DO ALL OF THESE THINGS!
- Get plenty of rest Ok...you can stop laughing now. I'm being serious. As busy as we are as music teachers, it is important (for a number of reasons) that we rest when we can. Think about the way your voice sounds first thing in the morning compared to the way it sounds after having been awake for a while. When your body is tired, your voice is tired, and tired voices are more likely to get itchy, scratchy, and sore.
- Stay hydrated As teachers we often find that drinking water causes a dilemma that I refer to as Hydration VS Urination. We know we need to drink fluids, but we also know that we cannot plan on having regular restroom breaks. I know many teachers who have dealt with the dreadful UTI because of the Hydration VS Urination issue. We could probably spend an entire thread on the topic of teachers and bathroom breaks, so I will save that discussion for another day. However, regarding the topic of vocal health and hydration, know that vocal cords need proper hydration to function properly. That comes from the inside and NOT from random throat sprays and products that are meant to make you THINK they work. Remember this 10 second anatomy lesson: food and drink items don't touch your vocal cords. When that happens, it is commonly referred to as choking seeing that the cords are housed in the larynx right above the wind pipe. You can't 'wet' down your cords with throat sprays or by sucking on lemons. Your body (including your cords) needs to be properly hydrated - plain and simple. Warm tea and throat sprays help with throat irritation, but not necessarily vocal cord health or healing.
- Warm Up and Cool Down Teaching music sometimes involves marathon days filled with lectures, after-school rehearsals, and programs. Just like an athlete prepares their body by easing into intense activities, we must prepare our voices for intense speaking activities. Generally, about 5 minutes of humming or low talking before starting the day is enough to get the juices flowing. Simple relaxation exercises for the neck and shoulders help relieve muscle tension that can constrict the voice. I personally include some deep breathing as well. Equally important to the warm-up is the cool down. When the day is done, take the time to let your voice recover from work. For me, this starts when I finish my last class of the day. I don't talk, sing, or even whisper unless I have to. Just like muscles need time to recover from a workout, the voice needs recovery time, too.
AVOID ALL THESE THINGS!
- Drinking caffeine without also drinking water. Remember point #2 from the DO ALL THESE THINGS list above? These two points work together. Caffeine is a major dehydration factor for many people. Need that morning coffee? That's fine. Just be sure to follow up with some water. Need that caffeine-full soda at lunch? Do that, but chase it with a cup of water.
- Ignoring opportunities to use non-verbal cues in class. Does every procedure need a verbal cue? Not necessarily. As an ensemble director, one of the concepts I stress with my groups is to follow my directing cues. This can translate to other classroom procedures and routines. One non-verbal cue that I have found to be effective with ensembles is to simply put one hand in the air, holding up five fingers. If they continue to talk, I put down one finger at a time. If I get all the way down to zero (a closed fist) with students still talking, consequences will be given out. During rehearsals, force your students to sing/play what your direct, only stopping to talk when something must be explained. After all, 'What they SEE, is what YOU get.' Don't tell them to sing softer - let your cues show them to sing softer. You will be doing them and yourself a favor by talking less in rehearsals.
- Ignoring your body. At the end of the day, only you can say what feels normal. Things don't feel normal? Put yourself on an afternoon of vocal rest or increase your water intake. Do not ignore what your body is trying to tell you!