Cold Weather Tips for Singers

Cold Weather Tips for Singers

Oh the weather outside is frightful! 

Well, ok, that may be an overstatement (especially if you love the snow like I do), but it is COLD outside!  And if you are a singer, that is an important thing to take note
of. Your vocal folds are delicate, and anything that can affect your health, body, skin, or mood will also affect your vocal folds, which swell when traumatized. When the folds are swollen, singing becomes difficult or impossible.  Seasonal changes bring with them changes in both temperature and humidity – and these can greatly affect your voice. Cold, dry weather especially can be damaging to your vocal health if you don’t take care.  However, with a little extra preparation, the cold weather doesn’t have to be your vocal enemy.

Here are some tips to be mindful of as you go about your wintry days.

Stay hydrated – I can’t stress this one enough – especially for those of us living in Colorado! You must drink water consistently throughout the day. It takes up to three hours from the time you drink water for it to reach your vocal cords, as it must pass through your entire system first. So you have to drink before you feel thirsty.  Carry a water bottle with you to school or work, set reminder alarms in your phone to drink if you need to – do whatever it takes, but stay hydrated!

Avoid caffeine and alcohol – this goes along with staying hydrated.  Caffeine and alcohol are diuretics, thus they have a drying effect on your body and vocal mechanism. If you just can’t go without that morning cup o’ joe, make sure you drink a glass of water with it.

Keep the throat Lubricated: Now I get questions about this all the time. First of all, I want to clarify a common misunderstanding - Water does not lubricate the throat. It hydrates, and that is different than lubricating. Tea is iffy too, as it is primarily water. If you add honey to your tea, that does add a lubricating effect.  Secondly, what you are lubricating is your throat – not your vocal cords. Nothing you swallow ever directly touches the vocal cords. When it feels like your voice is dry, your throat is dry.  

Best Throat Lubricants:   
  • Pineapple Juice - this is my absolute favourite. It never fails me. (Make sure it is pineapple juice without chunks in it, as that could irritate your throat and make you cough.) Pineapple juice is slick, it will instantly moisten your throat and tongue, and cause you to salivate, which is the best lubrication you can find. You don’t need much – just a sip or two in between songs in a set, or a few sips before and after your voice lesson or in a rehearsal. It is very sugary, so avoid going overboard on this.
  • Honey – pure honey, not mixed with tea. A teaspoon of honey here and there is an excellent lubricant. Salivation happens right away, and that is what you want.
  • Olives –real olives, not olive oil. This one is great if you are performing at a bar and can’t get your hands on honey or pineapple juice – most bars have them on hand. Just nibble on one until your throat feels moist.
Scarf & hat. As simple as this sounds, you’d be amazed at how many people overlook this. 70-80% of body heat-loss happens through neck and head. Also, your vocal mechanism lives in your throat(neck), and you need to protect it from extreme elements. A singer wearing a scarf and hat is a singer who takes their craft and their instrument seriously. It is no different than a football player wearing warming sleeves or heavy hoodies when they’re on the bench.  It keeps them ready to do what they do. 

Breathe in through the nose, and out through the mouth when you are outside in freezing or below temperatures.  This allows the air to warm up and moisturize before hitting your larynx and lungs. It may slow your conversation down a little bit, but the protection you give your vocal folds by doing so is well worth it.

Humidifiers – Ok, if you live in Colorado and you don’t have a humidifier, it is time to go shopping.  This is a necessity (for everyone really!)  If you have a humidifier built into your AC/Heating system, make sure the humidity always stays above 35% at the very minimum.  If you do not have a built-in one, buy a plug-in one. At the very least, you should keep one running in your bedroom. If you can get two or three to place throughout the house, that’s even better.  Also, if you can, try to use distilled water in your humidifier - especially if you live in an area with a high mineral content in your water. You know that crust that builds up from minerals in your water? Imagine breathing that into your lungs. Yuck.  I realize this is not always avoidable, and distilled water is not always an option, but if you can, I recommend it.

Breathing Steam – If you are fighting a cold, or just feel extra dry, breathing steam helps a lot. A long, hot shower is a good way to do this. I often like to use Vicks Shower Soothers to help open up my sinuses too.  Another great, cost-effective way, is to heat some water on the stove, lean over the steam with a towel over your head and breathe. Vicks also makes a Personal Steam Inhaler that is pretty great too.   

Get plenty of rest – Don’t wait until you burnout before you schedule downtime away from stressful activities. Be gentle with yourself.

Throat clearing is sometimes hard to avoid in winter. Clearing your throat can irritate the edges of your vocal cords. So if you feel congested when practicing, try to sing any mucous off. If you must clear your throat do it gently. Avoid habitual throat clearing.  If you constantly feel like you need to clear your throat, and you do not have a cold, you may have a bigger issue to deal with, such as acid reflux.

Always warm up your voice before rehearsals or performances.  Always. ALWAYS.

Do not smoke. Ever. It is horrible for you in every way, and especially if you are an aspiring singer. (Hopefully this one is a no-brainer for you guys!! If no)

Don’t sing if it hurts.  When you are tired, rest your voice. If you have pain that seems more than what a slight cold or overuse would cause, go see a qualified laryngologist immediately.