Taking the strain out of speaking and singing
June 24, 2021
Your voice is your best teaching tool, especially now you’re in the classroom again and not talking to a computer screen. It’s the difference between struggling in lessons, or feeling confident and having the respect of the class.
Teaching is always a demanding job, and now there’s extra stress as both you and your classes have had to get used to live teaching again. That stress will affect your voice, but there are simple ways you can reduce it. Here are ten top tips to help you and your voice cope:
How you start your morning can make a world of difference to how both you and your voice cope with the demands of the day. Instead of hitting the snooze button, give yourself time to warm up your voice and body. A nice steamy shower is the ideal place for voice warm-ups. Start by humming some of your favourite songs, then sing if you like, but only gently. After the shower is a good time for some simple stretches, especially for your neck and shoulders, which often hold a lot of tension.
Hydration is so important for your voice. When you’re speaking the vocal cords vibrate at amazing speed, and risk getting damaged if your throat is dry or you’re generally under-hydrated. Save the coffee for later, and have a large mug of warm water before breakfast. As well as being great for your voice it’s a good whole-body cleanser that’s easy to do and costs nothing. What’s not to like!
To keep a good level of hydration through the day, have a mouthful or two from your water bottle at the beginning and end of each lesson at least, in addition to your normal drinks.
Standing tall will make you feel better, your voice will work better, and you’ll have increased presence and respect in class. Check your standing posture by shuffling backwards towards a straight wall until your heels touch it. You should feel your bottom, shoulders and back of your head also against the wall. Adjust as necessary, and discover your natural posture.
In natural breathing, at rest your abdomen rises and falls with the breath, not your chest. This type of breathing makes best use of the muscular diaphragm, so is more efficient at getting oxygen into your lungs. It also helps keep you calmer. Shallow chest breathing is part of the fight-or-flight response and encourages feelings of stress.
Most people tend to push their voice upwards from their throat - and push harder to speak louder. Not only is this inefficient and tiring, it can damage your vocal cords. Teaching puts enormous demands on your voice, so the risk of damage is high - and no voice could mean no career. Luckily there is another way, which is to visualize your voice as flowing effortlessly down from your head rather than being pushed effortfully up from your throat. Get a first sense of this by humming very gently: the hum is a head-based sound. With practice and the right exercises you can develop that small sound into a resonant, focused voice you can use as much as you need with no strain on your throat.
You’re going to want to talk more slowly when teaching than when chatting to your friends. It will give your learners more time to process what you’re saying, and give you more opportunity to add variety to your delivery that will keep them interested. Confident people never rush what they’re saying, so a slower pace will also make you appear more confident.
There will be plenty of opportunity for stress to accumulate during your demanding day. Break the cycle by taking mini ‘breathing breaks’ whenever you can - even if that means in a cubicle in the loo. Stand or sit upright and close your eyes. Imagine you have a large container in the space between your lower abdomen and your throat. As you breathe in, visualize the air filling that container from the bottom to the top, and as you breathe out concentrate on emptying the container from the top to the bottom. Repeat three times, or more if you have time. You’ll feel calmer before the day’s next challenge.
Emotions become harmful when we bottle them up, so if something in the day upset you, get it out of your system by writing down (on paper, not on screen) what it was or what you would like to have said to a particular person - and then burn the paper. Or if you’re angry, take it out on your cushions, do a short burst of physical exercise, or go somewhere you can let out a good loud scream.
It’s so tempting after a demanding day to veg out on the sofa in front of the TV - and apparently 90% of people do. But there are better ways of setting yourself up for a good night’s sleep. Anything involving working with your hands is generally calming, whether that’s knitting or DIY. And the people who tell you to switch off all screens at least half an hour before bed really are right!
We hope you’ve found these tips helpful. If you’d like more help and advice, you can download a free introductory course specially designed for teachers. There’s lots of useful information on how your voice can help keep you calm, confident and in control in the classroom.
Singing is a really fun way to improve your physical and mental health. Here are just six of the good things singing can do for you.
May 11, 2022
Teaching is always a demanding job, and now there’s extra stress as you get used to live teaching again. Here are ten top tips to help you cope.
June 24, 2021
Marilyn Monroe was quietly shopping in a New York store. She was at the height of her fame, and the journalist with her couldn't understand why
April 24, 2021