At some point in the pursuit of your singing career you will find yourself under the weather, when a full recovery by performance time is clearly unlikely.
But if you engage the following tips and practices, there’s a good chance you’ll be rested enough and prepared to perform so that you’ll not disappoint your audience, mess up that killer session gig, or botch that once-in-a-lifetime audition.
If It Hurts – Don’t Do It
But before we proceed, it’s important to note that if it hurts to sing, you really shouldn’t perform. You’d rather the audience be disappointed because you were sick, rather than turned off because your performance was sub par. And honestly, no audition, recording session, or performance is worth the risk of doing permanent damage to your vocal chords.
Help Is Available
But let’s say you have that head cold or a touch of the flu, but you’re determined to push through for the performance. There are some things to be mindful of so that you can manage a good showing and get a warm reception in the face of a cold or the flu.
Silence Is Golden
Rule number one is to stop talking. Don’t even whisper. In fact whispering strains the vocal chords as much as shouting does. But, if you have to talk, you can do it as long as you keep it brief and at a normal, naturally lower volume. Don’t force the voice!
Water will not only provide some lubrication for your vocal cords, it will help to flush the sickness out of your system. Make sure you keep water handy while you’re singing. But do not use iced water. Iced water will restrict your vocal cords. That will cause your voice to be less supple and elastic. You won’t be able to hit all of the notes in your range; then, you may force your voice and cause damage.
But make sure the water is at room temperature. You can also drink tea with a bit of raw honey. Some singers find that raw honey is a great lubricant for their throats when they have to sing when they’re not feeling well. But avoid caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulant and a natural diuretic. It will dry out your vocal folds. Also avoid citric acid from lemons, limes, and oranges, and stay away from spicy foods because they will irritate the throat.
Many Medications Dry You Out
Though it’s true that antihistamines (like Benadryl) and decongestants (like Sudafed) can help relieve the symptoms of a cold, they can also dry up your mucous membranes. It’s argued that they also prevent your body from expelling germs through sneezing which is a key part of your body’s defenses. Then, your cold or flu may hang on because the germs and irritants aren’t being expelled. Also, the drying property of antihistamines and decongestants makes it harder to hit high notes.
On the other hand, expectorants (to loosen phlegm) aren’t so bad, but they also require additional hydration to make them effective. The bottom line is that your immune system is your body’s best defense when you’re sick, and medications will impact your singing.
On a side note, many antidepressants (like Lexapro, Prozac) and the ADD/ADHD drug, Adderall, have drying out properties that can irritate your vocal folds. So, if you take these, be sure to increase hydration.
Humming Is Warming
Warm up your voice for at least an hour before your audition, session, or show. You can start by humming. But do not engage in any exercises that are especially challenging, and nothing should be forced. You want to run through scales gradually.
If at any point you feel that your voice is failing or getting weaker, stop the warm up immediately and rest the voice. Then, pick up again with humming some scales or favorite sections of the material you’ll be singing.
Hearing Aids The Singing
You also want to check out monitors on stage (or in-ear, if used) or headphones in the studio so that you’re not thrown off by how your hearing is compromised by your illness and so levels can be worked out. That way, you can adapt more readily once your show, session, or audition gets underway.
Remember there is a tendency to force or strain your voice when you can’t hear it. By testing the equipment, you’ll be able to make sure that they’re well balanced and loud enough so you can hear before singing. This is critical if you’re ears are plugged up from the cold or flu, and if you have a residual case of medicine-head from anything you’ve taken during the run of your illness.
Remember that germs are everywhere, especially where crowds gather and sweat pours out under the hot lights. So frequent hand washing is critical, as well as avoiding contact with others that are sick. You also want to minimize stress. So, being well rested and well prepared will help to keep stress in check.
Keep your immune system strong and healthy by eating right, with an emphasis on green leafy vegetables and assorted fresh fruits, vegetables, and nuts. Drink at least two liters of water every day. Get a minimum of six hours of sleep per day, but aim for eight hours. Plus, exercise on a daily basis to get the circulation going. Running or walking for a stretch of thirty minutes at a time is a great activity to engage day by day.
These tips will help you perform at an optimal level if adhered to strictly. But remember, no audition, recording session, or performance is worth the risk of permanently damaging your voice. The bottom line: prevention and preservation are just as important to your singing success as perseverance.