How to practice singing when you’re sick.

I’ve heard it too many times: “I’ve had this cold/flu/sore throat/bronchitis and I can’t come in for a lesson because I haven’t been practicing.” What’s really terrible is that this particular winter in the Metro Detroit area has been brutal for influenza and all of its related maladies; there’s been at least 2 stories of people dying from influenza last week. Yikes!

But the truth is, unless you are consigned to constant bed rest or intensive treatments, there’s no reason you can’t sit on the sidelines as a musician when your voice isn’t at its best. There are lots of ways to bridge the gap in practicing:

  • Listen. Put on your practice tracks, the dulcet sounds of your singing idols, or whatever you have on hand that will enhance your musicianship by osmosis.
  • Memorize. Even if you have to copy down the words in longhand and read them to yourself 17 times, it’s worth doing when you’re not up to vocalizing. It will save you a lot of work down the road once you’ve recovered.
  • Study. Mark scores, review notes, unravel tricky diction, tap through the rhythms, even hum along where you can.
  • Muse. Don’t forget your artist self – keep yourself inspired and your inner child geeked. It may be hard to soothe your spirit if you’re  failing to soothe your sore throat, but if you try to keep your muse alive by watching videos, listening to music or writing in a journal, it will help to keep in touch with your fun-loving inner artist while your physical self is convalescing.
  • Self-care. Follow prescribed treatments to the letter and eat as healthy as you can. Drink all the fluids you can. Take vitamins. Don’t overdo talking, and if you have a cough that’s way out of control, seek help so that you’re not damaging your vocal folds. Get rest. If you visit an ENT or any kind of doctor, make sure they know you’re a singer, so that they understand what’s at stake for you. It’s the equivalent of an instrumentalist doing the constant maintenance that is required of any delicate machine – wiping down strings, swabbing the horn, scanning for leaky key pads. Your voice is the most delicate music-making machine of all; take care of it.
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3 thoughts on “How to practice singing when you’re sick.

  1. catlistening says:

    what’s really odd is that I have recorded/rehearsed on a couple of occasions when my instrument was in the thralls of some bug/virus, etc. and what I found was that singing took on a whole new approach. I found that I had to focus more on particular and specific elements of the singing as I was being forced to work around the “disturbances” in my voice. One specific result was how relaxed my instrument was. Knowing that my instrument was not 100 percent in working order had me very relaxed, for some reason, which actually resulted in improved tone, depth, texture. Sometimes an illness or disturbance will knock out an element of one’s instrument that one is over-using. Being forced to stop relying on your nasal and sinus area when it’s out of commission will send you intuitively into your chest for tone, a place you may be forgetting about, for one example. Or if the cold or virus has given your throat mild laryngeal issues, you will intuitively move focus to other areas of the body that will help you bypass the temporarily dysfunctional and perhaps over-used throat component of your instrument. In short, “being sick” is a good opportunity to give a particular area of your instrument a rest yet explore other areas that you may have been under-using. It’s like- “oh- I have a diaphragm and I can direct the attack up behind or around the sore throat into my faceplate”- that sort of discovery.

  2. Oh yes; illness does force you to work with the vocal mechanism in different ways, and look at it from different points of view. I actually had an experience just the other day of discovering the chesty depth I wanted on Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab” only when I was sleep-deprived. 🙂

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