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Don't waste your warble

A healthy voice is vital for teachers. Take good care of yours, says Lucie Wickham

If there's one piece of advice I'd give to new teachers, it's this: protect your voice and learn to use it properly.

We use our voices for up to 60 per cent of the day. So far, so good - I've never lost my voice completely while teaching, perhaps because I'm a singer and have good vocal technique. My voice teacher taught me a lot about the mechanics of the voice. But you don't have to train as a professional singer to learn good vocal habits.

The "fuel" for your voice is the breath, which begins its journey out of your body in the lower abdomen. Breath causes your vocal folds to vibrate, which in turn resonate around your head, face and nose. Then you articulate sound using your lips, tongue and teeth. For your voice to work efficiently and effectively, there must always be a connection between your breath and vocal folds. Never try to speak without breath, or you could lose your voice. I do the following exercises every day - they are well worth the effort:

1. Lie on your back, knees up, soles flat on floor and breathe in. Note how the lower part of the abdomen rises when you do so.

2. While breathing in and out as naturally as possible, place your hand on your lower abdomen to monitor your breathing. Note how your abdomen rises as you breathe in, and lowers as you breath out.

3. Make the sounds "Sss" and "fff" on your out-breath.

4. Make the sounds "Zzz" and "Je, je, je" in the same way.

5. Get up slowly and loosen up each part of the body, and roll out those shoulders.

6. Now make the sounds "Mm", "Rr" and "Vv"up and down the scale. Say "Heh, ha, heh", as though you were trying to catch someone's attention.

7. Sing a lot - it's very therapeutic and great fun.

Take your voice seriously. If you lose your voice, feel you are getting hoarse, or even just feel discomfort when you speak, go to your doctor, say you are a teacher and get referred to an ear, nose and throat specialist (ENT). If you have a sore throat or a cold, it's good to inhale steam and drink warm water.

Lucie Wickham is an advanced skills teacher of music at Immanuel and St Andrew primary school in south London

STAY ON A HIGH NOTE

* Don't shout - project using your abdominal muscles.

* Speak quietly, but don't whisper. Use other ways to get attention, such as eye contact and body language. Pupils will listen if they have to strain a little to hear you.

* Rest your voice often.

* Don't talk over background noise.

* Drink two litres of water every day.

* Get plenty of sleep and don't overdo smoke, alcohol, caffeine or dairy products.

* Don't clear your throat - swallow instead.

* Avoid air conditioning.

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