Vocal Health for the Voice Teacher

January 23rd, 2009 by

Vocal health is very important, especially for people who use their voices for most of their day, such as teachers of singing who not only speak through lessons, but also sing to model for their students.

The voice can become a problem when pitch, volume or the tone of the voice begins to draw attention to itself rather than to what the speaker is talking about. Sometimes the voice can sound too high, too soft, too nasal or hoarse, or can even cause pain to the speaker or singer.  So how can the busy voice teacher continue singing, teaching, and modeling without putting undue stress of her voice?

Symptoms of vocal damage include:

It is important to know when the voice is not just tired, but may need medical attention.  If you experience breathiness, huskiness, hoarseness, loss of vocal power, monotone, sore or tense throat, loss of the voice, pitch breaks and easy vocal fatigue, it it time to consult an ENT (ear nose and throat doctor).

What about vocal nodules?

Vocal nodules are often caused by abuse of the voice and are indicated by some of the above symptoms. The vocal folds are generally smooth, white mucous covered surfaces without any ridges or blemishes. With vocal abuse a haematoma – or bruise – can appear on the vibrating edge of the vocal folds and over time, if this is not given adequate rest and healing, the haematoma can become more fibrous and form into soft or hard nodules on the vocal folds. Generally they appear in pairs, one per fold, and the combination of the two nodules meeting each other will not allow the vocal folds to meet cleanly and vibrate correctly, hence the often breathy or husky vocal tone that accompanies them.

Factors that contribute to voice problems:

  • Screaming – at sporting events, kids, parents, friends, pets, etc. Some singers scream when they sing, and this is very bad for long term vocal health.
  • Raising the  voice – talking or singing in competition to other noises like a noisy classroom or social situation.
  • Smoke – smoking is a big factor in vocal damage for many people and so is passive smoking. Frequenting smoky places, socially, or as a performer, can be very detrimental to vocal health.
  • Coughing – coughing and clearing the throat causes the vocal folds to be abrasively rubbed together and this is damaging with regularity.
  • Talking – just like any other muscles, excessive use of the voice by simply talking a lot tires the voice out.
  • Talking when stressed – emotional and physical tension will contribute to the voice being constricted and talking in this situation may lead to vocal fatigue.
  • Work – some jobs are dependent upon the voice, and overuse of the voice in work situations could lead to vocal health problems.

What can we do to help our voices?

The simplest remedy for vocal health is to look after our own overall health. If we get run down or ill, our voice will also be affected. Here are some other more specific ideas for vocal health.

  • Turn the TV or radio down – instead of talking over the top of them.
  • Give up smoking – This is the best thing you could do for yourself vocally (and health wise).
  • Drink lots of water – especially when talking or singing. Try to consume 7-9 glasses a day.  Teachers should have a bottle of water in class with them.
  • Take fresh air breaks – especially in smoky or noxious environments.
  • Warm up! – Before your first lesson of the day, or even at the beginning of the day, find 15-30 minutes to vocalize.  This will prepare you for the small bits of modeling you will do in the day, and also prepare your voice for the talking during lessons.
  • Rest your voice – especially after lots of singing or talking.
  • Pace your voice – don’t use it too much, too often. Have rest breaks in between periods of use.
  • Find alternatives to modeling – Play a recording of a famous singer singing their piece, explain what you are looking for musically in a particular phrase, or conduct the student as they sing.  Remember, you don’t have to model for every student every day.
  • Try whistling instead – there are many ways other than yelling to let your team know of your support.
  • Swallow – instead of clearing the throat or coughing all the time, try swallowing, it reduces the abrasion.
  • Avoid too much stress – this goes without saying! Stay relaxed and your voice will thank you.
  • Shhh…Don’t whisper – keep whispering to a minimum as it is quick to cause vocal fatigue.
  • Good posture – an upright, balanced posture is very helpful in reducing stress on the body and promoting optimum vocal tone.
  • Avoid drying out medications – like certain allergy medications, antihistamines, etc.

Posted in Practicing, Teaching Tips

About the Author

Sarah Luebke
Nebraska native Sarah Luebke completed her MM in vocal performance at the University of Kentucky, and her BM in vocal performance at St. Olaf College. Recently she has been seen performing the female lead, Jane McDowell, in "The Stephen Foster Story" and the ensemble of "Big River" with Stephen Foster Productions. Other performances include the soprano soloist of Bach's St. John Passion, La Fee ... [Read more]

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