Winter is known to be the time of year when everyone gets ill - while inconvenient for most, for a singer it can be the difference between being able to perform and/or teach, and having to let people down and cancel.
As a teacher, I teach all of my students in their singing lessons how best to protect their voices all year round, but particularly in the cold weather. Here are my top tips for your best chances of seeing winter through cold-free:
1. Stay Away From Germs!
While it is impossible to steer clear of all germs, there are a few steps you can take to ensure you are not so exposed to them. Washing your hands regularly while at home and carrying a hand sanitiser with you can help prevent carrying bacteria around, as well as making a conscious effort not to touch your face or mouth.
Prioritise the cleanliness of yourself whilst also asking others to respect that illnesses can spread airborne just as easily. Do not be afraid to ask a student/colleague to inform you that they are sick, or have appropriate sickness cancellation policies in place, and do your best to avoid being in contact for prolonged periods with those who are unwell.
2. Stay Hydrated.
The air is a lot colder in winter, which also makes it a lot drier. This in turn can dry out our vocal cords and make it more taxing on the voice in practice and performance. Drink lots of water - it is not enough to have a big drink before or while you sing, you need to be constantly hydrated throughout the day, week, month and year. When the vocal cords are hydrated, they are more flexible and free, which is when we can get the best out of our voices. If they are dehydrated, you will feel how much more difficult it is to sing - consider the negative impact that will be having on your tiny, delicate vocal cords.
To further lubricate your vocal cords, you could consider using a steamer or humidifier, or a steamy shower will do the trick. Warm drinks are also good, but be aware that caffeinated drinks will dry your voice out. Opt for herbal teas and even hot water - it’s not as gross as it sounds!
3. Eat Well, Exercise & Sleep.
While we all know the three above steps are crucial for a healthy lifestyle, they are particularly important during the winter to ensure that our immune systems are as strong as possible. Consider taking multivitamins if you do not already - Vitamin C tablets containing Zinc will help support your immune system, as well as a good multivitamin that covers all basis. Get your body moving in any capacity several times through the week to ensure you are maintaining good cardiovascular fitness, which will also improve your stamina and breathing in your singing practice. Make sure you are receiving plenty of nutrients from your diet and resting appropriately each night (who doesn’t love an excuse for a lay in?!).
4. Wrap Up!
We lose a lot of heat through our heads, so try and wear a scarf and hat when braving the cold weather to ensure you retain as much body heat as possible. Body heat is needed for your body to carry out its daily workings, including sustaining your immune system, so don’t give it a hard time!
5. Warm Up Gently.
Take a little longer over your warm ups in the winter months to compensate for everything being a little more delicate. Start with gentle humming scales, taking your time and ensuring that your voice is properly warmed up before moving on to work on repertoire.
6. Listen to Your Voice.
If your voice hurts in any capacity, do not ignore it. You may do yourself more harm than good by working through the pain. Allow yourself time to rest and recover adequately. There are always times where we will feel that we do not have the option to not practice, or cancel an upcoming singing commitment, but try to consider the longterm impact that working through a damaged voice could do - is that one commitment really worth more than the potential serious, longterm damage that you could cause yourself? The vocal cords are tiny and delicate and will not respond happily to use when they are not well - take care of them!
7. Find Alternatives.
If you have been unfortunate enough to catch a cold, and are following correct rest procedures (water, sleep, good nutrition, vocal rest!) you can still find ways to benefit your singing that do not require you to actually sing:
Research your favourite singer/composer: what other songs have they done that you would like to tackle when you are better? Research the anatomy of your voice: the more you know about what is going on inside of your body when you sing, the easier it will be for you to make adjustments to your technique and overall sound. Study other singers: It is always good to see how the professionals put across their songs, and something we often neglect to make time for. Take some time to go through performance videos of your favourite singers performing songs you love, learn from how they put across their phrasing and performance. Make sure you are watching and listening to reputable performers. Study language: If you sing in other languages, take some time to watch videos on correct pronunciations, learn some vocabulary, study some grammar - these are all helpful in the long run when it comes to putting across a convincing performance. Consider your next goal: take some time to look through an exam syllabus, contact local churches and singing organisations in your area to see if you could perform with them. There are more performing opportunities around us than we often realise, it can just taking some research to find them and contact the right people.
8. Straw Phonation.
Once you are well on the way to recovery, give Straw Phonation a go. This will gently warm your cords back up without rushing back into things. After a gentle warm up, have a go at gliding and sirening through a straw, starting in your lower register and gradually increasing the pitch. Straw phonation is also fantastic for reducing tension and strain in the voice, and helping to find correct placement if you have not sung for a while. This is a form of SOVT work (semi-occluded vocal tract exercises) which are fantastic for easing your voice back before singing in full voice!
While these steps will not guarantee that you will avoid coughs and colds this winter, they will certainly improve your chances. Winter is a difficult time for performers, so trust in the fact that you are not alone in trying to preserve your voice, and remember summer is around the corner!
If you would like to arrange a lesson with me, please get in touch.