you have fewer high priority singing commitments.
Losing your voice regularly or being hoarse after rehearsals, practice times or performances is not normal. Any hoarseness that does not resolve on its own in 2-3 weeks should be evaluated by an ENT, preferably a laryngologist (voice doctor). But with excellent vocal hygiene, vocal pacing, and using healthy voice production technique for both speech and singing your voice will have the stamina to meet the vocal needs of your academic year!
Scearce, Leda (2016). Manual of Singing Voice Rehabilitation: A Practical Approach to Vocal Health and Wellness. San Diego, CA: Plural Publishing, Appendices 14- B, G, I, K, L, & M.