If you’re doing music professionally full-time, part-time, or even if you sing in public on a semi-regular basis… It is all but inevitable that there will come a time when you’re not feeling your best but you’d still have to put on a show anyway. Maybe that one really important gig or recital you’ve planned out for months is just a few days away and all of a sudden you’ve been hit with the flu/cold that’s going around town. The venue is ready, tickets have been sold, your musicians are ready, and you’ve told everyone and their mother to be there or be gone.You can’t cancel the show now so It’s time to swim or sink little fish, you’ve got to put on a show!
The first thing you have to do to get your voice back is to determine if your problem is due to illness or vocal fatigue. You can’t expect your voice to be in perfect shape if you’ve been practicing full voice for hours on end every day for the last few weeks. Likewise, if your issue is due to illness you’ll have to approach it differently depending on the illness itself and how far you’re into it.
Obviously nobody wants to be in this situation, and although it sometimes might be inevitable (flu or cold), there are steps you can take to lower the chances of losing your voice before a show. It all starts with taking care of your body on a daily basis. Start by eating well (nutritious food), hydrating as much as you can, and establishing a healthy sleeping routine to give your body the resources it needs to recover and grow stronger. If possible, steam your voice regularly to hydrate the vocal folds and help them with the recovery process. Steaming before and after each practice session or performance will keep your vocal folds hydrated and help them recover faster from the hard work you put them through.
Also, make sure you don’t go overboard with practice. You should give your best effort in each practice session, but it is not reasonable to practice the entire day full throttle without expecting some type of vocal damage. Give your body enough time to rest after each session and limit the amount of time you practice in full voice.
Lastly, practice CORRECT VOCAL TECHNIQUE. The only thing that’s worse than practicing for too long is to practice INCORRECT TECHNIQUES for too long. Make sure that all the hard work you’re putting in the practice room is actually beneficial to your voice. Your technique needs to be good so that your hard work doesn’t backfire and damage your voice all because you’ve been practicing something the wrong way. Plus, good technique will get the most out of your voice anyway so there’s absolutely no reason why this shouldn’t be at the top of your list of priorities. (click here to start learning with The Four Pillars of Singing)
PRIOR TO THE GIG
But what happens if you already went past the prevention point? You either overdid it in practice or came down with a cold and now you’re trying to figure out how to get your voice back in shape for your next gig or recital. The first thing you need to realize is that If you do come down with a cold or you lose your voice right before a gig due to vocal fatigue, your body is telling you it needs time to recover.
Your vocal folds swell up which makes them more susceptible to further vocal damage and it also makes it more difficult for you to be precise with your voice (A.K.A… it makes it hard to sing). For this, the worst thing you can do is keep practicing and pushing your voice. Give it some time to rest and use natural remedies like warm ginger tea, lemon juice, and honey to hydrate and help decrease the swelling.
Be proactive with your vocal rest. Use this quiet time to work on the aspects of your performance that don’t require you to sing your heart out. Work on memorizing your lyrics, your stage presence, or even go through the songs without actually singing them out loud (think of it as playing air guitar but for singing). Preservation is the name of the game at this point so If you must sing right before your gig, don’t sing full voice so as to preserve your voice as much as you can for the real deal.
MINDFUL WARM UP
Because of the swelling, it will take you much longer than usual to warm up for the performance. To get your voice back, do decompressing exercises like buzzing, lip-trills, or easy sirens throughout the day of the performance (maybe 5-10 mins every few hours or so). This should help you decrease the swelling to get your voice back and ready for the show. Remember, don’t over do it! You’re trying to rehabilitate your voice from swelling and vocal fatigue, not create even more of it.
DURING THE PERFORMANCE
After all of this the only thing left is to go up on stage and do the best you can! Think positive thoughts and enjoy the show as much as possible. Remember, there’s always another day. It might not be the most vocally gifted performance you give, but make sure you enjoy being up on stage because that’s the whole point of singing anyway.