Projecting and Protecting the Voice in the Physically Distanced Classroom
Guest Post By Polly Butler Cornelius, DMA, Senior Lecturer in Music
Elon University has put forth several measures to protect students and faculty from the spread of COVID-19, including following the CDC guidelines of requiring face coverings. One of the many challenges presented by the pandemic, and the requirement to wear masks while indoors, is the daunting task of teaching while wearing a mask. Moreover, the spacing required for physical distancing in the classroom means that the students are dispersed throughout the classroom. Some faculty are worried they won’t be heard across the room through a mask, and their voice will become fatigued as result of trying to speak more loudly.
In some cases, microphones or portable sound systems may be able to help. But whether or not technology is available, the one constant is the human voice. So, knowing the important role of the human voice in the classroom, are there things a speaker can do to project and protect their voice when presenting?
Fortunately, the answer is yes! But first, here is a quick overview of how the voice works.
The human voice is an incredibly dynamic instrument. Housed in the larynx, the complex vocal cords are twin infoldings of layers of mucosa, smooth muscle that allows air to go in and out, and it produces sound. After inhalation into the lungs, one exhales air that passes through the vocal cords, causing them to vibrate, therefore creating the sound. Stretching and relaxing these folds increases and decreases the space between the folds which in turns changes the pitch and tone of your voice. The force and velocity of the air dictates the volume. Projecting the voice takes more air, sub-glottal pressure, and diaphragmatic support.
All right then now that we understand how the voice works, what can be done to protect it?
- The most important thing you can do to protect your voice is to stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water, and monitor your intake of caffeine and alcohol, both of which have a tendency to dehydrate the body. Try to drink a glass of water for every cup of coffee, or alcoholic beverage you ingest.
- Be sure to rest your body and your voice. When the body is fatigued, the voice is also fatigued. Speaking (or singing) for long periods of time requires physical stamina. Laryngitis can become a problem if you push your voice when it is inflamed from overuse. Persistent hyperfunction, misuse and abuse, can cause trauma and fatigue.
- Learn good breathing techniques. Inhaling deeply and supporting the voice with deep breathes from the chest places less strain on the voice than simply “talking from the throat.” This also will allow for greater volume, with less strain. As a side benefit, most people experience reduced stress and anxiety as a result of good breathing practices.
- When you go to the gym or prepare for a run – you know it is important to warm up. Well, the same thing is true for your voice! Before you start class take a few minutes to hum, talk or sing – starting gently, and gradually working through a range of sounds. And don’t overlook the muscles of your face. In order to be understood – especially when teaching while wearing a mask – you will need to enunciate clearly, so stretch your lips, work your jaw, and even stick out your tongue!
- After an extended period of vocalizing, it can be good to take a “vocal nap” and refrain from talking or singing for a period of time to give the voice a chance to recover. This is especially true when one is “projecting” the voice to overcome an obstacle, such as a face mask.
During the Pandemic, three things are required for safe, in-person instruction: face-coverings, physical distancing, and proper ventilation. All of this may seem a little overwhelming. Most people talk and converse every day, without giving a moment’s thought to the complicated movements of their lips and tongue, or the efforts of the diaphragm, lungs, and vocal cords. However, by paying attention to your voice, and taking a few moments to care for it, you can reduce vocal strain, improve vocal performance, and make the classroom experience more beneficial and enjoyable for all.