Vocal care and warm-up exercises for teachers

Written by: Dr Gillyanne Kayes | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Following SecEd’s recent focus on voice care for teachers, Dr Gillyanne Kayes introduces a new app that helps teachers to warm-up their voices

The cold spring term is well under way and with more than five months still to go before the end of the school year, your voice is already sore and raspy. And everyone seems to have a cold to boot! Somehow your voice never got back into the groove after the Christmas break, and even though you tried to rest it over the holidays, you are worried that with all the extra-curricular activities you risk losing your voice – again.

You hope you’ll be able to make it to the end of this term so that you can give your voice a rest over the Easter break and start fresh in the summer term.

The Informers

There are few professions more prone to suffering vocal health issues than teaching. You are using your voice to instruct, coax, encourage and shepherd your students throughout the day.

You have what’s called in the voice training profession “a high vocal load”. It is an issue that SecEd has tackled recently. In recent pieces by Julian Stanley of the Education Support Partnership (November 2017) and by Steve Burnage (December 2017), it was reported that, according to Health and Safety Executive estimates, one in five teachers miss work due to voice problems in any one year – five times the rate for the workforce as a whole.

You may not realise it but you are a voice professional. As a teacher you belong to a professional group called Informers – and your vocal demands include long periods of uninterrupted speaking to groups (Shewell 2009).

Potential problems

If you have a voice problem you might experience a change in your voice quality, or increased effort in speaking, difficulty with projection and discomfort in your throat. Often vocal issues can start due to a cold or sore throat – your vocal folds become a little swollen, you start to push your voice harder in class because it is not working normally and before long you have a “voice problem”.

Surprisingly, most teachers simply take time off rather than seeking help. So a voice problem may fall into the category of “hidden work-related injuries”.

The bottom line: if you have a hoarse and abnormal voice for more than three weeks, you should go to your GP.
Voice rest vs voice exercise

Voice scientist Ingo Titze asked a molecular biologist how long it takes for the tissue of the vocal folds to repair. The answer was 72 hours. That means no talking, no whispering, no throat-clearing and extra hydration of up to 10 glasses of water a day.

Think about this from the perspective of an injury or strain for a sports person: first they rest, then start exercising gently and regularly to get back into shape.

But if you have taken time off for voice rest, going back into a day’s teaching with no preparation is not a good idea. Even experienced professional singers reported that it was difficult to get going again if they took more than three days off.

What then?

A simple vocal warm-up may be the answer. Individual targeted exercises can help to rehabilitate your tired voice and short sequences can keep your voice in shape.

In France, following an extended study – The Voice and its Disorders in Teachers (INSERM, 2005) – insurance companies took seriously the recommendation that “training is an essential component of a preventive programme” and advise teachers to use a vocal warm-up.

In the UK, vocal coach Jeremy Fisher and I have teamed up with a speech therapist and app-developer to create an easy-to-use vocal warm up app to keep your voice in shape. The team felt that everyone should have immediate and affordable access to straightforward vocal exercises from professionals in the field of voice.

Here’s one of the app exercises – a way to improve your vocal sound. It will help you to stop “pushing” your voice and give you clearer diction (there’s a video in the app to show you how).

  1. Say the word “this”. Notice that to make the “th” sound you put the tip of your tongue between your teeth.
  2. Now extend the “th” to make a buzzing sound: “Thththththth.”
  3. Stick the tip of your tongue a little further out between your teeth and say the long “ththththth” again – you should just be able to see it in a mirror.
  4. Now stick your tongue out even further and say “ththththth”. You should be able to feel the stretch at the back of your mouth. Check you are using the correct “th” sound by putting your hand on your voicebox. You should be able to feel vibrations under your fingers.
  5. Now put your tongue back in your mouth and say a typical greeting sentence such as “Hello, how was your holiday?”

The One Minute Voice Warm-Up app uses a series of easy-to-learn exercises that you can do in the car, in the shower or in the kitchen. You can use a single targeted exercise to deal immediately with a tight throat, or build a three to five-minute warm-up sequence to use before you leave for work each morning. The app includes instructions on how to get the most out of each technique.

  • Dr Gillyanne Kayes is a vocal consultant and director of Vocal Process.

Further information


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