Vocal Technique Basics – Should I sing if I have a cold?
Welcome back! School’s back in and already half my students are sick and my kids are already sniffling! Vocalists dread winter for good reason! In this article about vocal technique basics, I answer a question I get frequently: should I sing if I have a cold? And of course, my answer is, that depends! Upon what? How do you gauge if your training will be of benefit or cause vocal strain? A vocalist’s goal is always to sing in a way that minimizes vocal strain, so that we can sing a long set, a long night, and have a long career. Signs of vocal fatigue should never be ignored! Vocal strain often takes at least 3 weeks of near complete silence from which to recover; it’s nothing to take lightly.
So, what about your voice and sickness? How can you tell what will cause vocal strain? This is a critical aspect of vocal technique basics. Here are some situations that may describe your particular illness, and my advice for what to do:
- Plugged nose only? Sometimes your pharynx and sinus cavities can be plugged up, but your larynx is not affected. Your resonance will not have any nasal ring, but you can still vocalize and practice without causing vocal strain.
- Flu / aches? You won’t cause vocal strain just from singing, but if you feel like crap, trust your body and just get some rest. Remember that a huge part of our vocal practice requires listening and spot-work to, for example, nail a difficult melody. When you feel like crap, it’s a good idea to cut yourself some slack and not worry about vocalizing or singing, but meanwhile do your important work of listening and learning by getting your tracks on your phone or player and robo-listening to them from bed! Balance, balance, balance.
- Phlegm in the throat but it’s not sore? If you have goopy vocal chords, and find that your voice is not clear, you can still vocalize without causing vocal strain, but you need to make sure not to clear your throat! Let the vocalizing do the job of clearing the phlegm out, and allow for the fact that you are going to be riding on the phlegm so your tone won’t be as focused or resonant as you like! Once in a while, it’s irresistible to clear your throat, but don’t grunt and groan and push it; this is like sucker punching your larynx! Clear extremely gently, and let good lozenges, hot unsweetened tea do the job of helping you move the phlegm around.
- Sore throat but not laryngitis? If you are having trouble swallowing, but still have a clear voice, you can sing, just don’t push yourself too hard. No drilling high notes or you will get hoarse pretty quickly. Don’t work any challenging repertoire. Make sure you’re gargling with salt water SEVERAL times a day. Like, every couple hours!
- Laryngitis No singing, not even talking. Don’t even have coffee with people. A huge part of our vocal strain comes from unsupported spoken conversation. Often we speak, especially in English, deep in the throat and if you’ve been shouting in a pub to chat with your friends, well, that’s bad news for singers! This is the condition where no singing is a must. You must let laryngitis heal thoroughly (probably 3 weeks or more) or you will continually be struggling with it; the symptoms will kick in every time you sing hard and you will be completely hoarse pretty quickly.
If you have any other conditions you’d like me to comment on, or any questions about vocal technique basics, please write me and I’ll be happy to update this article.
Thanks & kind regards,