Its the singers worse nightmare; slight sniffles, maybe a tickle in your throat, maybe a dry strange feeling in your mouth, we’ve all been there, usually with our luck its a few days before a very important gig or performance or exam!
First things first, keep calm most colds and flus can be an absolute nightmare for the singer, but for the most part the symptoms can be alleviated and things can usually be done to help you get through it. You’re not going to be on top form but we can make it work the best we can. That is unless what your suffering from is laryngitis – in which case vocal rest and following my advice on vocal health here is the way forward.
I know this is the last thing you want to hear – but If you are very ill, and you have lost your voice you need to allow yourself time to recover – if you try to push through, you will hinder your recovery and could make things worse in the long term.
So what are your symptoms? Each symptom may need to be treated differently when we sing so lets have a look at some of the most common symptoms that we might have to deal with;
Aches and Pains
With the common cold and general feeling of being run down comes the usual aches and pains, you feel stiff and achey – with that your energy levels will feel low and your natural support will not work as well as it should, this in itself can increase the chances of vocal trauma due to the increased pressure on the vocal folds with the lack of breath support.
It’s important to really get the body stretched, woken up and ready for work to help counteract the lethargy. Always bare in mind that you’re going to need to put the extra effort in to your singing in order to help your voice stay on game.
Don’t allow your effort levels to drop and keep your energy up!
Blocked Sinuses / Runny Nose
Sometimes seen as the symptom we’re not overly worried about when thinking about Singers but its the result of having this symptom that can set you back and increase other vocal issues – when we have a blocked or runny nose we loose a very important action, the inhalation through the nose which most importantly moistens the air we breath which in turn helps to stop the throat from drying out when we breath in. It seems quite simple but when the air we breathe is too dry our vocal folds begin to suffer. This is when steaming and keeping your water up is essential to help keep the voice hydrated.
Most of the Doctors and vocal specialists I have studied under / worked with recommend the following; Get rid of all the gunk! So if possible we need to shift the ‘gunk’ out of the way to make breathing that little bit easier. Now I’m a strong believer that as singers if we can avoid medicines and overly strong remedies our voices will recover quicker and any side affects from the medicine to the voice may be avoided. Its all too easy to head for the decongestants but they only offer short term relief and the nature of how they work is to dry up the mucous which makes it harder to shift – it is just far too drying for our vocal folds.
So how do we try and clear the sinuses without heading to the chemist? I find nasal resonance exercises fantastic for clearing the sinuses! Exercises like ‘Nees’ and “Nays’ help to shift the gunk from the nose, it’s difficult to explain online – but see if you can follow – sing ‘Nee’ on a siren placing the sound forward to the nose, move up the range until you feel the pressure build up in your nose, that’s where you want to sing on the sounds ‘Nee’ and ‘Nay’ to help clear it, you can use a 5 note scale or a triad or a siren to move the voice across this pressured section of the range, it sometimes feels like you’re hitting a barrier, you should feel things start to shift after a while. These exercises are great for everyday clearing and brightening the sound, these are one of my favourite exercises so much so I recommend doing these exercises as part of your everyday warm up routine.
Next siren on ‘Ng’ as in Sung start from a comfortable note and siren up to the head voice again find where you feel the most pressure and move the voice around that part of the range, you should feel the pressure at the back of the nose above the soft palate, You may need to take several breaks to blow your nose as these exercises really do get things moving. Explaining online isn’t ideal, if you need more support contact me through the contact page or message me through my Facebook page here
The problem is the runny nose usually turns into a blocked nose and those exercises will work for that too, but as said before – be careful when you can’t breath through your nose you will be much more prone to drying in the throat which will cause the tickle, steam as often as you can especially before bed and in the morning (also in the night if you wake up coughing) Which brings us to;
The cough is one of the most dangerous parts of a cold, especially for a singer, every time we cough we slam the vocal folds and risk further trauma to the voice.
So what type of cough do we have? Is it a Dry tickly cough? or a chesty mucous cough?
Our main aim right now is to clear what is one of the most annoying parts of a cold – the gunk, when we’re healthy, thin layers of mucous keep the voice moist and happy, but when we’re ill it becomes dry, thicker and sticky, which increases the urge to ‘clear’ the voice. This is where upping your water and steaming can help to thin and loosen the gunk on the cords or in the lungs, allowing you to clear it quicker, sometimes the more water the better to help thin out the mucous!
If its a dry cough try to swallow a few times before you cough to move around the moisture in the throat to see if you can prevent the urge to cough as each time you cough it will aggravate the voice more!
If your suffering from a Chesty Cough, we’re coughing to expel the ‘gunk’ – we really need to let the body do what it needs to – after all were clearing the body of the infection – we don’t want to end up with more serious problems by suppressing this action!
So the main point – the cough is essentially slamming the vocal folds together – if were feeling chesty then it is a great relief when we do but what we need to do is limit the affects of the cough to the folds no matter why we feel the urge to cough. We can start to do this by steaming and hydrating. Find out more about steaming here. Unfortunately until the cough is gone we will always be susceptible to further slamming and aggravation so need to be careful with the songs we are chosing if we cannot limit our voice use.
So now we’ve begun to look at some of the symptoms that affect singers the most when we are ill, we need to get to work to help stop our voices from getting any worse, Click here for my next post in my Singers with Colds series