Singing with a Cold or Sore Throat

A cup of chamomile tea might help.

We’ve all been there. There’s a gig that you’ve been looking forward to for months and now that the day is approaching, a cold has got you firmly in its grasp. The result: your throat is sore and your voice is all but gone.

Now, if you were a guitar player, you’d still be able to deliver a decent show. As a vocalist, however, a sore throat can be a major, performance-threatening condition. While there is no sure-fire way of fixing your voice, here’s a few tips that have helped me in the past:

#1 Drink a lot of water and tea

I know this is a no-brainer, but watching your fluid intake is the single most important step you can do to help cure your voice. Your go-to drink should be non-carbonated room-temperature water. Warm (not hot!) herbal teas with a bit of honey and lemon also can have positive effects on your voice, but expect no instant remedy.

#2 Rest your voice

A cold puts a lot of strain on your voice. Talking and singing excessively will only make the situation worse. Your voice can only recover if it isn’t put under stress, so give it a lot of rest. If possible, stop talking altogether. Carry a notebook around to answer simple questions.

#3 Warm up properly

While you shouldn’t talk or sing more than necessary, warming your voice up properly is absolutely mandatory. Take extra time for your vocal warm-up routine. Start very small, then gradually increase exercises in scope and demand. Stop if you feel pain or discomfort and never over-exercise.

#4 Inhale with chamomile tea

At the day of your gig, do a chamomile tea steam inhalation. For that, pour boiling water into a bowl, then add chamomile tea (or chamomile concentrate from the pharmacy). Put your face over the bowl and a towel over your head, and inhale the steam for a few minutes.

This is another great way to lubricate your vocal cords. If you can, do another one of these inhalations at the venue after sound-checking and before your performance.

#5 Avoid alcohol or caffeine

Most vocalists know that alcohol and caffeine are a singer’s enemy. This is especially true if you’re in the middle of a cold. Even if you’re a coffee addict or a few beer belong to your pre-gig-routine, you should make any exception when you’re sick.

#6 Avoid air conditioning and heating

While air conditioners and heaters might make the room temperature more bearable, they also remove humidity from the air. This dry air isn’t exactly good for your voice. Humidifiers aren’t very expensive and can help with this problem.

If you’re on the road and don’t have access to a humidifier, breathe through your nose rather your mouth. Be sure to keep your voice lubricated at all times (see #1)

#7 Cancel the show

If your voice fails to recover even after you followed all these tips, you should seriously consider cancelling the show. Ask yourself two questions:

  1. Are you going to deliver a performance that sheds a positive light on you and your band or are you going to dissatisfy your fans?
  2. Is the gig really worth putting the health of your voice at risk?

If you answer both questions with no, then you should cancel. There’s always the middle ground of playing a reduced set, getting a replacement vocalist or playing (depending on the setup of the band) a (largely) instrumental set.

Vocalists: What tricks have helped you in the past? Please comment!

Credits: ‘Chamomile Tea’ photo by condesign