Vocal fatigue can present itself in many forms. (See figure 14.1.) A hoarse voice or loss of voice are clear indications of vocal fatigue or stress. Other indications include persistent throat clearing, a tickle in the throat, loss of vocal range, a change in vocal quality (airy, weak, or fragile), and a feeling of tightness in the throat.

Vocal strain can be avoided and vocal dysfunction averted by the music educator. Take control of what you can in your personal habits and your environment. Simple things such as staying hydrated and getting enough sleep have a positive impact on vocal health. Avoid shouting and whispering, as both put tremendous strain on the vocal cords. Smoking is harmful to the entire vocal mechanism.

Always be alert to the condition of your voice, and pay attention to warning signals that your voice is not working normally. Don’t wait until disaster strikes. Cut back drastically on using your voice the minute you recognize symptoms of vocal fatigue and stress. Vocal rest is essential; social talking should be eliminated until the voice is better.

Vocal Health // 171

Si gns of vocal strain can include hoarseness, loss-of-voice, tightness in the throat, or loss of vocal range

FIGURE 14.1 Si gns of vocal strain can include hoarseness, loss-of-voice, tightness in the throat, or loss of vocal range .


It is important to warm up the voice, especially early in the morning before a long day of teaching. Do this on a regular basis to avoid unnecessary strain on the vocal cords and to build a strong and healthy voice. Always start in a lower range when warming up the voice in the morning. Unless you talk a lot in your sleep, the vocal cords and muscles have been still for several hours and need an easy start. The following three warm-up exercises will help prevent damage to your vocal cords and muscles.


Start by saying “Hmm?” Try it right now, as if you’re asking a question. Say it as if you’re asking a question with the pitch rising and again with the pitch lowering as if you’re pondering. Hum a scale from low to high and back down. Do this quietly several times as the first step in warming up the vocal cords and muscles. This is the first of three easy vocal warm-up exercises.

Lip Flapping

For the next exercise, exhale through your mouth, and let your lips flap. This is the answer you may get from a small child when you ask, “What does a horsey say?” Lip flapping is the first step in our second vocal warm-up exercise. This is not meant to be forced or tense; just relax the lips, and let the air create the vibration. Next, add humming to the lip flapping. Some may find this slightly more challenging than regular humming. If it is difficult for you, try bringing your back teeth together. Do soft, short scale patterns starting in the low register. Expand the vocal range as you get more comfortable. Humming while lip flapping is the second easy vocal warm-up exercise.


The third exercise uses a siren sound. Sing the word “in” with a siren pattern from low to high in your comfortable vocal range. Do this three times softly, and then slightly expand the range from low to high. Again, keep the sound very light and gentle, and don’t strain.

You can expand on your vocal warm-up by singing in the shower and on the way to work. This can be especially entertaining if you carpool or ride the bus.

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