With a Cold"
(Better yet, how to avoid one in the first place)
by Mark Baxter
Winter and show biz don't mix.
winds and piles of snow keep potential audiences at home and
make things difficult for load-ins. Then thereís the additional
burden of protecting your voice while everyone around is coughing
and sneezing. As a singer, you canít afford to succumb to the
average two colds a year. Even if youíre a trooper and refuse
to cancel, your instrument will be compromised and susceptible
to harm. Not to panic, injury to the vocal folds is reversible,
but taking time off to recover will put the brakes on your bandís
momentum. Prevention is the answer. The good news is, for every
cold-forming scenario, there is a counter measure. The bad news
is, by the time the first symptoms show, itís too late.
which cause colds are always around. Constantly washing your
hands and avoiding contact with others is not enough. The best
defense is to keep your immune system strong by eating right
(fruits and vegies), hydrating (two liters of water per day),
sleeping (around six hours), and exercising for better circulation.
Staying warm is also an important factor. In frigid conditions,
your body works hard to retain heat. Dressing in layers, with
a hat, water-proof boots and a scarf allows your body to focus
energy on fighting off incoming infections. Use your brains.
Wait until you stop sweating before going outside after rehearsal,
and, leave a coat stage-side if a club requires a load-out directly
after the set.
holidays are a notorious time for coming down with something.
Heavier foods and less physical activity increases the amount
of toxins in our system. After a while, our bodies will clean
house by producing mucus. So, find a way to stay physically
active between Thanksgiving and Christmas -- and watch that
third piece of pie. However, an abrupt change in lifestyle
can also bring on a similar cleanse reaction. People who quit
smoking cold-turkey or dramatically change their diet can expect
cold-like symptoms to follow. I donít want to discourage anyone
from becoming healthier, merely suggesting a gradual change
if youíve decided to clean up as a New Yearís resolution.
of all the causes of illness, is number one. Juggling work or
school with rehearsals and gigs, eating on the run with zero
sleep, disrupts metabolism and forces the body to run on adrenaline.
Anxiety saps vitamins, dehydrates, and leaves you vulnerable
to whatever is around. Thatís why colds always arrive right
as your preparing for the big recording or showcase. Yes, you
should be well rehearsed, but there comes a point where the
push becomes counter-productive. Rest, like hydration, is an
inseparable component of vocal ability. Itís important to remember
that stress is 100 percent internal, and is always reduced by
saying the word, "no." So, for your voiceís sake, open up your
schedule -- and chill.
I know itís
seems uncool to worry about health, but ask anyone who has toured
for a length of time -- getting sick on the road sucks. It is
not inevitable that you will catch a cold every winter.
Hold firm to a belief that you will not get sick. If it's
too late for this season, then for next. Adopting healthy
habits now will pay off in spades in the future when youíre
in demand. There is no remedy as effective as prevention.
Iím sure your mother already told you most of these things,
but that was so you wouldnít miss school. Iím telling you so
you wonít miss a gig. Big difference.
letís pretend that, despite your best efforts, youíve come down
with a nasty, aching, head clogging cold three days before an
important gig. Is there anything you can do besides crack open
a bottle of Jack Danielís? The answer is yes, but they arenít
nearly as much fun. To minimize the effect a cold has on the
voice youíve got to act quickly. Keep in mind that congestion,
mucus, is what your body produces to flush out toxins. Over-the-counter
medications (anti-histamines) dry up congestion but prohibit
the necessary house cleaning. They also dry mucous membranes,
like your vocal folds, which will cause you to lose your voice.
So, reach for the decongestants as an absolute last resort.
However, it is better to experiment with medications at rehearsals,
rather then waiting until gig day. You should always know the
effect something will have on your voice before you use it under
If you have
time, instead of squashing the symptoms, help speed up the cleanse.
Flood yourself with water and real juices to thin the congestion,
lubricate your folds and flush your body. The juice should be
freshly squeezed in order to get the most benefit. The best
types during a cold are Orange (vitamin C), Celery (retains
fluids), Cucumber & Cranberry (cleans acid deposits) and
Carrot (vitamin A). If youíre not into juices, take supplements.
The water-based vitamins like C and B complex are the first
to be depleted when youíre fighting a cold. Unfortunately, a
Mountain-Dew slushy has no vitamins, but does give a great brain
benefit of hydrating is that it may keep a cold from reaching
your lungs. Throat clearing and coughing, which normally accompanies
a cold, is very irritating to the vocal folds. The delicate
membranes in and around the larynx become swollen and rigid,
which is why your voice gets so deep and restricted. Inhaling
steam will help loosen congestion in the lungs as well as soothe
the vocal folds. Be careful when inhaling steam, you can burn
your lips and nasal passages. Gargling with warm salt water
will also help draw phlegm away from your larynx. (If the salt
is collecting at the bottom of the glass, youíve put in too
much.) This is a good routine to get into daily, to clean and
increase circulation of the mouth and throat. Teas, honey, or
any other coating therapy may soothe soar muscles but will not
heal the vocal folds. To reduce the swelling and get singing
again, youíve got to vocalize (warm up).
barely audible, humming is a great way to start. Let your larynx
choose the pitches. Itís better to stay with one single note
(whichever is most comfortable) than to push or force the range.
Allow plenty of time for your voice to loosen. Rushing the warm-up
when you have a cold will greatly reduce the longevity of your
voice and make conditions worse the next day. I once did a ten
hour warm-up for a forty minute set. Refer to the warm up routine
in lesson three, but remember, itís not what youíre singing
to warm up, itís how.
much as you can during the days leading up to your performance,
even if that means skipping rehearsals. But, on gig day, donít
hibernate. Get up, take a long hot shower and do some light
stretching and exercising to get your blood circulating. Mentally
prepare for the long day ahead. Yes, it would be much easier
to numb yourself with a bottle of Jack, but your condition the
next morning will be twice as bad. The bottom line is, if you
want a career as a performer, youíre going to have to learn
to sing with a cold. Might as well start now.
Baxter is a vocal therapist
who offers private and video lessons. To contact him, call:
(800)659-6002. Visit his website at: www.voicelesson.com
with the kind permission of Mark