We’ve all had those days. You wake up, congested, with a swollen throat and possibly, (gasp) a fever. Does this mean practice is off the table? Not necessarily. Here is what you need to know to recover your health (and your voice), without losing valuable practice time:
- Congestion is not necessarily a deal breaker for practice or for lessons. Congestion may mean some difficulty finding the resonance in your voice… (ever tried to talk with a clogged nose?)…but you should still be able to phonate (fancy word for sing or speak) without harming your voice. Just take it easy because you may be able experiencing…
- Vocal swelling. The vocal cords can swell and make it more difficult for adduction (another fancy word meaning cord closure) to happen. This may result in a breathier, raspier voice with a lowered range, because the vocal cords need to stretch to reach higher pitches (and that’s difficult when they are filled with fluid). You can do some easy vocal exercises and limit your practice time.
- Vocal pain. If you are in pain, please don’t sing. Tonsilitis, strep, bronchitis, these are cases where you should be resting, and drinking plenty of water (and oj!) General rule of thumb, if it requires antibiotics, probably not a good time to practice. Furthermore, if you ever feel vocal pain when singing let your teacher know right away, especially if it’s sudden and severe. This can be a symptom of a dangerous (but rare) vocal hemorrhage!
- Breathiness in the voice that won’t let up, particularly at the beginning of a note. If it’s been a few weeks and you’ve ruled out allergies (and your voice had been clear before) you need to see an ENT. This could be a sign of vocal nodes. Don’t ignore it! In most cases, nodes can be cleared up with vocal rest, sometimes therapy and medicine, like steroids. But you need to catch them early. Don’t be terrified of them though-you need to have been screaming, excessively coughing or singing over a long period of time for this to happen.
- You can’t speak. If you can’t speak, or you suddenly sound like you smoke two packs a day, you should not sing. That’s usually laryngitis my friends, and that is your cue for vocal rest! Limit your speaking too, as much as you can. The vocal cords are too swollen! Keep pushing it and it may be a permanent situation for you.
Scary stuff, huh? It doesn’t have to be. With rest, and proper vocal hygiene, these things should not be a threat to your voice. Next week: learn how to take care of your voice when you are ill.