Singers & Colds – Part Three – Quick Fixes and Remedies

Singers & Colds – Part Three – Quick Fixes and Remedies

Click here for Part One and Part Two in this series

Now we’ve looked as some of the most common symptoms that affect singers and some of the ways we can try to alleviate them, what else can be done? and what about all these popular quick fixes?

Can food and drink affect my recovery?

Some seem to think yes! What you eat and drink may affect your recovery, some foods may irritate the throat, some can dehydrate, and some can coat your throat – the latter sometimes isn’t such a bad thing when your poorly and steering off singing for the day as it can help soothe. There is a long list of things singers should potentially avoid which can be found here, this isn’t a lifestyle change – more of something to think about if your voice is feeling tired or aggravated. As with all things, not everyone may notice a difference with the things the eat and drink but I believe if your suffering every little helps!

Quick Fixes & Remedies

You really do want to avoid any quick fixes herbal or medicinal unless you really need it and if you do you shouldn’t be singing – this isn’t just about recovering in time for a gig now this can wipe you out for months if you can’t sort it now it will save you from losing more income or practice time in the future.

So along with steaming lets look at some of the ways we can deal with your cold – its easy to head for a quick fix or cold and flu tablets/cough sweets, but which ones will actually help and which ones will make you worse?

I found a really interesting article by Dr Harris an ENT Surgeon from the Voice Council site on singing through colds a while back, he spoke of how different medicines can hinder a singers recovery, he talked about antihistamines and decongestants and how they affect the mucosal membrane on the vocal folds – essentially the way these medicines work is to dry up the mucous which in turn aggravates the voice and causes irritation. What you need to remember is that your body creates mucous for a reason, it’s there to protect the folds – thats why we find the need to clear the throat repetitively after we’ve over worked the voice.

One of the only medicines Dr Harris recommended for colds is First Defense Nasal Spray, its designed to coat the mucosal membrane to trap the virus particles, and contains active ingredients to help kill off the germs – apparently the ingredients in the spray are completely safe for singers. Ive tried it a few times before as I’ve felt the sniffles coming on but not sure how it would work on a full blown cold as it is said its best to be taken at the first signs. I feel it did work for me – but then again I’m always acting as early as I can when I feel something coming on – especially as a cold for me means a week without being able to teach!! Let me know if you do try it and feel any benefits!

Sore Throat Sweets / Pastilles

When you are ill and have a cough or sore throat you are likely to head for the sore throat pastilles – as we all know we should be watching how much we sing right now but if we are forced to sing we need to make sure we don’t cover up any pain we are feeling with any medicines, this is why it is important that you check the ingredients of the cough sweet. You really want to avoid anything that includes anaesthetic (which numbs), cough suppressants, decongestants or caffeine which all have a drying action. It is best to stick to a general cough/sore throat sweet that contains an Antiseptic which helps to destroy the bacteria in your throat and mouth. If things are really bad and I know I can take time out from singing for a day or two I will personally use ‘Tyrozets’ they do have a numbing action which is why I make an effort to be careful with my voice use when taking them, they do however have great antiseptic properties and are my go to throat sweet. Remember you should not take any numbing medicines at any point if you intend to carry on singing, you will not be able to feel any potential damage you may be doing and will more than likely hinder your recovery.

Vitamin C

I have to admit I do take vitamin C when I’m ill – again there is no real cure for the common cold but a lot of singers swear by Vitamin C to help prevent a cold from worsening, some people also recommend Echinacea and Zinc to help keep the immune system strong.

Honey 

Honey is known for its great vitamin content but also for coating the throat and mouth which helps sooth the voice and help it to recover quickly, I hear a lot of people talk about Honey and Lemon, this is a much debated remedy. Some singers swear by it but others swear off it! After all lemon is an acid which can strip the back of the throat and cause more irritation, I always recommend sticking to hot water and a teaspoon or two of honey. The warm drink will be soothing in itself and some believe the honey will coat your throat nicely. I have to admit I’m not entirely sold on the benefits of honey and hot water. 

Salt Water Gargle,

Another recommended solution is the salt water gargle, especially if you think you may have an infection in your throat or suffer from tonsillitis. The water we drink or gargle with will not touch your vocal folds but it is great for helping to stop the build up of germs in the throat. Again this isnt one of my practices but I do have quite a few students who swear by salt water gargles!

If I’m honest I would prefer my students to stay away from most home made remedies and over the counter medicines as there are usually a lot of side affects to these tablets and potions. Steam, water and rest really does go such a long way to help the singer get back on form.

So To break it down

  • Steam often 
  • Drink plenty of Water (avoid caffeine)
  • Keep humming / make sure your warmed up before singing 
  • Do the bottle and straw exercises / SOS 
  • Watch your vocal load / Have a plan b set list
  • Take Regular Vocal Naps
  • Sleep
  • Keep Warm
  • Eat well – know which foods and drinks may affect your personal recovery
  • Avoid cough suppressants / decongestant tablets or solutions
  • Up your vitamin C

On the plus side the thing to bear in mind is the fact adrenaline is your best friend if you’re ill and need to perform, most of your symptoms usually subside when you get on stage but you need to give it the help you can with the methods above, it’s just no good if you’ve needed to practice or had hoped to sound the best you could!

Ideally we want to work to try and prevent colds from wiping us out in the first place, eating well, getting plenty of rest, as well as looking after your voice, stay warm in the winter, all the above are key to prevent you from getting too run down in the first place. As singers we dread catching colds but it is unfortunately sometimes inescapable, and some times we just have to tell ourselves – Im I’ll but I can do this anyway. Thats not an excuse to not take what ever is affecting you seriously – If you think you may have a throat infection or chest infection make a doctors appointment – you may need prescribed medication to help you get over it.

If none of the above works you need to rest your voice, you need to just give it time and let it heal – if you are really that ill then you need to just step back and let your body do the work, Unfortunately it may just be the case of the fact we’re stuck with this cold for right now, and to a certain extent we may need to just ride it out, hopefully some of the above can help alleviate the discomfort and help your voices recover quicker.

If vocal health is something your worried about have a read through The Vocal Health Pages to see what is realistic for you to be able to do with your voice and lifestyle unfortunately when it comes to colds it is the case of ride it out and try to limit as many other issues as possible, but the better idea you have of how to work with your vocal health the more likely you are to be able to prevent any colds or potential injuries from affecting your career / study / income.

 

#VocalTipsTuesday – Practice makes perfect?

#VocalTipsTuesday – Practice makes perfect?

#VocalTipsTuesday – A lot of my singers when they start training comment on how much there is to learn when singing. They worry about getting it right on stage – the truth is we shouldnt practice until we get it right – we should practice until we dont get it wrong! The more you get the body working and understand what is needed from your voice the more secure you will be in your technique – which will then mean you really dont have to worry about forgetting it all once you get on stage, it should all be second nature!

Singers & Colds – Part Two – What Can I do?

Singers & Colds – Part Two – What Can I do?

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

Hydrate

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.

Keep Warm

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!

Sleep

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.

If your interested in reading more about vocal health you can check out The Vocal Health Pages here with part one, part two and part three of my series on rebuilding an unhappy voice.

#VocalTipsTuesday – Wobbly Voice?

#VocalTipsTuesday – Wobbly Voice?

#VocalTipsTuesday A common problem in singers is an unsteady, inconsistent voice, The voice sounds ‘wobbly’ usually down to breath pressure, either there is too much breath in the way (making the voice sound breathy) or too much breath pressure pushing up underneath the cords – (making the voice sound tight / shrill / pitchy) Each note you sing on each different word for each different length of time needs a different effort level, are you working the way your body needs you too?

Sally’s New Website!

Very excited to unveil my shiney new website, I hope you enjoy finding your way around it, theres plenty to read – find out more about me and my lessons as well as my new and updated tips and tricks section where you can read up about vocal technique and vocal health. Check it out here

A big thank you to Ash Lyndhurst Design for his hard work putting this together for me – If any of you are in need of a new website be sure to get in contact with him!

 

Singers & Colds – Part One – Understanding The Symptoms

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

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

#VocalTipsTuesday – Your Voice

#VocalTipsTuesday – Your Voice

#VocalTipsTuesday Today is all about how we perceive our voice and development when learning to sing, so many people get hung up on the sounds they are making now and don’t allow themselves to explore their voices, learning to sing is all about experimenting and seeing what works for the individual, there will be times when your not happy with the sound your making – be logical and think more about how do we get there and not get lost in the negatives!!

#VocalTipsTuesday – Water

#VocalTipsTuesday – Water

#VocalTipsTuesday Today is all about Water!! you will not believe how many singers do not hydrate enough before, during and after singing! Singing is a physical effort and needs your vocal cords to be lubricated and flexible to get the best out of them, make sure you keep drinking throughout the day to prevent yourself from drying out!!

How to keep your voice happy – The Vocal Health Pages – Part Three

Part Three of my Vocal Health Blogs – Click here for Part One & Part Two

Ok so now you’ve started to do the best things you can do for your voice to help soothe and get the voice touching in a healthier way. So how do you make sure things don’t get worse? First start by Identify what is causing you the problem;

Assess your vocal load – how much and what are you singing?

How much are you singing? If it’s in excess of more than a couple of hours a day, and you aren’t at the top of your game with your vocal technique that is a massive strain on your poor vocal folds. Its not only singing though, are you using your voice all day at work? Do you shout or have to raise your voice a lot? these are bad vocal habits that can wear away on the voice.

Whats your repertoire like? Are you singing consistently at the extremes of your range, does your set list include a lot of high powered songs that use a lot of energy and effort? Do you have rest points in your set list? Do you feel like you have to push your voice to hit songs in your repertoire? Have you identified particular songs that do affect your voice?

Its important that you are singing repertoire in the range appropriate for you, are you making the right key choices? If you’re unsure about any of the above then i’d recommend finding a vocal teacher who can help you.

What environments are you singing or using your voice in?

Are you regularly singing in loud environments where you feel you have to push to be heard? How is the monitoring? Can you hear yourself back through the mix? If not you need to speak to your sound tech or think about investing in in-ear monitoring.

How loud are you playing during rehearsals? Do you have to push here? Can you turn down the overall mix of instruments / backing to prevent yourself needing to push to be heard

In every day life are you regularly speaking at high volumes places such as loud pubs / clubs / sports games / gigs. I have so many singers come to me after going to their favourite bands gigs, singing their hearts out and blowing their voices at the same time!

Whats your everyday vocal routine?

Are you warming up? Your voice is at its most delicate before its warmed up, you should warm up with vocal scales and gentle exercises designed to get the voice moving before you start singing, singing along to an easy song is not a good way to help realign the breath and voice before singing. Warming up everyday keeps your voice ready to go and helps you to be able to recognise any changes in tone or range immediately.

Do you warm down?

The amount of singers that warm up thoroughly is rare, the amount that warm down is much more so, when we sing (especially high or powerful songs) the larynx can stay in a raised position and the muscles around neck can remain tense, after singing we need to bring the voice back down to a neutral position, Its now recognised that most vocal injuries and issues come from the lack of release in the muscles during and after singing so encouraging the voice to relax is so important. The best way to do so is to hum gently in descending slides, no breath or excess pressure should be felt and you should ensure that it is comfortable.

Do you sing through pain?

Did that top note catch and scratch in the throat a little, did that belt slam in the throat more than you was expecting? (Have you even been trained to belt? do you know how to control the vocal mechanism to belt effectively and safely?) Its important to remember these little occurrences and how often – as slamming of the vocal folds can lead to further voice problems, I have worked with many singers who do not even notice how much distress their voice is in until they begin to train a healthier technique.

How to prevent problems in the future;

  • Adopt a good and healthy vocal load
  • Warm up and Cool Down whenever you are singing
  • Make appropriate song choices
  • Know your limits
  • Eat and drink well
  • Steam and hydrate often
  • Follow the recovery tips to help keep your voice in good working order
  • Have regular lessons with a singing teacher who understands vocal health

So the big and scary question for singers – When do you see a doctor?

If your voice shows any of the warning symptoms for any prolonged periods of time, if you notice a sudden change in voice after singing that isn’t related to a cold or virus. Or if you loose your voice entirely.

If in doubt consult your doctor, ideally you’d need to ask to be referred to an ENT specialist due to the nature of the vocal issues.

Remember – It is so important to look after your voice now, its much easier to prevent issues then it is to rebuild a voice!

#VocalTipsTuesday – Constriction & Tension

#VocalTipsTuesday – Constriction & Tension

#VocalTipsTuesday Today is about Constriction and tension, if you have either of these when you sing you will limit range, tone, control, volume, flexibility and pretty much all the things you want to achieve in your voice! Its one of the main problems I see in students when they first start learning with me, its obvious that we use much more effort than is needed when we start out – we think singing is hard so it should feel like an effort! its important to relax, take the pressure out of the throat and support more if necessary. Singing should feel comfortable and effortless throughout the majority of the range, the only thing that changes is effort levels and concentration to keep the sound supported and well rounded.

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