Drinking tea can help lessen the effects of a cold and strengthen your voice. (Photo by Sophie Heinz)
Drinking tea can help lessen the effects of a cold and strengthen your voice. (Photo by Sophie Heinz)

Finding My Voice: Dealing with a singer’s worst nightmare

5 tricks voice majors use to combat sickness

October 30, 2019

(Photo courtesy Sophie Heinz)

It’s that time of year again, everybody. The leaves are changing, sweaters are coming out of the closet and cold season has arrived. Despite my best efforts, I got sick just this weekend. As a voice major, sickness affects everything in my day-to-day life because my body is my instrument. If I feel like garbage, my voice sounds just as bad. If cold symptoms continue to escalate, singers may even risk causing vocal damage when they sing. Over the years, I’ve picked up a few tricks to help combat the effects of illness. Nothing can truly cure a cold, but there are many remedies out there that can diminish its many inconveniences. Here is a list of suggestions from myself, as well as my other voice major friends for what effectively combats a cold:

  • Stay Hydrated: Water is absolutely essential in maintaining good health. It helps flush out viruses, toxins and germs in your body and keeps it functioning normally. Experts suggest drinking eight glasses of water a day in order to maintain our best health, so even if you ignore this regularly, you definitely want to make sure you’re drinking plenty of water when you are sick. Also, caffeine is your enemy if you need your voice because it can cause dryness in your mouth and throat. So the next time you’re sick, be prepared to say goodbye to your daily (or in my case, more than daily) Munchie Mart vanilla latte.


  • Try to keep your nose clear: There are many ways to ease a stuffy nose. I know a lot of singers who invest in steam inhalers which not only help clear out your nose but also help hydrate your throat. If you’re not looking for something so extra, nasal drops or over-the-counter decongestant drugs will also do the trick. Even with these methods, remember to keep your tissue box close. Blowing your nose is an effective way to get all that junk out.


  • Drink Tea: This one is very near and dear to my job as a singer. I panic the second I feel a cough come on because I know that means my vocal chords will be gone in a day. When this happens, I try to fight it by making my own throat coat recipe. I recommend using throat coat (a tea infusion with pre-made medicinal properties), but personally don’t like the taste. If you don’t like the taste either, I’ve found that there are many other teas that work just as well and taste much better (green tea, chamomile tea and peppermint tea, to name a few). The key is to stay away from caffeine, dairy and artificial sugar. This means no black tea because it’s caffeinated, no creamer because dairy creates mucus and no artificial sugars because this may weaken your immune system. My go-to tea to soothe a sore throat is chamomile. If you really need an extra boost, I suggest adding a few drops of lemon juice because this helps break down the mucus in your throat and it’s full of Vitamin C which is great for your immune system. I also like to add half a spoonful of raw honey to my drink because of its antibacterial properties, ability to reduce inflammation and ability to coat your throat to relieve pain. 


  • Take some vitamins: Vitamin C supplements will certainly help a cold. I’ve personally never used Vitamin C supplements, but I have friends who swear by Emergen-C. Vitamin C supplements such as this have been proven to boost your immune system and energy.


  • Sleep: This one is most important. Having a cold is exhausting, so you need ample sleep to help speed up your recovery and help you feel better. Sleep in if you need to. The world will keep spinning and you’ll be fine, I promise.


For me, having a cold temporarily steals what I love to do most in the world: sing. In 1966, Gay Talese wrote an article in Esquire about Frank Sinatra, illuminating the impact sickness had on Sinatra’s psyche, stating that “the common cold robs Sinatra of that uninsurable jewel, his voice, cutting into the core of his confidence.” While I am certainly no Sinatra, I can empathize; having a cold robs me of my ability to do what I love, and depending on the timing it can even sabotage crucial performances or auditions. Getting sick can make any student’s life more stressful. These are the tricks I use to help myself get back into shape when I’m feeling under the weather. However, the most important thing you can do is to try to take care of yourself on a daily basis and avoid getting a cold in the first place.

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