When a singer gets sick; 3 things you should never do

As I write this we’re in the middle of one of the worst flu seasons ever, according to the experts.  But it takes much less than that to negatively impact the average’s singer’s voice. In fact something as simple as a common cold has been known to cause some singers to completely lose their voice for a period of time.  When you’re not feeling well and you notice it’s affecting your ability to sing, that means your vocal cords are probably suffering some inflammation and irritation. Unfortunately, most of the things singers immediately do when their voice starts to suffer from an illness will actually make the situation worse. So today I’m going to list 3 things almost all singers do when they get sick and why you should avoid doing them. Before we continue, these tips assume one of two things;

1. You’re starting to get sick and it’s affecting your ability to sing. However it’s not bad enough yet for you to be bed-ridden.  2. You’re just starting to get over being sick and now you’re trying to get your voice back into shape. A singer who finds himself in either one of those scenarios should never do the following:


1. Keep singing.

Yes, I know. The show must go on. You don’t want to seem unprofessional. You’re gonna let everyone down. I get it.  But here’s the thing. When your vocal cords are irritated and inflamed they don’t function correctly. Inflammation can cause them to get stiff and not close properly. So any kind of additional stress you add to the mix actually makes it worse and increases your chances of losing even more of your voice. It’s better to simply cancel your engagement or church performance. Trust me, you’d rather deal with a few people inconvenienced or disappointed rather than deal with some long term complications with your voice.

2. Drink tea with honey and lemon

Say WHAT?? Yes, one of the most common, popular home remedies for making a voice better is actually a myth. Here’s why. Both tea and lemon are very acid foods. Acid is NOT what you want to be eating if you’re trying to nurse your voice back to health. While it’s true that nothing you eat or drink will come in direct contact with your vocal cords, acid foods can cause acid re-flux  You’ll forgive me if I don’t graphically explain all the nastiness that happens there, I hope. Suffice it to say though that there’s a lot of acid in your stomach, as you can imagine. When acid re-flux happens that acid comes up and….ok. I said I wasn’t going to describe that, didn’t I? The honey is ok though. There, I threw in some good news for you. :O)

3. Drink “hot toddy” -type drinks or medications high in alcohol. 

A Hot Toddy may feel mighty good going down, but pretty-much all of it’s ingredients are bad for your voice when you’re trying to get it back to health. Since they’re often made with tea and lemon or oranges, they’re full of acidic foods. We’ve already discussed why you want to avoid those when you’re sick or recovering and trying to get your voice in shape. Alcohol dehydrates. This is very important to know when you understand how important moisture and lubrication is to the proper, safe function of your vocal cords. If they’re already inflamed and irritated they’re stiff and not vibrating properly. Add dehydration to the mix and you have a recipe for some serious damage.

The most important thing to remember as a singer is that you  MUST keep your vocal cords moist and lubricated. That said, the most  effective thing you can do for your voice is drink lots of water.  Water keeps your whole body hydrated. Breathing steam, using a humidifier and the old-fashioned “lean over a pot of boiling water with a towel over your head” are all good ways to get your voice back into shape after a bout of the cooties. Ultimately though it’s far better to do whatever you can to avoid getting sick in the first place. It can be hard to do, but most people could avoid it by simply washing their hands more often. Certainly at key times like before a meal, after a trip to the bathroom, before you touch your face after touching public services or coming in contact with people.

The good news there is that ordinary soap and water does the trick just fine. No need to buy special anti-bacterial soap. The only advantage of hand sanitizers is the fact that they can be used when soap and water isn’t around. But they don’t work any better than ordinary soap and water. As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. But if you do get sick, taking a few extra precautions to protect your voice will get you back to 100% much faster.

Image courtesy of graur razvan ionut”FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Why are many Gospel singers over-weight? (hint: it ain’t because it makes them sing better)

Let me start right off the bat by saying that I’ve spent more of my adult life over-weight than anywhere near something “sexy” or even average. And I’m never more than a few hamburgers away from being right back there again. Many of the people I love most struggle with weight. So this is not some derogatory  demeaning, insensitive blog meant to simply poke fun at larger-sized people. There but by the grace of God go I.  Let me tell you what prompted this article. It was something I saw quoted in an interview article. It was said by the owner of one of the top vocal training studios here in the area.

I won’t mention the name of this company, but they have a stellar reputation here in the Dallas Ft. Worth area. The company is a full service provider of not only vocal training but the full ride. Everything you need from artist development performance, grooming, demos, you name it.  What she said in this interview blew my mind. She was talking about the requirements of working with her company, spelling out what she’s learned over the years to be the must-have attributes anyone who hopes to make it in the music business must possess.

She began breaking it down into various genres of music and the importance of appearance to be successful in those genres. That’s when it got interesting. If you’ll allow me to paraphrase here, what she said was that if you have any hope at all of making it in the pop music world you have to be in great shape physically. She went on to say that this is so critical to success in this genre that she won’t even accept someone over-weight who wants to sing pop, no matter how good they are. But then she began to compare that to the acceptable norm in Gospel music. In Gospel music, she said, being overweight is almost a requirement. In fact, she added, she won’t  accept a Gospel singer who isn’t over-weight. Yes, you read that right.

No matter how you feel about what she said, it’s hard to deny that over-weight singers are far more common in Gospel music than any other genre except one.  Classical/Opera.  People have been asking, debating, researching and puzzling for years over the propensity of Opera singers to be over-weight. All kinds of theories have been offered to explain it.  And all of it, centering around the question of whether or not being over-weight helps Classical vocalists sing better. Ask Google this question and you’ll get hundreds of results. Experts, vocal coaches, doctors, all weighing in (no pun intended). But all debate aside, the general feeling you’ll come way with is that whether or not it actually does, most classical singers are overweight because they believe it gives them some advantage vocally. History of the genre plays a role there too.

But ask Google why are most Gospel singers overweight  and you’ll get almost nothing back. You may pull up blogs like mine here, but your results certainly won’t include any experts debating about whether or not there there is any real advantage for Gospel singers to being overweight. Why? I suspect it’s because nobody really believes that any overweight person, group or ensemble singing Gospel is overweight because they think  it helps their singing in any way. No, I’m afraid the answer isn’t that deep. Listen, family. The truth is we as a people simply have a history of not eating very healthy- and not really caring much about it’s effects on our well-being. And over the years not only has our diet gotten worse, our lifestyles have become more and more sedentary thanks to modern technology and conveniences.

When you look at the number of successful Gospel artists who are overweight, you realize that obesity is an epidemic in our culture. That would be bad enough if most of us weren’t believers.  But our knowledge of the word and our tendency to use it  to judge other people makes it worse. We’re so quick to take others to task for what they’re doing to their bodies, aren’t we? We love to quote that scripture in 1 Cor. 16; 9 about how your body is God’s temple. We use it to preach against sex. Drugs. Alcohol. Smoking. Tattoos.  The “COGIC” people like to use it to condemn the “Baptist” people for smoking; right before we head over to the nearest after-church gathering spot to partake of all kinds of fattening, fried, gravy-laden foods until we can barely drive ourselves home.

Do you see the irony here? The hypocrisy? We’ll pretty-much attach any vice we want to preach against to that scripture as a sure-fire way to biblically lam-bast someone for doing it; everything that is, but gluttony. Yet a recent Google search I did using “scriptures about gluttony” pulled up more than 160 scriptures related to it.; including the one we like to quote for everything else.

Look, I didn’t write this blog to preach at anybody. I really wrote it to point out two things. Number one. Being over-weight doesn’t help your singing at all. In fact it make singing harder. But that’s a subject for another blog. Number two. We need to take better of ourselves as a people.  A quote from the studio owner like the one I posted at the top of this article conjures up so many different emotions for me. I could get mad, but at whom?  Is her statement unfair? Is it based on something she”s making up? Some unfair stereo-type? Or is it it based on something she’s seen over and over?

Look, guys. We as a people and family of believers have GOT to start taking better care of ourselves this year. We need to start caring about what we eat. Get some activity in our lives. Go to the doctor more. We need to get real honest about the fact that when we don’t care what we put into our bodies or how we treat them, we are violating our temples on the same level as any smoker or drug addict. If you don’t think so, try to stop eating fattening food for one week. Most wouldn’t make it a couple of days, let alone one week. Why? Because we’re addicted to it. Most of us would rather knowingly consume things we know are bad for us than give up the joy and comfort we get from consuming them. I have a hard time seeing the difference between that and any drug.

I’ve been trying to be healthier overall for years now. Even if it’s just eating it less often, or eating smaller portions. All my siblings are juicing now. My mom is in on it too. There is never a better time than the beginning of a new year to start trying to be healthier. At no other time will you find it easier to find support and others who are trying to do the same thing. There’s a move of God going on around the world, family.  And I for one, want to be sure I’m healthy enough to be used of God.

Vocal health for the holidays

The Christmas season is upon us, and with it comes all the usual things we think about this time of year. Lots more visiting, lots more shopping, running around- and for us, a lot more singing. So this time, maybe a little more-so than other times of the year, we really need to be a bit more aware of how we’re treating our voices. Here are some simple things to be mindful of this time of year.

1. Stay Healthy!

You can’t sing at your best if you’re sick, so job one for the busy singer is do as much as possible to stay healthy. Believe it or not the number one way to avoid getting sick is frequent hand-washing. Most of the “stuff” we end up with happens because we touched something with someone’s germs on it – a hand-rail, a door-knob, a phone- and then touched our face for some reason. Washing your hands often and/or keeping a bottle of hand sanitizer with you can go a long way towards keeping you crud-free.

In addition to that though, it’s just a good idea to do the normal things many of us overlook or just plain avoid. Like getting the Flu shot every year, bundling up well, staying dry and making sure we get important vitamins our immune system needs to work at it’s best.

2. Drink water!

It’s very important for everyone to drink water on a regular basis, but it’s even more important for a singer for a lot of obvious reasons. But here’s probably the most important reason this time of year. Usually most of us will get some kind of head cold despite our best efforts. When all that phlegm starts draining, it can sit in your throat and on your vocal cords, hindering your ability to sing at your best. Drinking water on a regular basis keeps phlegm thinner so it drains off your cords easier and there’s less build-up.

3. Watch what, when and how much you eat!

This time of year there is always an abundance of food.  And many of those foods can cause swelling or inflamation, even irritation of the vocal cords. Dairy products, for example, actually creates a lot of phlegm in the body and, for many singers,  should be avoided altogether for at least a day before a singing engagement. Other common holiday foods like sugar and pretty-much all white processed foods can cause problems for singers. The key is to eat everything in moderation.

NEVER eat a really big meal within two hours of a singing engagement. In addition to the extra bloating and weight it places on your stomach and diaphragm (which makes it harder for you to breathe properly for singing) eating a big meal before singing will make you tired, less alert and just more lethargic overall. That’s because after a big meal most of your body’s energy is being diverted to the task of digesting the food.

4. Warm up!

We know how important warming up is for singers (even though most of us still don’t do it), but when the weather turns cold it becomes even more important. Just like all the other muscles in your body, your vocal cords don’t work as good when they’re cold. Take some extra time before a holiday engagement and get your voice good and warmed up before singing.  You’ll be glad you did.

The key to vocal health during the holidays really isn’t much different than the rest of the year when you think about it. It”s not about living a life of deprivation by any stretch. It’s really more about simply doing things a little smarter, with a little more thought and with a little more moderation around those times when you have singing engagements planned. Of course, the most important thing you can do to keep your voice healthy all year round is to training it by taking vocal lessons! Get started with my free 5 day course below.

Image courtesy of magerymajestic FreeDigitalPhotos.net