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With a Cold"
(Better yet, how to avoid one in the first place)
by Mark Baxter
and show biz don't mix.
winds and piles of snow keep potential audiences
at home and make things difficult for load-ins.
Then theres the additional burden of protecting
your voice while everyone around is coughing and
sneezing. As a singer, you cant afford to
succumb to the average two colds a year. Even if
youre 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 bands 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, its
germs 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.
winter 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 dont want to discourage
anyone from becoming healthier, merely suggesting
a gradual change if youve decided to clean
up as a New Years 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. Thats 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. Its important to remember
that stress is 100 percent internal, and is always
reduced by saying the word, -no.- So, for your voices
sake, open up your schedule -- and chill.
know its 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 youre in demand. There is no remedy
as effective as prevention. Im sure your mother
already told you most of these things, but that
was so you wouldnt miss school. Im telling
you so you wont miss a gig. Big difference.
now lets pretend that, despite your best efforts,
youve 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 Daniels? The answer is yes,
but they arent nearly as much fun. To minimize
the effect a cold has on the voice youve 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
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
youre not into juices, take supplements. The
water-based vitamins like C and B complex are the
first to be depleted when youre fighting a
cold. Unfortunately, a Mountain-Dew slushy has no
vitamins, but does give a great brain freeze.
important 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, youve 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, youve
got to vocalize (warm up).
volume, barely audible, humming is a great way to
start. Let your larynx choose the pitches. Its
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, its not what
youre singing to warm up, its how.
as much as you can during the days leading up to
your performance, even if that means skipping rehearsals.
But, on gig day, dont 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, youre 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