Guide To Teaching Music With No Voice

image guide to teaching music with no voice

Just last week, I caught a bit of a cough, and the next thing I know I’m a music teacher with no voice. So I pulled from my bag of tricks (and dug into some others) to survive teaching music with no voice. 

Losing your voice as a music teacher is a tough situation, but by switching to student-led activities, using recordings, and setting procedures ahead of time, you can get through it with little problems. Take care to protect your voice by staying hydrated and letting the students lead the singing. 

Read on for our guide to being a music teacher with no voice.  

11 Game-changing Strategies To Teach With No Voice

In this section, we’ll look at 11 ways you can still teach an effective music class with no voice. 

#1 Set Up Procedures

Right from the get-go, let students know what the procedures are going to be. 

If you use some kind of management point or reward system, let them know (verbally or by writing if your voice is that bad) that today is a day they may lose those points quickly. 

Remind them of the quiet procedure and any other procedures you’ll need for the day. This will end up helping you in the long run by keeping things running smoother, so you won’t need to use your voice as much.  

#2 Movement Activities

While singing games are a blast, running them with no voice can be difficult. When I’ve lost my voice, I change my plans up to include more movement activities. 

These activities can be short ones like those you find in Feierabend’s Move It!, or they can be longer ones like creative movement to larger pieces like Carmina Burana.

These activities can be a simple as freeze dance or you can give control over to the students and combine this one with cooperative learning (#8 on the list). 

Example: Stars And Stripes Forever, Creative Movement

This activity works well with 2nd through 5th graders. The younger ones may need a bit more time and guidance, but the older can run with this easily. 

  1. To start, I have them listen to Stars and Stripes Forever. Then, I briefly discuss the form.
    1. Or you can use this video to give them the idea. 
  2. Students in small groups come up with a word to describe each section. 
  3. Students come up with moves for each section. 
  4. Students perform the moves while the music plays and the T. holds up cards to show the different sections. 

Note: As with any year, there will always be the popular dances (right now, it’s Fortnight), but you want to encourage their creativity. To avoid a major battle, I allow one (but only one) Fortnight dance in the activity. 

#3 Stick To Songs They Know

Another way to help you get by is to stick with songs they already learned. If the students already know the song and game, you just have to help them remember. 

I find all they need is the occasional melody to help them get started. I like to play it on my Aulos Alto Recorder (click link to check price).  

Some of the songs and games run right after one another will take up your whole class with few problems. 

Here are some songs I like to use when my voice is gone (with grade levels in parentheses): 

#4 Use Recordings/Videos

There’s no shame in using recordings or videos to help teach songs, especially if you’re on a time crunch. 

One year, I absolutely needed to start teaching songs for a holiday program, but I couldn’t sing. So I looked up lyric videos for the kids to sing along with. 

Sure, it’s not ideal, and students learn better from isolated singing. But when you can’t sing, you have to make do. 

You can also some great recordings that have many of your songs on them. I love to use anything by Jill Trinka, especially The Little Black Bull.  

#5 Centers/Stations

Centers and stations may take more work to set up, but once you do, you can be hands-off and save your voice. Again, you need to make sure students know their procedures. 

Ideally, students should have already tried these station activities before you do it in a station format, but you can get it done if you use written instructions (at least with the older kids). 

Here are examples of some center ideas you may want to try: 

  • Rhythm flashcards
  • Music books
  • Instrument family word searches 
  • Melody puzzles
  • iPads
  • Guess the mystery song!
  • Rhythm Tic Tac Toe

#6 Folk Dances

Folk dances are another great way to develop kids’ awareness of beat, phrase, and community while barely using your voice. 

Ideally, you’d run a folk dance they’ve already done, so you don’t need to do much more than review the moves (maybe with them written down on a board). 

If you wanted to challenge them, you could have them learn a new folk dance using moves they already know just by reading the moves and counts from the board or a powerpoint. 

For those brave individuals, you could theoretically teach all moves (even new ones) just by miming them with the kids. I’ve done this before, and it’s fascinating. 

The kids were very focused while learning the set without my talking, but some moves I just couldn’t get to translate without words. But you may have better luck than I do. 

For folk dance resources, I love New England Dancing Masters, especially their Alabama Gal. You can also go directly to their website and by an instructional DVD that teaches the students directly (no teacher voice needed!). 

#7 Quiz Games

Sometimes it’s nice when you’ve lost your voice to chill out and play some quiz-type games with the kids. This way the kids are still reviewing what they’ve learned, but they’re doing it in a fun way that doesn’t require you to use your voice too much. 

There are a ton of free makers online and paid games available on sites like Teacher Pay Teacher. I’m cheap, so here are some of my favorite free ones to use online: 

#8 Cooperative Learning 

Cooperative learning is one of those things most music teachers write off as a new fad or something they just can’t do in their classroom. In reality, much of what we do is already a type of cooperative learning, but with a little effort we could make it even better. 

When you lose your voice though, CL is really helpful in taking the pressure off you. It would be best if you had already done these activities before your voice left, but it can still be done without much of a voice. 

While these are the basic steps, following them can still result in a good CL experience for kids: 

  1. Set expectations and quiet signals.
  2. Group students into 2s or 4s depending on your task (2 for easier, 4 for harder). 
  3. Explain the task or question and designate who goes first. 
  4. Students begin while you monitor and answer questions. 
  5. End with quiet signal. Give the students the words they need to say to compliment each other. 
  6. Switch partners/groups or move on to the next step of the task. 

#9 Music Manipulatives

You can use music manipulatives as centers as a small group or individual activity. Music manipulatives are physical ways to show musical concepts. 

They work well with students because they offer a new avenue of learning rather than hearing or reading. 

Music manipulatives take some work ahead of time to do, but they can be simple to implement. Music manipulatives can include things such as: 

  • Popsicle sticks for making rhythm shapes
  • Bingo chips on a staff board
  • Shape blocks to arrange the form of a song
  • Legos with rhythm written on them 
  • Cards with pictures to represent different rhythms arranged in an order

Note: These are great for differentiation too! 

#10 Fun Worksheets

Worse comes to worst, it’s OK to just give them some fun musical worksheets to work on while playing music in the background. These worksheets can be simple or complex, and there are a lot out there you can make or find online to use with your kiddos. 

These worksheets can be: 

  • Coloring pages for instrument and families
  • Mazes with rhythms
  • Word matching
  • Word search
  • Crosswords
  • Short answer

I have some I’ve collected over the years, but I always keep a stack of copies from Julie Eisenhauer’s book, Classroom Music Games And Activities. The book isn’t a curriculum, but it’s nice to have things you can pull out right away. 

Note: These also make decent sub plans too. 

#11 Be Honest With Them

I’ve found over the years that being honest with your students makes your life easier, and it helps you to build a trusting relationship with them. 

For example, if I’m trying a new song or dance I’ve never taught before, I’ll tell them that. You’d be shocked how extra understanding and patient kids are when you’re honest. 

On the same line, if you’re sick or you’ve lost your voice. Tell them. 

I usually say/write something like this: 

“Alright class. Today, Mr. V doesn’t feel great, and his voice is tired. 

We’re still going to have the best class we can, but I need your help. I need you to listen extra well and watch for the quiet signal. I’m counting on you to help me have a fun class today.”  

Give it a try next time, and I think you’ll be surprised. 

image how to prevent losing your  voice

How To Prevent Losing Your Voice

In this section, I’ll go over my favorite ways for saving my voice. These are just general suggestions and not meant to be a complete list, but they can go a long way to stop you from teaching music with no voice.  

Stay hydrated!

One of the main reasons we lose our voices in the first place is because the vocal cords are strained and injured. Drinking water not only helps them heal faster, but it also prevents the damage in the first place. 

Don’t Talk Over The Students

One common music teacher problem, especially with newer teachers, is the tendency to talk over the students to get your directions across. Doing this makes you push your voice harder. 

Don’t talk over the students; wait for them to listen to you. If they start talking when you do, stop and wait again. 

Talking over the students will stress your voice, and you’re also unconsciously telling them that it’s OK to talk while you’re talking. 

Sing For The Students, Not With Them

Another voice-stressor is singing all the time. One of your goals as a music teacher should be to get the students to sing without you and be an independent musician. 

Singing too much with them causes you to lose your voice quickly, and it makes students overly reliant on you. Sing to teach or remind them of a song, and then let them take over. 

Use A Quiet Signal

We’ve all heard the millions of cheesy signals to get the kids quiet and ready, but they actually do work if used correctly. You have to teach and reteach the procedure throughout the year and wait for silence until you move on. 

I use simple hands up countdown from five. When my hand goes up, theirs should too, and then we all silently countdown to zero. 

If the students are doing a noisy activity, I’ll ring a bell or play a pattern on an instrument before I raise my hand. 

How often do I reteach? Every time they don’t do it right. 

For some classes, this is once a month or less, but for others, it’s once or twice per class. But having this in place helps you save yourself from talking over them to get them quiet. 

Run A Silent Rehearsal On Occasion

A silent rehearsal is when students and teachers go through an entire lesson without talking. Directions are given through mime or written word. 

The end result is focus, and if the students are prepped for this, you can do this when you’ve lost your voice. 

This article on Band Directors Talk Shop gives a good crash course.

Cut The Teacher Talk

I see this a lot from myself when I’m tired and from newer music teachers. We’re taught that we are the experts in our fields, but that doesn’t mean we need to lecture on and on. 

Never use 15 words when 5 will do. Talk less. 

This will save your voice and help students pay attention. 

Try this next time you give feedback to your students: Think of what you want to say, and then make the sentence half as long. 

Pick Keys That Work For You And Your Students

We all want to pick a key that naturally encourages your kids to sing in their head voice and avoid their chest voice. This is why F and G are two of the most common keys for elementary music. 

But you still need to protect yourself. As a baritone myself, those keys don’t always work well for me over the day. 

This is why I usually pitch them a little lower when I teach the song, but then bump it up when the kids take over. If I sang that high all day, I’d be exhausted. 

Sing With A Lighter Tone

Along the same lines, we don’t need to go full power with our voices when singing with students. Over the days and weeks, this will cause us to hurt ourselves or, worse, develop nodules on our vocal cords. 

On top of this, we aren’t emulating what a younger student should be singing like. Their voices are lighter, and we should model that more. 

I’m not saying sing in falsetto all the time or don’t support your voice with air, just think of singing a little bit gentler. You’ll be surprised what a difference it makes. 

Conclusion

I hope you can take this guide to teaching music with no voice and use it in your classroom the next time you’re sick. 

Even following the above tips to limit losing your voice by staying hydrated and limiting vocal stress, it happens! You need to be ready. 

Switching to movement activities, lessons that focus more on the students, and setting up solid procedures for learning can help anyone survive with no voice. You may even learn a thing or two about your teaching when you can’t talk. 

Do you have any other music teacher with no voice tricks? Hop down to the comments and let us all know. 

Zach VanderGraaff

Zach VanderGraaff is a K-5 music teacher with Bay City Public Schools in Michigan. He's a Past-President of the Michigan Kodaly Educators and Executive Secretary of the Midwest Kodaly Music Educators Association.

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