It’s been a few years since I have lost my voice, but all the flu & colds that have gone around seems to have finally caught up with me.  Instead of getting really sick, I just lost my voice.  I suppose I could have called in sick, but none of my students would have heard me on the video lesson anyway.  What to do?

This may seem like the death-toll to a week’s worth of teaching, but (thankfully?) I have been in this situation before so I had some ideas of what to do.  When I was in Mexico, my students took great pleasure in being the one to give (read yell) the instructions to the class.  “Oye!  Oye!  The Meese says you need to…”  So, I dusted off the cobwebs & used several of the same strategies this week.  Ironically, many of them are just good everyday teaching practices.

The Unfinished Lesson_ Tips for saving your voice

Tip #1:

Drink lots and lots of liquids.  We should be doing this everyday.  But, I will admit this was a big part in the lost voice week.  Avoid caffeine & focus on soothing teas or water.  We are exposed to so many viruses, germs & who knows what all else that hydrating (along with washing our hands) are the best ways to stay healthy.

Tip #2:

Don’t try to talk over your student(s).  I know it’s hard.  I’ve found myself talking over a student playing something.  It just isn’t worth it.  (Reminder that I need to read this post in June during recital prep.)

This week, I tapped my student’s shoulder when I needed their attention.  Once they had they had stopped playing & were looking at me, I didn’t waste the little bit of voice I had.  Other ideas are using a rhythmic clap or instrument (i.e. triangle) to get their attention.

Tip #3:

Use hand signals for certain things.  I’ve talked about this briefly in a previous post, but the idea is that a student can see what you would like them to do without needing to say anything.  I tend to talk with my hands so this naturally happens while my students are playing.  Along with my instructions, they’ve put the 2 actions together naturally.

Some ideas are:

  • Pitch direction:   Moving hands up or down as the notes change.
  • Articulation:  Bouncy hands (staccato), move your hand like a wave (legato), pretend you are a composer drawing out a note (fermata).
  • Dynamics:  Move hands apart as it gets louder & together as it gets quieter.

Tip #4:

Demonstrate, demonstrate, demonstrate.  This one definitely falls under the good ol’ teaching practices banner, but it can be easy to rely on our words rather than actions.  This week, I had no choice but to use actions.  And, to be honest it worked great.
I would play the small section they were struggling with & gesture that they needed to watch.  Then, I would get them to play it.  We would go back & forth playing (with whispered direction if needed) until I thought it was solid.  Then, I would count down with my fingers from 5.  Five repetitions earned them the right to move on.

Tip #5:

Technology is your friend.  Use it when it provides a clear & measurable benefit to the student.  This week, our main app was Piano Maestro.  I had several students starting new songs & thankfully those songs were in Piano Maestro.  We looked at the score first to determine form (while listening to the song on the app), then looked at what was special about each section.  Which hand was playing?  How did the melody move? (up/down/same, skip/step, etc.) What was the rhythm? (clapped it out together)  Then, I let Piano Maestro take over.  If needed, we would stop the music & we would play together.  They were excited to learn their songs a new way & I was excited that I could save my voice.

And, the result?

We had a very quiet, but productive studio this week.  The students listened extra carefully to instructions.  They were hyper focused on what we did on the piano.  They all ended up whispering the whole lesson … not because I asked them to, but because it’s just hard to talk in a mezzo forte voice when someone is talking piano (or pianissimo).

I did feel bad when one of my students , “Shhhhhh!  Mom you’re being too loud!”.  She was just putting something into a backpack, but it was enough to make it impossible to hear me.  Thankfully, she laughed & assured her son that they would be quieter.

When teaching in your student’s homes, it can be hard for them to realize just how distracting all the background noises can be.  This week, I was shocked how quiet everyone was during lesson time & and how careful siblings were to not disrupt each other’s lessons.  (Alas, the mini hockey games had to be postponed.)  Because of the lack of distractions, we were able to put all our focus on playing.

Having a whisper of a good time

If you have ever lost your voice, what strategies did you use to still teach?  How did you keep things fun & motivational for your students while your voice took a backseat in lesson time?

Have a great weekend & I hope that your voice is healthier than mine!


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