Pain In The Neck
May 6, 2007 5:39 AM   Subscribe

I'm the lead vocalist in a band. I have a gig tonight. My throat hurts when I sing. Help!

I'm relatively new to the whole lead-singer thing, and I've only been singing in this capacity for a few weeks. To practice, I've been singing the songs in my car on the way to and from work.

I have noticed some pain in my throat when I sing. I'm have no symptoms of oncoming sickness (no fever, no sniffles, I feel great!), so I think that I may have stressed my chords with all the singing I've been doing every day for the past few weeks.

I have a performance tonight and I would (obviously) like to be at the top of my game. So...

1. What can I do today to make sure that my voice is in the best possible shape for tonight?

2. What can I do, longer-term, to let my throat heal up and prevent this sort of problem in the future?

If it matters, the sort of music I'm performing is contemporary Christian stuff (e.g. Casting Crowns), rather than Killswitch Engage. :)

As always, thank you.
posted by DWRoelands to Media & Arts (21 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Friends of mine who do a lot of public speaking swear by pineapple juice for sore throats and lost voices. I'm not sure if it would work for singing. They claim it coats the vocal chords, or some such. I suspect the Vitamin C in the juice doesn't hurt either, although if you're not feeling sick that's probably less of an issue.
posted by une_heure_pleine at 5:54 AM on May 6, 2007

I once saw Bob Pollard from Guided By Voices chug from a bottle of honey on-stage when he had a sore throat. He commented that it works like a charm. You might want to bring some honey with you tonight...
posted by Ike_Arumba at 6:14 AM on May 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

Throat Coat
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 6:33 AM on May 6, 2007

I have found chamomile tea loaded with honey can help. The honey is good for the throat, and the tea will help you relax. The sore throat may be at least in part to performance anxiety, pretty common if you’re doing something new, so just try to roll with it. Keep a big bottle of water or cold tea with you on stage and keep drinking. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty.
posted by BostonJake at 6:34 AM on May 6, 2007

I second the honey, in warm water if you can stomach it.

Do not drink alcohol - anaesthetising your throat is the last thing you want to do.
posted by benzo8 at 6:47 AM on May 6, 2007

I've seen people do the towel-over-the-head-over-a-bowl-of-steaming-boiling-water thing about 10 minutes before going on stage and be fine, even with a full on cold/sinus gunk going on. From what I understand, these symptoms can be very mitigated by water consumption and keeping the pipes wet. Keep a bottle of water on stage, don't drink (I'd imagine that's not hard with the whole Christian music thing, but I don't assume) alcohol, and DON'T TALK today. At all. Write everything down. Perhaps kick one of those Shower Soothers with the morning/afternoon hot shower would help? (I know you're not sick, but again, maybe the menthol will help with your throat?)

Also, to prevent this in the future, do singing exercises; every chorus I've been in or every musical I've been a part of, 20 minutes before we went on stage, we did these ridiculous (but very effective) singing exercises that were scales sung to ridiculous wording or phrases. The Wiki has a short blurb about it, with a more informative link at the bottom that gets more explicit about what to do and what it does for you. Here's some of the stupid phrases we used to say, and that was just the first result on Google for "vocal warm-ups."
posted by plaidrabbit at 6:55 AM on May 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

Honey loquat syrup. If you're in LA, it's at Erewhon; try your local health food store. Use like honey in warm tea.
posted by parkerbennett at 7:07 AM on May 6, 2007

Seconding voice warmup exercises. Otherwise, doing a set in front of your band is like running a sprint without warming up -- chances are you'll hurt yourself.

Also seconding hydration. A singer friend some years ago told me, don't sing without having loaded up on water or juice some hours before.
posted by beagle at 7:24 AM on May 6, 2007

1. Try honey and linctus cough mixture. It works for me.

2. Drink plenty of water all day of the gig, and as much as you can during the gig itself. Hydrate after *every* song.

3. Warm up before singing, don't overdo it, but warm those vocal chords up - the suggestion by plaidrabbit is excellent.

4. It could be that you've started to damage your vocal chords by singing, although it might just be that you've had a badly timed cold virus type thing. For future, you might want to consider vocal coaching. You might have a lovely voice, and coaches teach you to keep it that way whilst projecting/protecting yourself.

Good luck! You should be ok in the short term, just think about how to look after yourself to sing for years to come :)
posted by triv at 7:25 AM on May 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

Honey in water definitely works, but more generally plenty of water a few hours before and also during any performance / practise. Warm-ish water is better but if all you have is cold then swill it around your mouth before you swallow so you don't 'shock' your vocal chords too much!

On preview exactly what triv said!
posted by TwoWordReview at 7:26 AM on May 6, 2007

Oh, and avoid dairy products, sugary drinks and especially chocolate before you sing. They'll coat your throat and generally cause damage. Stick to plain old water.
posted by triv at 7:31 AM on May 6, 2007

For emphasis, I'll repeat plaidrabbit's advice: DON'T TALK at all today. And especially don't whisper, as that strains your chords even more. Don't move your lips in the shape of words. Don't talk for a second to explain why you're not talking. Just shut up (the technical term) until it's time to sing/warm up.
posted by xueexueg at 8:26 AM on May 6, 2007

Gollum juice
posted by pineapple at 9:28 AM on May 6, 2007

For tonight, honey and lemon juice in hot (or at least not cold) water. For the long term, if your throat hurts that means you're using it wrong. Voice instruction will help you change those habits.
posted by jjg at 10:00 AM on May 6, 2007

For the future: A lot of what you'll get from a vocal coach is learning to sing from the diaphragm (pushing the air from your abdomen rather than your chest). I don't know why that puts less strain on your vocal cords, but in my experience it definitely does.
posted by svenx at 10:30 AM on May 6, 2007

I have heard that some singers swear by slippery elm throat lozenges. I'm not a singer, but I certainly find them helpful when I'm losing my speaking voice and need to talk. Maybe they'd be good for you? I've bought them in the past at "nutritional supply" stores or food co-ops. (Think places that would stock Dr. Bronner's or Tom's of Maine.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:49 AM on May 6, 2007

2. Drink plenty of water all day of the gig, and as much as you can during the gig itself. Hydrate after *every* song.

Caveats: Don't gulp too fast or you'll end up having to burp in the middle of a phrase.

Use the bathroom right before you start and don't drink so much that you have to go again in the middle of your set.
posted by ludwig_van at 11:11 AM on May 6, 2007

Hydrate means take a sip just enough to coat your throat, not like a full drink of water. You don't want to need to pee all night.
posted by magikker at 11:25 AM on May 6, 2007

nebulawindphone has it. Slippery elm lozenges are what you want. They taste totally nasty, but they work. Avoid dairy, which will make you froggy, and avoid lemon juice, which has a drying effect. Absolutely avoid menthol. Listen to triv's and xueexueg's advice, also, which is smart and sound. Good luck!
posted by Powerful Religious Baby at 11:55 AM on May 6, 2007

I'm a jazz singer so when I do gigs they are usually 4 hours of me singing almost the entire time. I would stay away from too much pinapple juice or anything with a lot of acid, just in case your throat is dry. Drink ice water WITH NO ICE. Ice can constrict the vocal cords. NO WHEAT. NO MILK. No coffee or caffeine. If you can avoid alcohol, do that as well. For future reference, Thayer's Slippery Elm lozenges work great and I always carry around a spray of Singer's Saving Grace.

Non-caffeinated tea with honey and some lemon is good. If it's mint, even better. My secret tea that I drink for 24 hours before gigs is a homemade ginger tea though. I cut ginger slices and boil it down to a tea, mixed with honey & lemon. Lastly, a handy tip I learned a long time ago... if you're about to go onstage & feel your voice is a little crackly, eat a potato chip. The oils will coat your throat.

After you finish your gig today I think you might need to do some thinking about where your singing is coming from though. Your voice should be able to remain strong and painless throughout a gig, so what that's telling me is that a) you are not warming up your voice AT ALL before you get onstage & b) you are probably singing through your vocal cords & maybe screaming out lyrics. Whatever it is, you are doing something you need to fix for your own sake.

You should have some practice exercises you do before a gig that go through your range so that you aren't getting onstage cold. And you might want to look into taking a few lessons with a good voice teacher who can guide you towards proper breathing that will improve the strength of your voice and keep you pain free. If you use proper/good breath control, your vocal cords should never be affected the way it sounds like yours are. Your throat should NEVER NEVER hurt, because that pain says that you are damaging yourself. Singing should not be painful. (Unless you're Janis Joplin, but she probably couldn't even feel physical pain I'm thinkin'.)
posted by miss lynnster at 12:21 PM on May 6, 2007

Nothing helps as much as steam.

Drinking won't really hit the vocal chords with whatever it is your drinking. The esophagus is not the same as the wind pipe. I'm always amazed at how many people, especially professionals, are unaware of this and have all sorts of remedies that really don't come close to offering the kind of help the throat really needs.

Steam before, steam after. NOTHING you drink will really affect your vocal chords in even close to the same way.

What everyone else said about your actual vocal delivery and warming up is totally on point.
posted by teishu at 4:13 PM on May 6, 2007

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