Should you sing with a cold?!

Saturday, October 5, 2019 by Rebekah Keogh | Singing Tips


Getting sick as a singer really sucks. It means trying to find cover for gigs you had booked, cancelling lessons, and missing possible job opportunities.. Your voice is so precious when it is your only form of income. So you need to look after it and know when to rest, even if it means losing out on work.


Why is it so bad to sing with a cold?

The most common cause of vocal injury is an upper respiratory tract infection. When you fall sick, your vocal folds can swell causing hoarseness and instability in your voice. Throat clearing and coughing can lead to swelling of the vocal folds which makes them more prone to injury as the person with the cold continues to talk or sing with swollen folds. Lower respiratory tract infections can also have a negative impact on the voice causing compensatory behaviour which can lead to strain. I wrote about vocal injury in another post here: https://rebekahsvocalstudio.mymusicstaff.com/Blog?PostID=54159


What to do if you have a cold?

Keep in mind that your vocal folds have no nerve endings, so just because they don’t feel sore doesn’t mean they are not swollen. The best thing to do is rest your voice as much as possible but there are some other things you can do to help which I have included below;


  • Write things down instead of talking. Whispering can actually make it worse.
  • Stay hydrated! Your body is like a plant. Water it regularly to keep your vocal folds nice and moist. Dry vocal folds are not ideal. It is recommended to drink 1 & 1/2 to 2 litres daily.
  • Sinus rinse a few times a day to help reduce nasal drip.
  • Sleep and eat healthily.
  • Steam for 20 minutes 2-3 times daily if possible. Add hot water to a pot with salt and put a towel over your head. It is also good to warm up in the shower with the steam. It will help clear the gunk.
  • Gargle salt water if you have a sore throat.
  • Carry hand sanitiser with you and use it often.
  • Take a course of vitamins coming into the winter to give your immune system a boost.
  • Carry tissues with you and sneeze and cough into it instead of into the air.
  • Paracetamol is best option for pain if you HAVE to take something.
  • Don’t go to your singing class! Don’t put others at risk of catching what you have, especially those who sing for a living..You’ll make a better recovery at home anyways.
  • Stay healthy, keep your immune system healthy.


For Working Singers

Get a substitute if possible. Unless you are Adele you probably can skip the gig/audition. You risk sounding bad and ruining your reputation, as well as doing further damage to your voice if you sing with a cold.


  • Longer instrumentals might lengthen the set and so you can drop a couple songs.
  • If you have a bandmate that can sing some extra songs it means you can drop all the more difficult numbers helping to save your voice.
  • Get another bandmate to chat to crowd instead of you.
  • Get backing vocalist to sing higher parts.
  • Cancel recording. It will sound bad and probably have to be done again.  
  • If you are a singing teacher, write down your instructions. Do a revision week, go over theory, vocal health or do a full run through of exam songs and technical exercises so the student knows what the have to do without you having to demonstrate. There are plenty of things you can do without having to use your voice.


AVOID!!!

Aspirin / Ibuprofen / decongestants / antihistamines / numbing lozenges / People who have colds / voice use


Vocal exercises for a sick or recovering voice

Give your voice time to recover. Keep your warm ups gentle using a variety of SOVT’s (Semi Occluded Vocal Tract) exercises to transition back into singing mode. The straw, lip thrills, and NG glides are a good place to start. Don’t push your range. Keep to the mid to lower pitches to begin and then gradually add on to your warm ups working towards being able to do your normal routine. Start with 10 minutes, then 15 then 20 etc and see how your voice feels after each one. You don’t want to fatigue your voice by pushing yourself too soon. It can take two weeks or more for your voice to return to normal.