Protecting Your Voice As a Choir Director

By Choralosophy Contributor, Lori Sonnenberg

Adapted and posted with permission from Lori Sonnenberg’s Blog:

Special Note for Choral Directors: You spend all week making everyone else’s voice sound beautiful and it’s easy to neglect your own. This Fall set an example for your choir by taking care of your voice.

Voice loss, vocal fatigue, and hoarseness are common complaints among educators and directors, and this is especially true during the first few weeks of the fall semester. This is a common theme in voice therapy this time of year, too. While all that downtime vocally over the summer is a much welcomed thing and provides needed vocal rest, it tends to make things a little more challenging at the start of the school year. Gaining back the vocal stamina, and endurance to teach without vocal fatigue is the priority. It’s important to have a plan to recondition the voice, and have reasonable expectations of your voice as you ease back into full-time vocal demands.

Will you experience a little hoarseness in the first few days and weeks? Probably. Will you notice vocal fatigue and tiredness? Almost certainly. Are these things normal and expected? Yes. With daily attention and a commitment to these components, you can reduce the effects of the increased voice use. Voice rest, hydration, adequate sleep and rest, and minimizing stress are also very important, but there’s no substitute for optimizing your voice each day.

The best sight singing tool on the market. A must have for any band/choir or orchestra teacher and their students. In class and at home tools to build their literacy at their own pace. Enter “choralosophy” at checkout to get 10% off every time you renew at

In this article, we’ll cover what I consider the top 5 vocal tips for educators and choral directors as you manage those busy vocal demands returning to the classroom and rehearsal/performance spaces. These tips will help you to manage your overall vocal health and wellness, maintain vocal sustainability and consistency, combat early semester vocal fatigue and hoarseness, and build vocal stamina and endurance for the days, weeks and months ahead. I want you to have a vibrant voice that is strong and capable for your occupational voice demands.

Daily Morning Vocal Exercise/Warm-up

The first tip is doing some sort of vocal exercise and warm-up in the morning before teaching. This is non-negotiable. It can be as short as 5 to 10 minutes on the way to school in the car. It has to be done. My top three favorite components that need to be included in that are below. These can all be done on full range pitch gliding and short, simple musical patterns.

Receive 10% Discount on your orders at where you will find the works of Jocelyn Hagen, Eric Barnum, Timothy C. Takach,
Paul Rudoi and MANY more.

Various trill exercises that get airflow coordination going and begin to make the voice loose and flexible. I generally recommend using:

1. Trills

  • lip trills
  • tongue trills (rolled r)
  • raspberries

2. Non-Trill SOVTEs

  • Straw phonation (in or out of water)
  • Buzzy consonants like /v/ /wh/
  • Kazoo like sounds

3. Resonance and Speech Warm Up

  • humming, speaking exercises using words

Resonance and a speech warm-up. A favorite of mine is humming on /m/ while making a chewing motion. It’s great for loosening up the jaw, the oral facial muscles, the tongue and gets the resonance moving around. That noise easily leads into speech exercises like practicing words that begin with /m/, like “mmmmoon,” “mmmmany,” and “mmmmmountain.” This type of exercise helps to bring the voice a little more into the front of the face with what we call forward resonance. An added helpful tip is to say the word “m-hm” right before words and counting. All of these can be heard in the video here.

Resetting the Voice

A vocal reset is the concept of using a vocal exercise, vocal warm-up, or a sound that feels really good to you. This can help bring the voice back to baseline or a sort of “home base” and reduce effort for speech and singing during busy vocal days. It can also help reduce vocal fatigue. This helps to gain more vocal sustainability and consistency throughout the week. I encourage you to reset the voice in between classes and rehearsals. This can be done with a simple, short exercise and used periodically throughout the day. Even 20-30 seconds can sometimes be enough to bring the vocal folds back to ideal shape and position for phonation. Some good examples of a reset would be any of our trills (as above), straw phonation, buzzy sounds that vibrate the lips like /v/, /m/, and or /wh/. I also find a simple speech warm-up using words that start with /m/ or /y/ work very well for a lot of my patients.

Enter Choralosophy at Checkout for a 5% discount when you shop for folders, robes and other gear for your choir program! and

Self-Monitoring for Vocal Fold Swelling

Self-monitoring is one of the most important components of long-term vocal health and success. Understanding vocal overuse and being familiar with our own baseline and capabilities helps us to know when we’ve gone past our limits. I always say “Vibration is not infinite. It’s a biological thing that has limits.” The more we use our voices, the more we vibrate our vocal folds, which means the more likely we are to develop a little bit or sometimes a lot of swelling on the vibrating edge of the folds. Knowing what vocal fold injury sounds like, feels like, and how to monitor baseline vocal capabilities can help identify acute swelling. Vocal fold swelling almost always affects the voice “top down” meaning that the highest notes in our vocal range will become limited first. And believe it or not, sometimes the most subtle swelling may not even affect the voice until the very highest pitches in the range at very soft volume levels.

We can use singing in a light, high range head voice (or falsetto) to assess possible swelling from vocal overuse. I suggest using the first phrase of “happy birthday.” This is to be done before warm-up and the start of the teaching day. Get to know your typical baseline for this so that you can detect even minor changes in your voice. If you notice that your “ceiling” is lower than usual or if you have to get louder and use more effort to make it work, you need to do less vocally that day. How much rest does it take to get back to baseline?

To learn more about swelling and self monitoring check out our last blog post on Mucosal vs. Muscular Fatigue and keep an eye out for our upcoming blog All About Swelling!

Relative Voice Rest

Absolute voice rest (complete silence) is not necessary in most cases of vocal overuse. The exception would be severe voice loss and hoarseness or something we call aphonia which is complete voice loss. Relative voice rest simply means reducing your overall normal voice use or in extreme cases only using your voice when necessary. This type of voice rest is ideal for those of us who live very busy vocal lifestyles. You should use relative voice rest if you notice your baseline is different (or lower) on a given day. Taking short vocal naps off and on throughout the day for 20-30 minutes can go a long way towards maintaining your vocal health and baseline. Some techniques and tactics to incorporate relative voice rest are below:

  • Reduce demonstrating for students and singers
  • Consider silent rehearsal
  • Schedule at least 2 days per week with a lower vocal load
  • Pace yourself vocally with fewer commitments daily

Personal Voice Amplification System

Use of a personal voice amplification device can significantly reduce vocal volume, effort, fatigue and help your voice use each day “cost less.” These devices are easy to find online for reasonable prices and are surprisingly very powerful. I typically suggest splurging for a wireless option, but even a wired one that is less expensive is better than not using one at all. Classroom acoustics are generally poor and noise levels are high which make us feel the need to speak louder and use more effort.

Occasionally, I get feedback from music teachers who are concerned about how using a device will make them be perceived by others. As if needing one suggests that they don’t have a healthy voice or that they don’t use good enough technique. My pushback is this – using one shows that you take your vocal health and wellness seriously. That you want to make sure you have a clear, strong, healthy voice to use each day so that you can do your job effectively without struggling. Children and students with hearing loss and auditory processing disorders will be able to hear you better. In fact, all of your students will hear you better and likely be more efficient in their work because of that. There are many studies behind this topic.


Don’t wait for your voice loss to become more severe before taking action. Developing strong awareness skills around the more subtle changes our voices go through can help us maintain our very best baseline. And optimizing our daily voice use as above goes a long way towards ensuring that we have a strong, capable voice to support us even on the busiest of days.

If you are finding vocal fatigue and pain is causing you to struggle in your workplace or personal life know that there’s hope. Consider reaching out to a voice SLP or an ENT to talk about your symptoms. You don’t have to have an active voice disorder to work with Sonnenberg Voice. You can book a session with Lori to get personalized tools and advice for your voice and how you use it.

The Full Spectrum Lens- Recruiting and Program Building

Downloadable files from two recent presentations

Summer 2021 Presentations on Recruiting are linked below. To listen to the audio of this presentation, you can join the Choralosophy Patreon for 3$ a month

A version of this presentation was given to Missouri and Iowa ACDA Chapters.

Enter Choralosophy at Checkout for your discount!

This presentation was given for the National ACDA Webinar on recruiting.

Protected: A Letter to the Executive Committee of the American Choral Directors Association

This content is password protected. To view it please enter your password below:

The Top Choralosophy Topics of 2019

The Choralosophy Podcast is almost one year old as 2019 comes to a close. I launched the website in mid January of 2019, began production and released 4 episodes in mid February. So, I think now is as good a time as any to look back on the top episodes of 2019, or YEAR ONE of what I hope is many for the Choralosophy podcast. As you look back at the most downloaded, streamed, shared and discussed episodes of 2019, be thinking about guests and topics you would like to see me hit in 2020! I am making more plans for choral director mental health, literacy and voice science episodes now, but I would love to hear your ideas too! Special thanks to all of the show guests who make each episode special!

Most Downloaded Episodes of 2019

# 5 Episode 1: Health, Happiness and Balance for the Choral Director

I am actually really happy this episode, the very FIRST thing I recorded is still getting streamed as new folks come to the show. It has a lot of helpful things in it in terms of building a healthy framework for approaching our job. But more than that, I think it helps listeners to the show get to know the host and where I am coming from. Maybe my motivations behind making this podcast. Highlights include my personal philosophy on setting and maintaining my values hierarchy as well as a segment with my better half, Beth where she keeps me honest. 🙂

Visit for PDF site licenses of some GREAT arrangements and compositions. Enter Choralosophy at checkout to get 10% off!

Beth and Chris Munce

#4 Episode 17: Beyond Elijah Rock with Dr. Marques Garrett

In this episode, Dr. Garrett and I discuss the importance of the music of black composers that do NOT fit into categories of idiomatically black music like Gospel, Jazz and Spirituals. And, as many of episodes on this show tend to do, the conversation drifts into the personal and social ways that race affects the interactions of humans and choral directors specifically. I had a lot of fun recording this show and I learned a lot. Conversations like this one can really help us frame the way we learn about and discuss important topics like this.

Now, Choralosophy listeners can use this tool in their classrooms and studios at a 10% discount by going to . Chose the version that is right for you enter “Choralosophy” at checkout!

Dr. Marquess Garrett

#3 Episode 19: Seeking Anti-Fragility in the Choral Rehearsal with Eric Barnum

I mentioned when I published this one that it might be the most PHILOSOPHICALLY important episode on the show so far. And four month later, I still think that is true. This topic is a passion of mine for a couple of reasons. First, I think the concept outlined in the episode known as “Anti-Fragility” WORKS when used as a guiding principle in the classroom. (It is not the same as “grit” or “resilience” which are fine concepts or buzzwords, but paint an incomplete picture of the psychology at play.) If you have not listened to this episode yet, be sure to do so before your choirs come back from break! is the best literacy tool on the market today. Enter Choralosophy at checkout to get 10% off memberships for you AND your students!
Eric William Barnum

#2 Episode 18: Ripping Off the Bandaid

Why you CAN and SHOULD stop playing notes and making rehearsal tracks for student singers.

Got a lot of blow back from this one… lol. The vast majority was positive. Teachers from everywhere reached out with messages of appreciation for the content and processes outlined in this episode. But, there were a decent number who may have felt, let’s say, challenged by the claims. Looking back now, I still feel good about saying that in ALMOST every case, teaching our singers to be literate, independent and self sufficient musicians is the greatest gift we can give them as teachers. Are there certain choral situations where this won’t work? Like honor choirs, some community choirs or church choirs? Sure. I get that there are exceptions. I do believe that young singers can have the band-aid ripped off on day one and never need the keyboard.

And don’t forget, the show is now on PATREON! Subscribe and receive Patron only content for as little as 3 bucks a month!

#1 Episode 26: The Art (or Science?) of Teaching the Vowel with Amanda Quist

Shared over 60 times on Facebook, downloaded or streamed over 3000 times. Each new show launch needs one “choiral” post in its first year, and I think this was it. I think the topic is really important as we move the academic content of choral music fully into the 21st Century. We will need to be literate in the science of what we teach. It is my opinion that being “only” an artist will not qualify us to stay relevant in the education community in the next 100 years. (hmmm, maybe that’s an episode…) Discussions like this are a great start! More to come!

Dr. Amanda Quist

Honorable mention episodes that also cracked into the 2k download club in the first year: Episode 21: Anyone Can Get an A in Choir and Episode 20: Choral Appropriation? or Cultural Sharing with Brandon Boyd

Why I Gave Up Sacrifice for Lent

We are constantly hearing about the value and necessity of sacrifice. You have to do it to get where you want to go… You have to do it for your fellow man… You have to do it if you really love some one…

As you might guess, I reject all of these ideas. I don’t believe in sacrifice…ever. Not because I am cold and heartless, but because I have done some logical and philosophical filtering of what the word ACTUALLY means. Below is what I have come up with. It might challenge you, or you might agree. The Socratic method welcomes discussion! I know that to many, these may seem like semantics… the parsing apart of the word, its parts and its definitions is a silly waste of time. You are free to feel that way. I, on the other hand, find words and the concepts they are attached to, to be VERY powerful tools in the right hands.

Webster defines sacrifice as:

a : destruction or surrender of something for the sake of something else

b : something given up or lost <the sacrifices made by parents>

Conventional wisdom would accept these definitions, but they are both logically flawed and they contradict each other… Let’s take “a” first. What if you destroy something bad in favor of something good? According to this definition you have “sacrificed” even though you have yielded a net gain of value. Webster’s definition provides no value judgement and is, therefore, incomplete. For example, if you give up a bad job so you can take a better one is that a sacrifice? Of course not. You cannot have sacrifice without a hierarchy of values in place. The first definition should read: “destruction or surrender of something one values more in favor of something that one values less.” It is not a consistently usable definition without those parameters. It must involve a net loss of value. The contradiction comes in the first definition’s allowance for a net gain vs. the second one’s requirement for a loss.

How would this be applied? How does this understanding change the way we would think of sacrifice, or even better, how we live our lives?

Scenario 1: The Damsel in Distress Archetype

Enter Choralosophy at checkout to get 10% off at
Damsel in Distress

For as long as human’s have told stories, we have loved to hear of the “great sacrifice” of the handsome knight to save the woman he loves. Often risking great peril or even death in order to rescue the “Damsel in Distress.” (How many stories can you name in the comments?) Most would agree that the man dying for the woman is a sacrifice by any definition, and it may be by Webster’s first definition, but not by mine.

To love is to value highly. If the knight loves the woman, then he values her life. If he loves her enough, he may even value her life more than his own. If this is the case, he has not sacrificed. She is his highest value, and he has kept her alive. He is the winner. He has received a net gain.

I am fortunate to have found the love of my life who has given us two amazing children.

My crew.

All three of them are of higher value to me than me. (I am actually welling up a bit as I type this, I feel so strongly about it.) Let me make this clear; I LOVE myself. My friends and family would agree that my ego is robust and healthy. Yet, I still value my family that highly. It is not out of self-hatred, but of profoundly understood love that I have ranked my values. If I was placed in the position of having to save any of their lives at the expense of my own, it would be the easiest possible choice, and NOT a sacrifice. If I were to die knowing that my family would have a chance at life, I would die feeling like the winner. (I would, of course be sad to go, but I value their lives higher than my own pain or sadness.) This willingness to die for my family is not sacrifice, but a profoundly selfish position that I would not want to live in a world where they were not provided the opportunity to live full lives.

Scenario 2: The “Sacrifices” Made By Parents

Enter Choralosophy at checkout for a 10% Discount. Own your own site license with each PDF purchased. Print as many as you need!

Now we will take Webster’s definition “b” and put through our filter.

b : something given up or lost <the sacrifices made by parents>

Here, we finally have a value judgement in the definition. Webster is getting warmer! For this scenario, I will focus on my daughter, Clara, simply because,


of my two children, she has been alive the longest… I love Clara with all my heart, as I explained above. I can’t think of one sacrifice that I have made for her. What kind of monster am I?! Again, consider my improved definition of “sacrifice.” Could I be spending more of the money I work very hard for on other things like cool gadgets, games, trips, wine, clothes, etc if I didn’t have to buy things for Clara? Of course. After all, she hasn’t earned any of that! Is that a sacrifice for my child? No! Clara being fed clothed and cared for is of MUCH higher value to me than those things, however fun they would be to have.

Could I have pursued more illustrious career avenues if I didn’t have two children?(or had remained single for that matter) Probably. Have I sacrificed my career for my family? No! I would not trade them because they are of higher value than any career advancement that I may have missed. I would argue that it is a negative quality for parents who sacrifice (under my definition) for their kids. Sometimes parents give up what they really want out a sense of duty to their offspring, and then make their kids feel guilty about all of their missed opportunities in life. Whether done intentionally or not, kids can absorb this guilt. Happy parents are more likely to raise happy children.

So then, what IS a sacrifice?

“destruction or surrender of something one values more in favor of something that one values less.”

A person who takes on a burden of any kind out of a sense of guilt or duty, instead of an adherence to their values.

Is it a sacrifice if I were to take the life bread from my own child’s mouth to feed my neighbor’s child? Yes. My own children are of higher value to me than my neighbor’s. (I know people don’t normally admit that out loud, but I am unapologetic about it. I think if most people are truly honest with themselves, they would agree.) But sharing my food with a starving neighbor if my children have what they need, is NOT a sacrifice.

I want to help if it is within my power. It is of a high value to me to see my neighbors happy as long as I have met the needs of my children. It furthers my values to live in a happy, healthy community. Giving to charity in general is not a sacrifice if done with this mentality. People tend to contribute to charities that further their own value system or support causes they find important. If you give to a charity because you feel like they are entitled to it, and get no joy from helping, then this is a sacrifice. Maybe find a different charity? There are many that need your help!

What’s the Point?

Having this clarity in my life helps me to live objectively. I try to look at every choice and personal interaction through this filter. Recently achieving this understanding has led to the happiest years of my life. When I have to put down something I enjoy to spend time with my kids, or save money I would like to spend on an iPad app, or give up the remote, so Beth can watch the show she wants, I see the happiness of my family which is my highest value. I am not bound by bitterness that eats me up as I think about what I have given up. I simply think of what I have gained instead of what I have lost. I become emotionally richer knowing that every decision I make, yields me a net gain in value. The opposite side of the coin is constant regret created by a focus on all of the things in my life I have missed out on. If I chose to think about my life that way, I would be filled with resentment. That’s a path we should avoid.

Visit Choralosophy on Patreon where you can find Patron only perks and show goals!

Don’t surrender, don’t sacrifice, don’t give up.