Last week something bloomed in Houston and when it did my voice disappeared!  On Tuesday morning, I was speaking to and occasionally model singing for my before school choir quite comfortably.  By 5th grade that afternoon, I was able to croak out enough notes to model the singing of a new song once, but I asked a student to call out the chord changes and taught as silently as I could… I had to because I knew I was losing my voice and it was only Tuesday afternoon!

1. Adjust Your Lessons Immediately

Making immediate adjustments MIGHT include the following:

  • Use scratch recordings (probably on a cell phone) of what vocal models are needed for the day (ONLY if you can do so comfortably) – This can be played anytime you would ordinarily just sing for your students.  
  • Rely on recordings or videos – You should not HAVE to sing at all. 
  • Increase your water intake .
  • Trade out your singing heavy lesson for next week’s listening lesson – I often write out my semester road map on sticky notes so that IF a trade like this is necessary, it is as simple as moving a sticky note. 
  • Flavor your singing lessons with listening activities. Always have a really good listening/ movement activity on hand and ready to go.  Even a few minutes (5-10 minutes) in each lesson can contribute SIGNIFICANTLY to less vocal stress.  When dealing with vocal fatigue, I am ESPECIALLY fond of listening activities that come with demonstration videos and listening maps.  My favorite listening activities that don’t require me to talk much have been created by 
    • Artie Almeida 
    • Music Memory
    • Music Express Magazine
  • Invest in books that can be listened to. My favorites can be found HERE. 

Happy Habit:  On the first day of a lesson, make a scratch recording ( on your phone) of ALL of the songs or melodic components you expect to model within the lesson. 

2. Be strategic!  Get a sub! 

While you may be facing a season where it is may seem unrealistic to take  a day or two for vocal rest, the fact remains that you will NOT improve vocally without vocal rest, so there are situations where you must just take the hit and call in a sub.  It is virtually impossible to get the sort of vocal rest required to coax your voice back if you are making it worse by trying to use your sick voice to teach with… It doesn’t work and it will get worse. Remember, the better your sub plans are, the less of a “hit” your absence will create.  

For this reason I have two  sub plan strategies:

  • Create emergency sub plans that include singing games.  I include favorites that my students know how to play with only minimal management.  
  • Organize regularly scheduled lessons into PowerPoint presentations.  In the last couple of years I have begun to script most of my lessons into PowerPoints I add ALL media into the PowerPoint.  THEN if needed, the PowerPoint can VERY easily transformed into a scripted (and often simplified) sub plan. I like the fact that in adding a “sub instruction slide” into the PP, my students can see what I intend for the lesson along with the sub.  I keep them on a jump drive and send instructions for how to access the file to my sub.   It’s NOT 100% full proof as any sub plan that relies on technology however so minimally is a risk and some lessons are still overwhelming to non-musical subs, BUT by adopting this strategy I have had much better results in having subs attempt curricularly relevant lessons. 

3. Write Good Sub plans that YOU can use when you come back. 

Remember those PowerPoint lessons turned sub plans?  If I MUST take a day off for vocal rest, chances are pretty good that I won’t be 100% vocally when I return. Because my sub plans are really just modified versions of my regular plans, I let the PowerPoint do the heavy lifting and I talk less while still teaching the same objectives. It’s NOT ideal, but neither is trying to teach without a voice. 

For example, this last week my objectives for my younger grades all centered around reading and performing rhythms.  I liked my vocally comfortable lesson BEST, BUT since my Wednesday kiddos were going to have a sub AND because I wasn’t able to speak or sing comfortably on Thursday, I made sure that my sub lessons were if not super fancy amazing, at least in support of the same objectives, and accessible without me having to talk.  For me this meant finding  several Youtube videos of rhythms my littles could count and clap and play along with.  When I got back on Thursday, I used the same materials.  Then when my 4th and 5th graders showed up for recorders and ukuleles respectively, I once again relied on a few carefully selected Youtube videos to get the BIG talking done.  It was not my favorite week of teaching, BUT it was adequate and objective driven. 

4. Google Translate!

There are days when you cannot take a sick day and you LITERALLY have NO VOICE! In that scenario, I use Google Translate!  –  It will work for 1 rotation simply because it is novel! I have my computer set up to run through my sound system.  When I go to the Google translate website I can type in things that need to be said and then hit the speaker button.  When I hit the speaker button it reads what I have typed out loud.  Even these days with Siri and Alexa and all the AI stuff floating around, it’s still pretty cool for students to walk into music class and to hear from the speaker an obvious computer voice say something like, “Everyone, come in and sit with me in front of the blue chair” which is something I say to virtually every class that my students are used to hearing from me.  Using google translate I take enough time to explain that my voice is weak today and I need their help.  Then we SLOG through the PowerPoint driven lesson with me using google translate for basic instructions. It works.  It’s tough, but on Thursday, my students counted rhythms, played instruments, rehearsed for their Orff based program, played recorder and ukulele and I spoke for less than 5 minutes the whole day.

5. Schedule Quiet Time

Schedule quiet – I took off Friday too and was silent until I went to work on Monday. Even Monday was a mostly quiet day because it was professional development day so even though I got to visit with some friends I spoke SO MUCH less than I would on a normal Monday.

So here we are, it’s Tuesday evening, I’ve taught my regularly scheduled “singing rich” lessons all day and my efforts last week helped me to recover my voice.  Tonight, my voice feels comfortable and ready to teach all day tomorrow.