When Am I Too Sick to Sing?

Human brains love to have patterns, formulae, methods for working stuff out.   We search for reliable ways of making decisions for our own welfare and to enable us to live the life in front of us.  But the patterns around our health can often be elusive and ambiguous – not the black and white processes we’d prefer to rely upon.

For singers, our physical health is a priceless asset.  Without it, our art is compromised at best, and silenced at worst.  It is our job to tease out the half-truths from the facts about when it is safe to sing and what remedies can reduce symptoms or shorten the life of a virus.

How can you decide whether it’s safe to sing or not?

In consultation with a general practitioner who is also a singer, the following thoughts have been compiled to help your decision-making and introduce you to fact-based filtering of the advice that comes your way. I hope to empower you to:

Whether it is hayfever, colds and flus, or being overworked and stressed that is ailing you, common sense should apply to your singing. No matter what other people say, you need to know how your body behaves when it is unwell, and what restores it to good working order.

Be a scientist

Next time you are unwell, try keeping a journal or note in your phone to gather data about yourself. If possible, repeat the journalling exercise over the course of a year, and compare your reflections on each illness to produce a bigger picture. Notice:

When am I too sick to practice?

Top tip:

A great way to decide whether to sing or not is to run through your warm-up routine. A good warm-up can help thin out mucus and stimulate energising brain activity. You may realise that you do actually have enough energy or that your voice is clearer after some lip trilling.

On the other hand, it may confirm that you are too sick to sing and enable you to choose to rest.

When am I too sick to attend a rehearsal or lesson?


What can I do to get better?

Top Tip: 

Support your speaking voice with good vocal habits (especially breath support and bright resonance).

NEVER whisper, half-talk or try to ‘protect’ your voice – you’re either well enough to vocalise securely, or you should be resting the voice completely.

Symptoms I can still sing with:

Broadly speaking, a singer can learn to sing with mild symptoms that impair your breathing, vocal tone or capacity to resonate. It is a skill that should be learned as part of your vocal training. With suitable coaching and experience, a vocalist can learn to manage the following symptoms:

What’s next?

These lists are just a starting point to consider your health and your voice in a new way. In the next blog, you will learn a range of vocal ‘tests’ that can help you to assess your vocal capacity in the face of mild symptoms.

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Communication with Dr Bethan McDonald

Tipsheet “Healthy Voice Habits” by Margaret Jacobs, Speech Pathologist

LeBorgne, W. D. & Rosenberg, M. (2014). The Vocal Athlete.Plural Publishing, San Diego.

Wilson, P. W. (2013).  The Singing Voice: An Owner’s Manual (Second Ed.)  Lazy O’Rhinus Press, Sydney. 

Photo by Hernan Sanchez on Unsplash

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