Quite a few of my students this week have been under the weather. It takes a while for the voice to bounce back from illness. Many times the vocal cords are swollen and the sinuses are congested which leads to problems with resonance and reaching higher pitches as well as tone control. How do you sing safely when you are sick? Read more to find out!
1. Colds or other sinus related issues (including allergies): you can practice gentle exercises such as humming and lip trills. Expect that your voice may be fatigued and have difficulty reaching higher pitches due to vocal cord swelling. The vocal cords are like elastic bands. They stretch to reach higher pitches. When they are swollen they have difficulty doing so. Expect as well to have trouble with nasal resonance or have a lack of “ring” in the sound. Humming and singing on nasal syllables such as “nyah nyah nyah” can combat this. If your voice starts to feel croaky or hoarse, take a break until this clears. Try to avoid your allergens! (More on Allergies and the voice another day). If you are having regular sinus issues or allergy issues that are really affecting your voice, please visit your allergist and/or ent for professional help.
2. Laryngitis or vocal injury (such as nodes): Don’t physically sing. Limit talking, although you may be able to speak through the words in rhythm to practice diction and rhythmic patterns. Work on your stage presence by thinking about the words and their meaning, as well as practicing how you might move on stage and walk in to deliver your performance. Do mental practice. Imagine yourself singing through the song with proper articulation and phrasing. Practice your breathing and posture. Listen to your recordingsAll good things!
3. Surgery close to or on vocal cords (such as tonsillectomy): Rest. Do not sing for 4-6 weeks as per your doctor’s instruction. Use mental practice and then slowly transition to gentle exercises such as humming and lip trills after you get clearance to do so.
4. Stomach bug/High fever: Probably just take a break on this one. Drink plenty of water! Your job is to let your body heal.
5. Acid Reflux: Shout out to my fellow sufferers! This can be one of the most detrimental illnesses for voice, caused by the epiglottis not closing properly. If you need to take a regular prescribed pillto get your reflux under control, such as prevacid, please do so! Acid can come up and burn the vocal cords causing all sorts of issues! You may want to keep a food journal and try an elimination diet to find the root(s) of the problem. Common food triggers including OJ, spicy foods, carbonated beverages and alcohol. Be mindful as well of the time of day you eat and your sleep cycle, this can also play a role. Try out mental practice and/or speaking through the words until the situation is under control.
Questions? Please comment below. As you can see, if you get creative, in most situations you can still practice with voice, if you redefine your idea of practice!