For part one in this series click here
So we’ve looked as some of the most common symptoms that affect singers – so what can we do about it?
Steam! Steam! Steam!
Steaming really is your best friend when you’re ill – vocal doctors recommend keeping the vocal tract and nasal passages ‘warm and wet’ in order to help reduce irritation and to keep the voice more comfortable when we are suffering. When you become ill the mucus membranes in the airways and on the vocal folds may become irritated and swollen, the only way to attack all these areas at once is to steam, Its relieves swelling and gives much needed hydration to the folds and vocal tract.
In fact many vocal doctors and speech therapists recommend steaming in place of most medicines that you can pick up at the shops, its an all in one wonder which hydrates, warms, alleviates swelling and soothes without any of the side affects such as dehydration and drying that many cold medicines can cause. You can read more about the benefits of steaming here
Its one of the things that everyone will say to you when your ill – drink plenty of fluids. Its recommended that on an average day you should be consuming 2-3 litres of water a day, even more when you’re ill to help replace the fluids you have lost. When you’re dehydrated the vocal folds become less flexible which limits range, tone and can affect stability and durability. Keep sipping water regularly, remembering to avoid caffeine as that is a diuretic which can make you flush out your fluids quicker.
What else can I do?
Warm Up thoroughly before singing
Warming up is essential before singing – especially when we are ill, this will be slightly different to when we are healthy, no fast exercises or those that push to far to quickly as we are trying to limit stress and any further problems, The aim is to warm up gently and not to use up whats left of our voice! My Vocal CD – Vocal SOS:TLC for Tired Voices is ideal for when you are feeling poorly as the exercises are designed to support and stretch tired and injured voices.
Bottle & Straw
The Bottle and Straw Exercises are Ideal for poorly voices whether it be from illness or overuse, these exercises can help to relax the voice and get it moving in a non-pressured way so its great for when you’re ill. The aim of the exercise is to blow through the straw into the bottle of water, this will create a good pressure back into the vocal tract and onto the folds, the pressure helps to stretch and relax the muscles in the throat as well as the folds, helping to bring back tone and range to the voice.
How to do the Bottle and Straw Exercise:
Take a simple water bottle and fill a third way with water, use a straw to blow ‘bubbles’ into the water. First try blowing into the bottle, feel the pressure build up. Next try singing as you blow, making an effort to use the least amount of pressure necessary to make a sound. I ask my students to do this whilst using their Vocal SOS CD, only singing as high in their range that is comfortable. This exercise will feel odd at first but in my experience singing in this way has done wonders to help my students voices recover faster.
Sometimes easier said than done, especially if were outside or in cooler environments, grab a scarf, drink hot drinks and wrap up warm if you’re chilly, if you’re cold chances are your voice is too and wont be ready to sing, I often see students warm up thoroughly to then go and walk out into the cold and wonder why their voice isn’t ready to sing when they get on stage.
Watch Your Vocal Load
What are you singing? Are you pushing your range on an already strained voice? Can you cancel that gig / rehearsal? Is your everyday vocal load affecting your recovery – how are you speaking / shouting in everyday life? What are you singing? Are you working at the extremes of your voice regularly in your sets?
This is where alternative set lists are essential – do you have a back up plan for gigs when your voice really isn’t up to your usual rep? If not then you really should, this really could be the difference between making that note or blowing your voice on stage!
How much you sing while your ill can hinder your recovery, if you sing on an unhappy voice it can become an injured voice, if there are times in your week that you can avoid singing then it is so important that you do! If you can afford to miss rehearsals this week then you really should.
Take Regular Vocal Naps
Make sure you allow time in your day to rest your voice, for at least 10 – 15 minutes at a time – It is really important you do not go on complete vocal rest unless there is no other option (especially if you are a professional / regular voice user) Even if your singing voice isn’t there – Keep humming, we do not want to loose flexibility in the folds which can hinder recovery. You can move the voice gently, sing on ‘mms’ and ‘ngs’ on slow sirens in your comfortable range, it is essential not to let the air through and remember don’t push your voice! If you have lost your voice and can’t make a good closure then you need to steam and try gently if that doesn’t work then you go on vocal rest as the last resort!
Easily something the average singer doesn’t get enough of, long days, busy schedules and high vocal loads plus lack of sleep equals a tired voice. Sleep is key when your sick, this is when the body has time to repair so make sure you are allowing yourself the time to heal. If you’re bunged up and are having trouble breathing through your nose, it is best to try and prop yourself upright when you sleep, this will help to counteract as much dragging of breath across the vocal folds and help to stop the pressure building in the sinuses. Remember each time you sleep or nap you will need to warm up the voice gently again.
The above are just some of my tried and tested ways of helping to limit the issues that accompany the common cold, click here for my next instalment on Quick Fixes and Remedies.