How to Sing With a Cold

Three Methods:Singing While Sick Without Making Matters WorseDeciding If You Should Sing With a ColdPreparing to Sing With A Cold

A cold is a viral infection that causes discomfort in the nose and throat, congestion, sneezing, and fatigue.[1] There's no fast cure for a cold, and the symptoms sometimes linger for over a week. For a singer, this can present major problems, as a cold makes it difficult to sing well. In most cases, it's best to avoid singing with a cold. In some instances though, you might be under pressure to sing. For example, you might have a major performance or audition coming up. In situations like this, it may be necessary to sing with a cold.

Method 1
Singing While Sick Without Making Matters Worse

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    Sing more quietly. Once you are at your performance, there are several things you can do to protect your voice. The first is to sing more quietly than you might normally.[2]
    • Singing more quietly may help preserve your voice for the the duration of the performance, and avoid strain.
    • If you are singing with a microphone, ask to turn up the PA system so your voice will be more amplified. This will make you easier to hear and hopefully reduce the temptation to strain your voice to achieve your normal volume.[3]
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    Reduce physical effort by staying still when you sing. Depending on the type of singing you're doing, the performance can be a very physical process. Try to reduce physical effort to conserve energy.[4]
    • If you are a rock singer, for example, you may be accustomed to jumping around, dancing, and so on, as part of your performance. Try to keep these activities to a minimum and focus on making it through the performance.
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    Stay hydrated. Right before and during your performance, drink lots of water.[5] Drink a tall glass before you play, and take a bottle or two on stage with you. This can help keep your energy levels up and your vocal cords lubricated.
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    Change the notes. It's a good idea to go in to the performance with a "plan b" for some of the notes you would normally sing. High notes in particular may simply be outside your range right now.[6]
    • Think about whether you could sing those notes an octave lower, or sing a different note in the same key that won't sound too far off the mark. You just won't be able to cover the same range you normally would, so it's better to have an alternative in mind than to strain for notes you can't reach.
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    Keep it short. If possible, keep the performance short. If you have control over this, reduce the number of songs you'll be singing, dropping out the particularly difficult ones.[7]
    • Planning to do an encore? Consider just doing one more song, instead of the two or three you had planned.
    • In an audition or chorale performance, you may not have much control over this, but if you do, make the most of it.
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    Rest, hydrate, and steam afterwards. After the performance is over, drink water, use your humidifier, and get plenty of rest. Your vocal cords will now need time to recover from the ordeal of the performance.[8]

Method 2
Deciding If You Should Sing With a Cold

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    Consider the symptoms. The excess mucous and inflammation that result from a cold will make singing uncomfortable.[9] So, if it isn't important to to sing, it may not be worth it.
    • Colds can also cause headaches and sinus pressure.[10] You can alleviate these somewhat with medication, but singing is still not likely to be a lot of fun.
    • Performing when your body is ill denies it the rest it needs to recover. You may be prolonging your illness by deciding to sing.[11]
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    Contemplate how your performance will be affected. Regardless of whether you feel personally up to singing, another important question to consider is whether your cold will ruin your performance. Sometimes a bad performance is worse than none.
    • When you have a cold, excess mucous can drip onto your vocal cords. This can distort or muffle your singing, as the vibrations produced by your vocal cords will be affected.[12]
    • A cold can also cause a sore throat, or pharyngitis. The pharynx is essentially the resonating system for your voice, and inflammation can make it difficult to stretch the tissue as necessary to produce the desired sounds.
    • In rare instances, the inflammation from a cold can move down into the larynx, causing laryngitis. Laryngitis can result in a temporary alteration or loss of one's voice. If this occurs, there is usually no point in trying to sing.[13]
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    Think about the possibility of vocal cord damage. Although rare, it is possible for singing with a cold to harm the vocal cords. This is especially true among singers who lack formal training.[14]
    • Prolonged singing when your voice is strained (as it can be with a cold) can produce vocal nodules, or callouses on the vocal cords.[15] If this occurs, you will need a prolonged vocal rest (or, in an extreme case, surgery) to regain your singing ability. This isn't common, but it's a possibility to consider.
    • If you are experiencing severe vocal cord swelling or hemorrhage, do not sing under any circumstances.[16] Seek immediate medical attention.
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    Weigh the importance of the performance. Ultimately, in deciding whether or not to sing, you'll need to make your own decision about whether these discomforts and risks outweigh the importance of the performance.
    • If it's a very important performance and you think you can carry it off, it might be worth going ahead.[17]
    • Sometimes cancelling a performance is the professional choice. Losing your voice or fainting on stage are probably worse than not performing at all.[18]

Method 3
Preparing to Sing With A Cold

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    Get plenty of sleep. If you decide to go ahead with the performance, there are things you can do to minimize the effects of the cold. Getting enough sleep is important for anyone recovering from a cold.
    • For singers, inadequate sleep sometimes causes notes to come out a little flat.[19]
    • Sleeping with an extra pillow can help the excess mucous drain better, rather than accumulating in your throat.
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    Drink lots of water. Drinking plenty of water is important for anyone trying to get over a cold. For a singer, it's especially important, as staying hydrated is important for your vocal quality. If you're feeling really dried out, as much as a gallon per day is appropriate[20]
    • Drink water at room temperature. Drinking very cold water can make it harder for the muscles in your throat to function as they should,[21] so definitely don't add ice![22]
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    Drink warm tea. Prepare warm (not scalding hot) herbal tea with lemon and honey. The honey will coat your throat, preventing damage to your voice.[23]
    • Licorice and slippery elm tea, along with honey, are particularly soothing to an inflamed throat.[24]
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    Humidify your environment. Humidifying the air can also help your vocal cords, as you will be breathing in moisture. Run a humidifier while you sleep during the nights prior to the performance.[25]
    • If you don't have a humidifier, close yourself in the bathroom with the shower running. The warm steam from your shower will have the same effect.
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    Take vitamin C. Vitamin C is a natural immune system booster. Take plenty in the days leading up to your performance.[26]
    • Vitamin C is found in fruits like oranges and pineapples, and can also be taken as a vitamin supplement.
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    Eat plenty of garlic. Many singers also believe that eating garlic can help combat a cold.[27] Indeed, garlic is a great immune system booster, rich in sulfuric compounds that can kill bacteria and other infections, and is also a great source of potassium.[28]
    • Garlic is found in many foods and can also can be taken a supplement, but some singers believe that eating cloves of raw garlic is most helpful.[29] Doctors agree! Raw garlic is most beneficial for the immune system.[30]
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    Consider medication. Some cold medications may dry out your throat, making the situation worse rather than better.[31] Choose the medicine that's right for you.
    • Decongestants help eliminate excess mucous, but also dry out your nose and throat. They can leave your vocal cords feeling rough or tired very quickly once you start singing. If you use decongestants, make sure to drink a lot of water![32]
    • Numbing sprays and lozenges can provide immediate relief for a sore throat, but they also make it harder to tell if you might be straining your vocal cords, making damage more likely.[33]
    • Many medications contain alcohol. While this can make you feel better, it can also dry you out and even lead to more mucous production. It is best to stay away from such medications (and alcohol in general) before singing.[34]
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    Rest your voice. In the days before your performance, use your voice as little as possible.[35] This will help your voice recover.
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    Warm up, if desired. Some singers who will be performing with a cold choose to rest their voices as long as possible, especially if they have a cough. Others choose to do some light warmups, such as the following:[36]
    • Early on in the day, warm up your voice without singing. Try some light humming. Or, just practice talking in different pitches, using resonant words like "yeah" or "myah."[37]
    • If your voice cracks or starts to feel strained, stop and resume your vocal rest.


  • If not singing is an option, it's usually the best option. For a singer, it can take as long as two to three weeks to fully regain abilities after a cold.[38] Forcing yourself to sing will only make recovery take longer.
  • Don't sing too much at a time, and allow 5-10 minutes between songs if you can to let your voice recuperate. If you sing too much when you're sick then it can delay your voice getting better!


  • If you have a cough that persists for more than seven days, seek medical attention. This could be a sign of a more serious problem.[39]

Sources and Citations

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Categories: Singing | Colds and Viruses