6 tips for singing when sick. How to get through choir rehearsals and singing gigs when you have a cold.

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This time of year, I always seem to have a cold.  And this year, it seems I have been fighting one since before Christmas (I know, time to see the doc)! Singing when sick has made rehearsals much more difficult.

Unfortunately, life doesn’t stop when you have a cold. There are still rehearsals, gigs, and church jobs, etc. However over the years I have learned a few tricks for singing when sick.

Singing When Sick (but not hoarse):

When you have a cold, your singing voice becomes tired much faster than when you are healthy.  That means that you have to be extra vigilant in your vocal technique to avoid losing your voice.

Please note that even if you don’t feel like you have laryngitis, you might find that singing is more difficult.  You might find that it’s harder to sing outside of a mezzo-forte dynamic, or that you lack projection in parts of your range.

These are actually indications that your vocal cords are swollen.  If it is absolutely necessary to sing in this condition, there are a few things that you can do to help you get through rehearsals and gigs.

1. Avoid Clearing Your Throat

I’ve been over this before in my first article about vocal health, but it bears repeating:

Clearing the throat slams the vocal cords together violently- and repetitively clearing it will cause hoarse voice and eventually lead to vocal damage. 

I know this is really hard when you have all that phlegm in your throat, but try not to clear your throat. Drink copious amounts of water to help clear it away.

2. Avoid Using Nasal Decongestants

I know that when you are sick with a cold, you have probably have a stuffy and/or runny nose.  If you know you have to sing when sick, you might be tempted to pop a sudafed so that you don’t get that weird nasal sound, but think again.

Nasal decongestants dry out your sinuses, (which is exactly what you were hoping for) but also every other mucosal membrane in your body– including the one in the laryngeal ventricle

This means that your vocal folds will be dry too. Singing without well-lubricated vocal folds (aka vocal cords) leads to hoarse voice (or makes an already hoarse voice worse).  

If you read my article on avoiding vocal trauma, you know that this is a precursor to vocal damage. 

Instead, try drinking copious amounts of water (more than you usually would) throughout the day to help thin out the mucus (as I said above). 

If you are in serious need of relief, try musonex (as long as it’s ok with your doctor, of course). It will help to clear you up without drying you out.

3. Do Longer Warm-ups Than Usual

I’ve explained the importance of doing warm-ups before, but when you have a cold, it’s even more important to gently stretch those vocal cords out and warm them up before doing any strenuous singing.

Spend extra time doing phonation exercises like lip trills and humming (if your sinuses aren’t too stuffed up) before moving onto open-mouth exercises with vowels and actual words.

4. Pay Extra Attention to Your Breath Control

Breath support is always important, but never more so than when you are sick. Supporting your voice using strong muscular antagonistic control of the diaphragm and expiratory muscles of the rib cage and abdomen will take pressure and tension away from the vocal folds.  

When you are sick, everything in your respiratory system is a bit inflamed. That means your vocal cords are swollen too- even if it doesn’t feel sore, yet. The more you can take tension away from them, the longer you will be able to sing without becoming hoarse.

5. Focus on Your Voice Placement (Resonance)

Placing the voice in the mask is where you get your best resonance, in general.  When you have a cold, you may find it hard to place it there because your sinuses are probably stuffy. Even so, really focus on this placement, and maybe aim even higher.

Some things you can physically do to affect your placement:

  • Lift your soft pallet
  • Flare your nostrils a little
  • Lift your upper lift to expose your front teeth

6. Once You Start Losing Your Voice:

I Know You Don't Want to Hear This- But Stop Singing

Once you start losing your voice, that means that damage has been done.  The more you sing, the more friction your are forcing on your vocal folds.  The more friction your vocal cords experience when they are already damaged, the more severe the damage will be.  

Not convinced? Take it from Lesley Childs, M.D., Otolaryngologist. She says, “Over time, your vocal cords can develop lesions, which are often considered a wear and tear injury from constant use and abuse of the voice. These lesions can continue to enlarge and make the voice worse and worse until surgical removal may be required.”

So if you don’t want to risk needing surgery on your one and only voice, stop singing as soon as it starts to feel hoarse.  Take a vocal rest day (or several) until you don’t feel sick anymore.  

In fact, if you can avoid talking altogether, it would be even better. I realize that isn’t always an option, but when you can get away with not using your voice, do it.

Disclaimer: The information provided here is for educational purposes only.  This content here is not intended to diagnose or treat any medical condition. I am not a medical professional and take no responsibility for what you do with the information provided. Remember to always consult your doctor when you have questions regarding your health (vocal or otherwise).

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