Reading Aloud: Singing while sick

I have a mild cold that I picked up from the germ factories that come aboard the boat to meet the Cinnamon Bear. It’s not bad, just a scratchy throat and fatigue–although I suppose the fatigue comes from other sources. Anyway, we carol as people are boarding. I enjoy this even though I’m scantily dressed in a fairy costume. What’s interesting about the way my voice functions when ill is that I lose my mid-range.

My speaking voice drops, but usually my head voice stays more or less clear. I can’t blend the two ranges at all. Now, this is a problem if I’m trying to belt Christmas Carols, (which uses the chest voice and blending) so I dealt with it by jumping up to my upper end and avoiding the midrange. So here’s me, speaking a couple of steps lower than normal, and then singing high soprano because that’s the only sound I’ve got reliable available. It’s useful to know how one’s voice behaves when sick.

Next time you have a cold, I want you to hum through your range. Start at the low end and hum up to the high end, then back down. Now, with me, my voice drops out on the way up the scale, and then comes back again. On the way down, I have more notes. It usually happens this way for me. I’ve been able to use this to compete, perform or audition by either picking pieces that fit the “sick” range or by adapting the work that I doing.

For a reading, I pitch my narrator higher than usual, to get above my dead zone. I save my suddenly deep low end for the male characters. It’s the only time I can really do a convincing male voice. I’ve always wished I were an alto because of that. It seems like it would be sooooo much more useful for voice work.

What does your voice do when you’re sick?

12 Responses

  1. Chris Hansen

    I bottom out. I’m usually a baritone with a (sometimes) F above middle C to G an octave and a half below. When I have a cold that affects my voice, I can drop to an E on occasion and my notes from A below middle C down are much stronger. However, I can’t hit middle C at that point either.

    It is three AM and the above makes sense. Sorry if it doesn’t in the morning when I’ve slept.

  2. -e-

    I don’t know about key, but I go totally deep gravely pack a day smoker, sort of Brenda Vaccaro… (for those of you old enough to know who she is)

  3. Evan Nichols

    My voice deepens too, so I can do a pretty good Sam Mowry impression. I like the rumbly resonance (about the only symptom of a cold with any positive value). Since I don’t sing (well, not in front of others), I haven’t noticed any other impacts or missing range in My Instrument.

    I hope you feel better soon!

  4. Rick Novy

    Funny. I had sinus surgery last Wednesday, and my daughter happened to pick the next day to bring home the annual cold that’s always passed around school. I got it, of course, which made the recovery ever so pleasant during the four days I had it. As for my voice, sometimes nothing happens, sometimes I get raspy.

  5. Maggie

    I bottom out, as well, and mostly croak while singing at that point.

    One year in high school, however, I turned into E.T.
    This was also the week of the school play — the school play where I was one of the leads. Needless to say, they had to dig up an understudy.

  6. Mary Robinette Kowal

    Rick: Sinus surgery! That sounds really unpleasant, but I trust the final results will be worth it.

    Maggie: next time that happens, try humming through your range and seeing if there’s an open spot higher up your range.

  7. Maggie

    I will have to try that. AIR, I don’t have much of a voice at all at the higher ranges when this happens, but I haven’t done a lot of regular singing (other than to children) in quite a long time.

  8. Richie

    This is the exact thing that I’m dealing with right now. It started yesterday, and tonight I have an important gig, that (right at this moment) I think I’m not going to be able to go through with. I’m hoping I can mind a miracle cure before tonight that will blast the cobwebs (or mucus) out of my throat.
    worried :(

  9. Mary Robinette Kowal

    I don’t mention it on this thread, but there is a miracle cure that my voice coach recommended. Hot pineapple juice; it does wonders. Meanwhile, go for plenty of voice rest and just a light warmup right before you go on.

    And stay away from citrus, which promotes more mucus.

    Good luck tonight!