Website Up and Running

My website has been up and running now for a number of months, but I've not had a lot of time to focus on the site. It is my objective now to give it a bit more attention, and I'm starting with keeping my blogs updated a bit more freely.   

Since becoming a high school teacher I have been using my voice on an unprecedented level due to continual talking over classroom noise,despite doing everything I could to prevent it. Since then, I have been battling with constant vocal fatigue - a common complaint for many school teachers - and while I've been able to continue with my teaching work, it's been very frustrating from the point of view of the singer.

My main vocal range is a tenor range - an upper medium to high register male voice - but with the vocal fatigue, my high register singing voice is suffering badly. To sing higher notes is often impossible, and where it is possible, it often takes a great deal of effort and the quality of tone is nowhere near as clean or supported as I'd like it to be.

This vocal fatigue is very frustrating to me as I've worked as a singer for years, having taught singing for 15 years and toured internationally on five occasions as part of a singing group Isabella A Cappella (although I am no longer with the group.) I have also toured New Zealand as musical director with my awesome group Men Wot Sing.

About a month ago I had an appointment with my ear, nose and throat surgeon and asked him to inspect my vocal folds and give me a vocal check up. He had a look around, and I am pleased to announce that all is as it should be. No major problems such as nodules, etc. which means that all the warming up and warming down that I have done on a daily basis before and after school has done the job of keeping me basically vocally healthy. However, the fatigue and it's symptoms are very real, and my surgeon noted that my vocal folds looked a little swollen which would account for the soreness and inability to sing those higher notes. He assured  me that with a little vocal rest that I'd be able to sing those higher notes much more easily and basically reassured me that the situation wasn't too bad - although it felt pretty bad to me!

So ... what to do?

In February this year I travelled one thousand kilometres to Sydney to take part in an excellent workshop called Voice Care for Teachers. This took place in St Vincent's Hospital in Darlinghurst, and addressed the voice from various angles. We looked at anatomy and physiology, mental issues around vocal function and vocal strategies, tips and techniques. While I was familiar with the majority of these, it was still very refreshing to learn a few new tricks and angles to incorporate into my practice.

So ... here's a few things to consider for teachers or other professionals dealing with a situation of unavoidable excessive vocal use:

  • Ensuring both warming up and cooling down before and after talking.
  • Look into developing the "sweet spot" in the voice - the area where speaking is as effortless as possible, the most natural pitch and tone area of the individual voice.
  • Use technology wherever possible to minimise the amount of vocal use. Eg. computers, projectors, audiovisual, etc.
  • If possible, plan to include periods of vocal rest within specific time frames, such as school periods, etc.
  • If you are working with students, look into negotiated non-verbal prompts, such as holding up your hand, etc., in order to quieten the class.
  • Consider typing and displaying your directions instead of speaking them.
  • Make a note of how many times a day you raise your voice. and log these in a weekly spreadsheet. It'll give you a good idea of what you're dealing with.
  • Use your natural voice - don't force it or try to sound "authoritative".
  • Practice speaking more quietly, that way your students or audience will not hear you unless they quieten down. Remember, the rule of thumb is that the louder you speak, the louder the classroom noise.
  • Consider using a microphone - clip on or headset would probably be the best for a presenting situation.
  • Remember, always have water on hand, and drink plenty of it! The peristaltic action in swallowing is good for the voice.
  • Consider turning off any air-conditioners for a period of time. This not only quietens the background level of noise, it also stops the air-conditioner drying out the sensitive mucous membranes in the mouth and larynx.
  • Learn to "yell" properly! You need strong muscular support and clear, clean & forward oral placement. (Bring the sound to the front of the mouth.)

Anyhow, that's probably enough to go on with for now ... I will write more in the next few weeks.

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