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To Sing, or Not to Sing: The Sore Throat Dilemma

May 23, 2018

teaNo matter how much preventative care you commit to, sometimes your body just doesn’t listen. So what should you do if you start feeling under the weather, but you’ve got a huge performance coming up?  Is it OK to be singing with a sore throat? Take a look at these pointers from Dallas teacher Carol D.:


The TakeLessons blog has tackled vocal health before, a lot of which involves heading off the nuisances that cause problems like a sore throat and hoarseness. However, sometimes colds, allergies and sinus infections come at the most inopportune times anyway.

When that happens, what should do you do? Do you cancel the gig? Do you power through it? Do you hope that by the time the gig comes up it will work itself out? Your decision-making process as to whether you should perform or not will depend on the magnitude of your sore throat (i.e., Is it mild? Does it hurt to swallow? If the latter, then definitely do not sing!).

I remember a time one December, where a cold crept in – despite what I knew to be true about preventative maintenance – because I had been stressed and not getting enough sleep or water. A performance was coming up, and I couldn’t hide behind a choir or even blend in with backup singers because I was the soloist.

When I could not find a replacement, I figured the worst-case scenario would be that my particular song just wouldn’t get sung at the concert. But my voice, while not at the top of its game, was still audible and still present. So after my initial panic, I started to meditate with the same diaphragmatic breathing I do when I warm up and when I sing. After getting centered, I followed my intuition and tapped into the advice I’d been given in the past:

– I rinsed with warm salt water several times throughout those couple of days.
– I drank lots of Throat Coat and lemon ginger tea.
– I avoided antihistamines despite my strong desire to ease my congestion, because they dry out the throat as well as your nose.
– I rested my voice when possible, and never whispered. Interestingly enough, whispering is worse on your vocal folds than trying to speak audibly when you have a sore throat or are bordering on laryngitis (and especially if you have full-blown laryngitis).

I also did a vocal test in the most comfortable part of my range to see if it was worth it to go forward. This involved slides up and down the scales (the musical term is a glissando), as well as vocalizing intervals on vowels (i.e., “Ee,” “Ah,” and “Oo”) and words (i.e.,“Yummy Yummy Yummy Yummy Yuhhhhm”). It still felt easy instead of strained, so I took it as a good indicator that it might be safe to sing. To play it safe, though, I went back to vocal rest and then back to the exercises again an hour or so later.

Fortunately, I was able to do the performance, and I performed it well according to the feedback I got. But in hindsight, I probably could have – perhaps, should have gone to the doctor and got myself checked out. But it’s all a learning experience! If you find yourself in a similar dilemma, take care not to overuse your voice. There’s not a black and white answer for if you should be singing with a sore throat. With experience, you’ll learn how to tell when you should rest, and how to make that tough decision before a performance.

Carol D.Carol D. teaches music performance and singing lessons in Dallas, TX.  Her specialties include gospel, pop, R&B, choral, and jazz styles.  Carol joined the TakeLessons team in July 2012. Sign up for lessons with Carol, or search the TakeLessons teacher roster for an instructor near you!



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Photo by Eduardo Mueses.


Suzy S.