"To Sing Or Not to Sing" by Guest Blogger and NY Vocal Coach Julia Amisano
To Sing Or Not to Sing (Can singing sick cause Vocal Damage?
Sometimes as singers, we have to ask ourselves; ‘Should I be singing right now or not?’. How can you tell if you are in danger of causing vocal damage because of sickness or allergies? My general rule of thumb is don’t perform if the throat feels swollen. If the throat is swollen then there is a good chance that the vocal folds are also swollen.
The vocal folds are more easily prone to damage (tearing bleeding and scarring) when they are swollen and, as a professional musician, I personally do not think it’s worth the risk. When we are performing, there are a lot of things that can happen under stress. Stress can cause us to over compensate for something that is not working and may cause damage that would not have happened if we were not in front of an audience. Having said this, I think it’s ok to warm up and vocalize gently when you are swollen but only very carefully and as a litmus test to see how the voice is feeling that day. Careful consideration of how things are feeling and if warming up is helping or not, should be taken. We don’t want to get out of vocal shape, but if the folds don’t feel like they are working correctly (for example, you feel you need to push to get any sound out), it’s best to just stop and wait until the swelling goes down.
Emergency Situations and Vocal Health
As professional musicians, we all have emergencies or times when we have to sing. We may feel that canceling a performance is impossible. You could have one shot at a competition or a really big gig that, if you cancel, they will never hire you again, or there is no second cast (you are it, if you don’t sing the show doesn’t happen), or it’s your little sister’s Wedding day. These are just some examples I can think of where you may feel you have to take the risk and sing, whether you are swollen or not. Here’s what I suggest in emergency situations like the ones above.
*First, know that being swollen doesn’t automatically mean you are going to cause vocal damage, it just means you are more at risk. Good technique is a singer’s very best defense against vocal damage in general, and when you are sick, this is doubly so. I suggest you spend much more time warming up than you usually do and do your warm ups three times before you perform, with hours of rest time in between (if possible). You want to take time in each part of your range, gently humming and getting the folds to phonate more and more as you go. After you have warmed up the first two times, I suggest taking advantage of products that help reduce vocal inflammation.
There are many products for sale that help reduce swelling so that you can go on singing but, I feel they should be used only in emergency situations, when you absolutely have to sing. Be careful as some of them (for example Chloraseptic throat spray) also numb you and I think that is very risky, natural alternatives are always better. Wait a bit for the product to work and warm up the third time. I tend to do extremely gentle warm-up exercises if I am swollen, or if a Grace Music Studio NY voice student is swollen.
Modifying your normal warm up to be extremely gentle may mean that you are completely changing the way you warm up, and that’s ok. I am a singer who likes to sing the difficult parts right before I perform, just to prove to myself that I can do them on that day so the last thing I suggest (if you are also this type of singer) is to wait until after the third time you have warmed up and start with an easy section of the piece(s) and work up to singing the more difficult passages. This last part of singing through your repertoire, should happen about an hour or 45 minutes before you sing (if possible). The very last thing to do is just relax and rest for the last half hour. This way of warming up takes a lot more time but I know from personal experience (I have never had any vocal damage, and have had to sing many times when I was swollen) that it works.
The exercises that I use for this gentle, warmup are the same ones I use for my beginning students at Grace Music Studio NY and they are filmed on my latest DVD (The Three Pillars of Singing) which you can find on my website www.gracemusicstudiony.com or at http://howtosingeasily.com.
Julia Amisano is the Founder of Grace Music Studio, NY.
Superior Vocal Health Throat Spray