I’ve had a cold this last week. It always feels ironic to say I’ve had a cold in May, but there you are.
Times can be tough for singers when viruses run rampant through our respiratory system, making it hard to breath and sing. Here are some tips to help you make it out the other end without damaging your voice or missing too much practice.
Managing your practice
It can be frustrating to have a cold when you need or want to pratice! The good news is that so long as it doesn’t hurt to sing, you can keep on practicing. If it hurts to sing or makes you cough incessantly, then stop.
Of course, just because you can practice, doesn’t mean you want to practice. When you have a cold or are suffering badly with allergies, it can be hard to be motivated to do anything, let alone the “work” of practicing. Somethings that might help make it easier:
- Plan a couple of very short practices rather than one long one
- Pick songs you know well, rather than working on anything new and challenging
- Avoid songs which require long phrases without breathing or which push your upper range
- As soon as you start feeling better, try to up your singing practice little by little back to your normal level to help build up your strength.
If you do need to take a few days off singing, why not use that time to listen to some classical music or podcasts. Try the BBC Radio 3 Composer of the Week as a starting point. If you can’t sing, but are up to doing written work, why not have a go at some theory exercises, or try some online flash games that might help you with your musicianship.
Coping with performance
If you have a performance coming up, sometimes you have to suck it up and get through it. Unless you have lost your voice, it hurts to sing, or singing makes you cough, you should be ok to push yourself. If you can, try to take vocal rest in the days leading up to the performance rather than doing a lot of practice (a good reason to make sure you are ready long before the date for any performance). Make sure you keep hydrated. You can dose upon over-the-counter medication and traditional cures if you need to, and rest your voice afterwards.
The best kind of cold cures for singers are the traditional cures of steam, hot drinks and citrus. Steam helps clear your sinuses and will soothe the headache that comes with a cold. Keep hydrated – honey and lemon is great for a sore throat, and citrus-based fruit teas are great too as they don’t contain caffeine. Citrus, ginger and honey all have properties which are good at helping your body fight off colds.
The other important thing is rest – take time off and let your body do what it does naturally. Your body is perfectly capable of fighting off a cold, so give it a chance! One day off work to let your body heal faster is going to be far better than struggling through and not giving yourself a chance to recover.
It’s perfectly fine to use over-the-counter medication to help with a cold, but beware that they only treat the symptoms, not the virus which is causing them. Your symptoms are largely your body’s response to the virus – trying to kill it off before it can do any real damage. Fever, coughs, sneezes, and snot are all part of your body’s natural defences, and by stopping the symptoms, you are reducing your ability to fight them off.
The only medication which comes with a word of caution is anything that has a painkilling element, especially if you are using something that numbs your throat. If you are ill enough that you need to take strepsills or paracetamol, take care when singing because it won’t be so easy to know if something hurts and you should stop. I would generally only recommend singing after taking throat lozenges in dire situations (e.g. a performance you can’t get out of) as you could do more damage than good.
When to See Your Doctor
The NHS recommends that you should only see a doctor if you still have a cold after three weeks unless you have another condition which might be aggravated by the cold (e.g. a chest condition). It is unlikely a doctor will be able to do anything for you anyway, as colds are caused by viruses and there is not really any medication that we have that can kill the virus. Antibiotics will be completely useless as they only treat bacterial infections.
Having said that, if your cold is so bad it is seriously affecting your singing for a week or more, it may be advisable to see a doctor just to confirm that you do have a virus and nothing more serious. Always tell your doctor that you sing, and make it clear if you have any upcoming performances.
As for allergies, you should work with your doctor to find a good antihistamine. These won’t affect your singing, but will make it much easier to practice!
So there you have it. If you’re a singer suffering with a cold, take time out to rest, try to sing if you can, but make good use of your time if you can’t.
What tips do you have for singers suffering with a cold or seasonal allergies?