So the winter season is upon us again, the nights are drawing in and we are on the slippery slope to Christmas….where has the year gone?!
The cold winter weather can be a problem for us singers: coughs and colds, central heating and the cold dry air can all give us some problems, but there are some easy ways you can counteract the winter chilliness and keep yourself vocally healthy. Read on for our top 10 tips!
1 – Your Mum was right – wear a scarf!
Keeping warm when it’s cold is just common sense, ever since we were small our parents were always telling us to wrap up to stay warm in the cold, and for good reason. Our body needs and produces heat for a reason, to keep us alive and healthy; certain chemical reactions in the body require heat to happen.
When you don’t wear a scarf your throat is exposed to the elements and you can end up losing body heat.
Wearing a scarf helps to reduce the amount of skin that is exposed to the cold air and therefore helps to stop heat loss. I mean you wouldn’t go outside in freezing weather without gloves, would you?
2 – Drink plenty of water
Staying hydrated in cold weather is just as important as staying hydrated in hot weather.
As soon as it gets cold we start putting the central heating on to keep our homes warm. Central heating is notorious for drying the air, sucking humidity out of the air and leading to problems with dry and flaky skin.
Dehydration can leave the body more susceptible to colds and flu, so by keeping hydrated you are helping your body to function better.
Hydration helps to maintain the flexibility of the voice; when you are dehydrated your vocal folds are less limber and therefore harder to work with, so drinking plenty of fluids can help to maintain their flexibility.
Everyone has different needs for how much water to drink and there are many different thoughts as to how much you should drink. However, the general rule of thumb is the colour of your urine; the yellower it is, the more dehydrated you are. The clearer it is, the more hydrated you are.
You shouldn’t wait until its yellow though, by then it’s already too late!
3 – Drink warm drinks
Hot drinks will help to warm the throat area in cold weather, but be clever in your choices. Coffee is a great drink to warm up with, but make sure you drink one glass of water per cup of coffee to counteract dehydration from the caffeine.
Drinks like ‘throat coat’ or herbal/fruit teas have either no or little caffeine in them, making them the ideal hot drink for singers! (Watch out for the highly citric ones though – they dry your throat out too!)
4 – Central Heating isn’t a singers best friend
Especially in the beginning of the winter months, many people put their central heating on for the first time that year. Unless you regularly clean your radiators there will be a build-up of dust, and you get that horrible dry, dusty smell (yuck!). The dust can become airborne, and you can potentially end up breathing that in, giving allergy problems and all manner of yuckyness! So get the vacuum out and clean those radiators!
Central heating has a drying effect on the air as it heats up, the warm air sucks the moisture out of the room, leaving very dry air. This can dehydrate you and your vocal cords, sometimes leaving you feeling like you have ‘cotton mouth’.
A few things can help:
Make sure you stay hydrated (see above)
Try and breathe through your nose, which will help to catch any dust and moisturise the air as it goes into your throat.
Another great tip is to add a humidifier to the room (good if you have a cold as well) as that will help to counteract the dry air.
Look for a sonic, no heat humidifier as that creates a mist of water vapour rather than just producing steam like normal humidifiers do. You can get some really good compact ones on Amazon like this one or this one.
If this isn’t an option for you, do the next best thing – place a bowl of water on top of the radiator or as near to the heat source as you can, and as it evaporates it will humidify the air. You can get ceramic humidifiers that hang on the radiator like this.
They aren’t as effective as the sonic humidifier above, but better than nothing!
5 – Don’t sing if it hurts!
This might sound like common sense but its worth saying! If you’re ill, assess carefully whether you are getting any pain or discomfort when you sing. If you do experience either of these, stop practising, or consider cancelling your gig if possible. Singing when it hurts is a sign that your vocal tract is not in it’s best health, and could cause more problems later on.
It’s not necessarily a bad thing to sing with a cold, it might not be your best performance, but with a proper warm up and good technique you should be able to pull off a semi-decent vocal performance. However if you open your mouth to sing and it’s like swallowing broken glass, then your body might be trying to tell you something. So LISTEN to it!
Vocal rest is advised in this situation, and definitely wait until it stops hurting to start singing again. Consult a doctor if you are in serious pain.
6 – Get plenty of sleep!
So we aren’t asking you to be a hermit over the winter months. But, we do recommend plenty of sleep every night. Sleep will let your body rest and rejuvenate itself, so it works better at warding off potential illnesses during colder weather. This is a recommended tip whether the weather is hot or cold!
7 – Breathe through your nose
We covered this above but its worth stating again! When outside in the cold weather, make sure you try to breathe through your nose rather than your mouth. Breathing through your nose does three things:
It catches any dust or pollen particles and stops them entering your vocal tract
The nose acts to moisturise the air as it passes through it
It warms the air up as it passes through before it hits your vocal tract, lessening any drying effects from cold air
You’ll know what we are talking about if you have ever woken up in the morning when you have a cold or the flu, and your tongue feels like a rug and your throat is dry. This is because you are breathing through your mouth when your nose is blocked and you don’t get the benefits above.
Be wary as well of decongestants/cold remedies as well as they can have a drying effect on your nasal passages (see our tip below).
And of course, don’t forget your scarf too!
8 – Warm up properly vocally
Make sure you take plenty of time to warm up before singing. It takes our voices a little longer in cold weather to warm up properly and you may find that you need to take an extra few minutes to get your voice to where it’s used to being.
Be gentle with it – remember if it’s cold it can’t handle a lot of stress and strain, much like your body as a whole. You may also want to turn up at your rehearsal rooms/studio a little earlier than normal if possible, to acclimatise to the temperature in the building before you warm up vocally.
9 – Watch out for cold remedies and medication
We think we are helping our bodies to relieve the cold or the flu, and we desperately want to feel better, but you have to watch out for cold or flu remedies. Depending on what you are taking, they may have a tendency to dry out the voice rather than helping it.
Certain decongestants are known to dry the vocal tract and nasal passages, so keep that in mind when you take them. You need to either find something that doesn’t dry you out, or make sure you drink plenty of water.
Remember when you take syrups/lozenges/medication, no matter what they claim, these products DON’T actually touch the vocal cords directly – we’d choke if they did!
Our favourite way to avoid this problem is to try and avoid the cold. Make sure you are getting all the vitamins and minerals your body needs to support a healthy immune system. All year round Tom makes sure he takes a multivitamin tablet, a zinc tablet and Vitamin C. At the first sign of a cold he will double or triple up on the Vitamin C intake, drink plenty of water and make sure he washes his hands often to get rid of any bugs!
If you prefer the non-medicated remedies, such as hot honey and lemon, make sure you drink plenty of water to counteract the citric acid as this can potentially dry your throat out further. Instead, trying gargling with a salt water solution. Gargling with the tongue stuck out can help to really clear the gunk out of your throat and the salt in the water can help with some of the nasty bacteria.
10 – Be a savvy party animal
Especially in the UK, cold weather means that Christmas is coming, and New Year celebrations will follow exactly a week later. Nobody wants to be boring, we all want to have fun and that’s fine, why shouldn’t you! But, by being a savvy party animal this season, you can avoid some of the pitfalls of the festivities. So here are our tips:
Avoid speaking, shouting or singing over the music if you can
Standing away from speakers will help to avoid temporary tinnitus
As much as we all love karaoke, don’t be tempted to belt out that party hit too many times. We all tend to forget out vocal limits when we’ve had a drink or two and whilst it’s fun at the time, waking up hoarse in the morning isn’t really the best thing you can do for your voice!
So that’s a roundup of OUR top 10 cold weather tips for singers, what are your tips? Leave a comment below and let us know!