The Sick Singer’s Survival Guide


I’ve recently had a bad cold. I get one of these about every five years. It’s not your average, run of the mill, runny nose, sneezy, mildly congested kind of cold. No, this is the Mother Of Colds. It always starts in the nose, and then goops up the sinuses, eventually making it’s way to the throat. Your head starts to pound from the extra pressure. Speaking, let alone singing, is constantly interrupted with the inevitable phlegm ball. Then, just when you think you’re about to get over this raging mucus monster, it decides to take an unexpected turn, snuggling down for a nice, comfortable nap in the deepest, darkest crevasse of your chest. Now it‘s the dry coughs with the raspy and wheezing voice. No matter how much water you drink, it seems like it’s never enough. You cough your lungs out, but nothing comes up. It’s there to stay, and stay it does, sometime up to four or more weeks! It’s the Mother Of Colds and she wants you to know it.


It’s never fun being a singer while having crud all over your vocal folds. Especially if you have plenty of gigs lined up, which inevitably seems to be the case. You must keep your senses on the highest level of alert when under the weather. Singing on a sick voice is never a good thing. But, sometimes we don’t have a choice. Knowing how to take care of your voice through a rough patch is paramount. It’s not only the need to get through the next show. It’s also about not permanently damaging your voice when singing.


Let’s break it down. Here is the most obvious thing you can do to protect your voice. Don’t sing! When you can help it, don’t speak. When the curtain opens and the lights come up you will have no choice but to produce vocally. But, before the show, when you’re at home resting, or sitting at your desk at work counting the hours till show time, use your voice sparingly. Text all of your questions and replies to co-workers and friends on your cell phone. Using your voice as little as possible is crucial to keeping what’s left of your voice for your performance.


Next, water, water, water, water!! Did I mention water? You may be running to the bathroom every half hour, but stay hydrated. This is imperative. Go for room temperature water and stay away from extreme hot or cold temperatures that might shock the voice. No caffeinated beverages or anything that might dry out your voice. Don’t drink alcohol! Hot toddies, although yummy, are not going to help your voice get better. Alcohol dries out your voice and weakens your immune system. Instead, Drink herbal tea and add a little honey. Don’t add lemon! Citrus, though it may feel like it’s doing something good as it goes down, is actually doing the opposite. Citrus inflames and irritates the voice. No OJ and grapefruit juice. Use Vitamin C supplements instead. Also, zinc supplements help strengthen the vocal folds. Make sure you are reading the bottle for the proper dosage.


Keep the voice light during ALL vocal production. Make sure you are applying the vocal techniques you’ve learned in voice lessons, not only to your singing, but your speaking voice as well. The knowledge of a well-placed voice on top of moving breath is your number one defense against serious vocal health issues. Be smart when it comes to warming up your singing voice. Start your warm up in a light head register with sighs, lip trills and hums. If things feel rough or your voice starts to feel tired, stop the warm up.


In the end, listen to your voice. After all, you know it the best. When in doubt, play it safe. Get plenty of sleep and take care of yourself. Go see your doctor and get help recovering faster. If you feel that by singing you might seriously hurt your voice, then it’s time to speak up. Tell your manager or booking agent / promoter to consider canceling or postponing the show. If you are a singing actor, let the stage manager know in plenty of time to prepare your understudy to take the stage in your place. Of course this is usually the final option. But, look at it this way. If you were a baseball pitcher and your shoulder was injured, would your coach make you pitch anyway? No. He would bench you, not taking the risk of losing you to Tommy John Surgery and possibly ending your career.


Until the next time, keep it real and keep singing!