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It's a Muscle not a Miracle!


(aka how to get through to autumn without damaging your voice…)

My favourite saying to shout out in almost every class of mine these days is what the title of this piece is:

“It’s a muscle, not a miracle!” 

For reasons that we won’t go into today, there is a large group of performers – professional and amateur who insist on working on sore/swollen chords and stuffy noses. 

Well some of us are celebrating the change of season; in the past two weeks my students have been coming to class with plethora of sinus-related and sore throat ailments.  These include stuffy noses; stuffy noses with nothing coming out of them despite best tissue-blowing efforts, constant phlegm (taking residency at the back of the throat), and enough general dryness to sponsor a Savannah advert.  It also is cold – croup season and sore throats are everywhere.  A sore throat is a real Achilles Heel for vocalists and must be treated with the proper care required for any body part that has an infection.

Singing simply put, relies on your body’s (predominantly chest, face and head) resonance chambers to create sound.  Not using these resonance chambers causes bad singing technique and can damage vocal folds.  When these chambers are full of gunge/snot/phlegm sound doesn’t resonate and you sound ridiculous.  Now this is when you should stop singing and do something else.  But not performers…We’ll pop a strepsel or pump some andolex down our throats, blow our noses and belt out that show tune until our blocked ears convince us “it almost sounds right” - In the meantime exacerbating the problem and ending up with a very sore throat and a bad temper.

The first step when going through a “seasonal change-flu-distressing” time is to first be able to find out what kind of sore throat and accompanying sinus issues you are experiencing;

There are 4 major causes of a sore throat (simplified for us non-medical folks).

A viral infection: like the flu.

Sadly there is not much you can do if you have the flu.  But you can rest, watch your temperature and see a doctor.  What you don’t need to do is sing.  Your singing coach will thank you for not coming to class, because I imagine he/she doesn’t’ want your flu either.   Flu can then lead to croup and laryngitis and other illnesses that are horrid.  Best stay in bed with this one.

A bacterial infection such as strep throat, which is an inflammation of the throat caused by the “Streptococcus pyogenes” bacteria

Strep throats are really sore.  DO NOT GO TO SINGING! GO TO BED!

Environmental factors:

If you’re allergic to mould, pet hair, pollen, or other irritants, exposure to these allergens can trigger postnasal drip. This is when excess mucus accumulates in the back of your throat. This accumulation can irritate your throat and cause pain or inflammation.

If your phlegm is yellow or green – please don’t leave it.  Go see a doctor.  Colour usually implies infection.  Go to your local pharmacy and ask your pharmacist what they would recommend in helping you “dry up” that post nasal.  There are also tons of sinus tablets that help relieve sinus pain – chat to your doc and see which one he/she recommends.

Dry air can also make your throat feel raw and scratchy.

Best advice is to go and buy a humidifier.  Pop it on in your bed room at night.  It’s a simple thing to do and the benefits are SIGNIFICANT!


Acid reflux – with the following symptoms: a sore throat, hoarseness, heartburn and nausea. (See my previous blog “the A** word about acid reflux in much more detail and steps to help diminish symptoms.)

And last but not least: Tonsillitis:  The bane of many a vocal coach’s life!  If you still have your tonsils and often get tonsillitis, chat to your doc about getting them removed…It  constantly causes issues for singers and honestly is not worth it!

Naturally there are cases when you will have to sing when you are sick.  After all “the show must go on” but in these cases, medical attention is required and there are medications that can significantly help get you through those few shows. But they are at the advice of a medical doctor and your team (coach, choreographer, director, manager) should all be told what is happening so that you have full support at that time.

There are many other things that you can do to help yourself in staying fit and healthy, but the fact of the matter is that you cannot see your instrument – so you have to take extra care in how it feels and looking after it especially when it doesn’t feel well.  Sleep, steam, hydration and quietness make a great combination that can help your body work through its seasonal changes.  Like I stated earlier, please remember that you voice is a muscle…NOT a miracle! Treat is with some TLC and get back to singing as soon as you can.

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