It's no joke if you croak

7th May 2010 at 01:00
Teachers use their voice more than actors do. Voice coach Phyllida Furse offers tips to newly qualified teachers on protecting this natural asset

As a new teacher you may be looking forward to your first appointment - but have you considered that you will be using your voice day in, day out, in all weathers and in a whole range of physical, acoustic and emotional environments? That you will be communicating to varying numbers of people at any one time, in a variety of spaces? And that you will have to be at your best whether you feel like it or not?

With lessons effectively being a series of `performances,' and by virtue of continuous use of the muscles that produce sound and speech, teachers are `professional voice users', often more so than actors. This is physically and vocally demanding. And as any experienced teacher who has ever had a voice problem will know: no voice, no job. Odd then, that unlike actors, teachers generally receive very little voice training. But there are some things you can teach yourself.

In class you'll need crisp consonants for a clear message. In addition you will need to adjust your pitch, pace, inflection and tone, according to the situation. The mood and meaning of our message is derived from vowel sounds, which are governed by the shapes we make with the tongue inside the mouth. There is real physical work behind an effective communication.

For a healthy, communicative voice:

  • Stretch, hum and hiss before work.
  • Stretch up and wave the arms from side to side to raise the ribs and open the chest.
  • Exhale then breathe in deeply on the recoil.
  • Exhale slowly to `ssss' then `shhh' then `zhhh'. Imagine your lungs filling from lower down like balloons. Feel the rib cage expand further with each new intake of breath.
  • Hum gently to `mm', feel the vibration in the upper chest, throat, nose and chest. Start off very quietly, gradually increasing volume. Let the hum fill your mouth like a drink. This will warm the muscles powering the vocal folds safely, and help increase resonance. Best place for this is in the shower, or as you drive to work.
  • Practise vocal slides up and down on `ng' to eliminate pitch breaks.

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