Transitioned to online teaching and noticed a change in your vocal quality?
You are not alone, and there is a connection.
It is the middle of 2020, and in an attempt to flatten the curve of the Covid-19 pandemic, schools and gyms have closed, and teachers and instructors have transitioned to teaching remotely.
The tiredness or hoarseness you feel is not just you. Laryngeal fatigue is real.
If you want to maintain good vocal health in this new era of online teaching, here are some easy tips on how to keep your voice healthy that you can start incorporating into your daily schedule.
1. Hydrate—before, during, and after classes
Having hydrated vocal folds is key for optimal voice production. There is lots of research that shows dehydrated vocal folds do not function as well as hydrated ones.
If you are teaching back to back sessions, or have multiple online classes per day, fill up a water bottle. And not just the little 16 oz ones. Challenge yourself to sip slowly over the course of the morning or afternoon. Drink before, during (if possible), and after sessions.
You can also try a nebulizer and 0.9 percent isotonic saline to hydrate the vocal cords, or a cool-mist humidifier to moisturize the mouth and throat.
2. Use some resonant hums as a warm-up and cool down.
If you’re wondering how to keep your voice healthy, you might want to think about balancing your vocal subsystems (respiration, phonation, and resonance) with some resonant voice sounds before and after teaching.
The goal of “Resonant Voice” according to Dr. Stemple, “is to achieve the strongest, ‘cleanest’ possible voice with the least effort and impact between the vocal folds to minimize the likelihood of injury and maximize the likelihood of vocal health” (Stemple et al., 2010).
Resonant Voice was further studied by Kittie Verdolini Abbott in her LMRVT approach. She discusses how creating hums and vibratory /v/ and /z/ sounds in the front of your face can decrease the forceful impact on the vocal folds during phonation and help you speak better.
3. Blow bubbles in a cup—yup, exactly what you think it is.
The idea here is to alleviate some of the stress that may be placed on the vocal cords when speaking or teaching for extended periods. Dr. Ingo Titze discusses at length the magic of SOVT (semi occluded vocal tract) exercises.
According to Dr. Titze, “SOVTs help stretch and un-press your vocal cords” and take a load off the glottic tension at the level of the vocal cords. So, what should you do? Blow bubbles into a cup.
All you need is a straw, cup, and an ounce or two of water. Blow some air through the straw into the cup to create some bubbles. Then turn your voice on, add sound, all while keeping soft rounded lips around the straw. For variation, glide from a low note to a high note and then vice versa.
Side note: You don’t actually need the water and cup. The bubbles are there just for a fun visual feedback.
4. Use noise-canceling headphones or an amplification device.
Kristie Knickerbocker is a speech-language pathologist and singing voice specialist in Fort Worth, Texas. One of her solutions on how to keep your voice healthy is using noise-canceling headphones. She says that “when we cannot hear clear feedback for our own vocal output, we put ourselves at risk.”
In her blog, Knickerbocker talks about the Lombard Effect and why she recommends wearing noise-canceling headphones for your online classes or sessions.
If noise-canceling headphones are not an option for the class format or session you teach, try an amplification device such as Chattervox. Play around with volume control during classes and find what works for you and your voice.
5. Stretch your muscles to release tension.
Chances are that if you switched to remote learning and online teaching, you are sitting more. Perhaps less active and more stressed.
This can have an overall effect on posture and create muscle tension in multiple areas surrounding the head, neck, and shoulders. This can affect the laryngeal area and cause vocal strain.
(Click here to know more about how to tackle the “sitting disease.”)
To prevent this, reduce sitting time, increase “non-exercise” physical activity during the day, and incorporate more movement to alleviate some of the stiffness.
Another option is to do some manual therapy to release restricting tissues that might be causing the tension. Reach out if you want more information on manual therapy.
When it comes to how to keep your voice healthy, keep in mind: The more you prehab, the less you rehab. Take the right steps, make the right choices, and your vocal fold tissue should work efficiently and smoothly.