Have to sing, but feeling under the weather? While a piano or clarinet cannot be struck by a bad head cold, many singers struggle with how to deal with illness when they must perform. Here are some helpful tips to get you through an illness, while still maintaining as much vocal health as possible.
The most important thing to determine when you are sick is: how important is the audition or performance that you have? Is it unable to be rescheduled? If so, please keep in mind that this performance or audition may not be worth the potential for vocal damage. It is always best to err on the safe side of things.
If you absolutely must sing, stick to a cautious warm-up regimen. It is extremely important to warm up your vocal muscles slowly and carefully, particularly when you are not feeling 100%. Start with easy, soft humming, gradually moving up the scale to increase the range of your exercises. Many illnesses can cause the muscles in your body to feel stiff or sore, and vocal muscles are no exception to this rule. While you want to keep them loose and flexible, you do not want to overexert them.
When you are sick, you want your body to recover as quickly and fully as possible. Therefore, singers should take the same steps that any person who is sick would take to get better. While this may seem like common sense, make sure that you are getting plenty of rest. Even if you are sleeping well, rest also means taking it easy when awake – so queue up your Netflix, put on a pot of tea, and throw on your pajamas. If it is possible to cancel any work or other responsibilities, even for a day, the benefits towards recovery will be much greater than if you force yourself to “push through” a busy schedule. The voice will tire out more if your whole body is tired.
Fluids are essential to general vocal health, and even more so when a singer is feeling sick. Be sure to drink plenty of water and other clear liquids. Warm beverages can have a soothing effect on the throat, helping to reduce discomfort from sore throat or swollen glands. Additionally, warm liquids help suppress the urge to cough, which can cause inflammation and discomfort in the throat.
If your sickness persists, you may need to visit a doctor. Make sure to find an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist (ENT), as they will be best equipped to help you find the best solution for your illness. Most ENTs work constantly with singers, so I highly recommend seeking one out rather than going to a general practitioner when dealing with cold-like symptoms.
If you are experiencing pain when singing, the only way to insure that you do not damage your already-fatigued throat is to go on vocal rest. While vocal rest is often the most frustrating thing a singer must force themselves to endure, sometimes it is necessary in order to make a full recovery from illness. Remember, your body is your instrument, and the more you can pay attention to how it feels, the better off you are. If you aren’t feeling 100%, do not force yourself to sing.
For some additional tips to prevent illness (which is especially important with the change of seasons), please see my previous post on general vocal health.
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