Reading Aloud 16: The Common Cold

This entry is part 16 of 17 in the series Reading Aloud

My niece gave me a cold for Christmas, so we’re going to take advantage of it to show some tricks for dealing with throat ailments. For kicks, I recorded the whole post this time. You can listen to it here OR you can read and just listen to the example clips.

Listen to Reading Aloud: The Common Cold

You’ve probably noticed that when you are sick your voice tends to get lower, right? Basically, what’s going on is this: the pitch of your voice depends on the length and thickness of your vocal cords (folds really, but that’s a tangent) Men have big thick manly vocal cords, while ladies and kids have thinner more delicate ones. When you’re sick, your throat gets inflamed, which thickens your vocal cords. They vibrate more slowly and voila, lower voice.

Let’s pause for a moment to listen to some audio, shall we? I’ll let you hear a recording of me reading Rampion with my normal voice, and then switch to one with my voice the way it sounds right now.

This is the full text of Rampion, but only listen to the first 30 seconds or so of it.

Now, this is me, today, sick. I’m trying to deliver the same read, but I’m not making corrections for the effects of illness.

Sounds like a different person, eh?

Since the cold is lowering my voice, I can raise my pitch and try to compensate somewhat. For me, it feels like I’m speaking incredibly high, but to someone who doesn’t know me, this will do a lot to bring my voice into the range of normal. I wouldn’t want to do this for long, but it’s gotten me through many performances.

So, same text but with me trying to correct.

It’s passable, but there’s a danger here. I have a smaller vocal range when sick already, and by moving my voice up in pitch, I cut off the bottom end of my range. When ill, I mostly have bottom end and then nothing until the very top end. Your mileage may vary, but try humming through your vocal range next time you are sick.

And if you are feeling frisky, take advantage of that suddenly deep voice. Everything can sound sexy with your new range. For example:

Mostly though, the answer to being sick is to rest your voice and to drink plenty of fluids. Stay away from the citrus, dairy and caffeine. But if you have to use your voice, at least you’ll know why it’s misbehaving.

Series Navigation<< Reading Aloud 15: Choices & Compromises while recording <i>Rude Mechanicals</i>Reading Aloud: Dealing with stage fright >>

10 Responses

  1. momk

    Hey..anyone remember the movie actress ‘Lizabeth Scott? That’s how I sound with with a cold. I love it! She was a more sexy version of Veronica Lake. Anyone remember Veronica Lake? Probably not.

  2. Vy

    It’s not fair that you have such a lovely reading voice. All the tricks in the world don’t help if your voice is naturally weird. :(

  3. Mary Robinette Kowal

    momk: I don’t remember ‘Lizabeth Scott, but Veronica Lake is a familiar figure.

    Joe: It’s like I’m suddenly Kathleen Turner!

    Vy: While I thank you, don’t make the mistake of thinking that my reading voice is really my natural voice. It took practice to learn to sound like that.

  4. Vy

    You still have a nice natural voice. I’ve placed in state and national speech competitions and done a lot of theatre. I can do cool things with my voice. But I can’t cure the fundamental pitch, which is considerably higher than I would like. (I can sing the last note of the Phantom of the Opera theme song, or at least I could when I was in better practice).

    All these Italian classic arias, and I just wanted to be a rock star. *sniff*

  5. Kristen Behlings

    Do you have that cold with no nasal problems, just sore throat and coughing? That one’s been running rampant around here for a couple of months now. Everyone I’ve talked to has had the same thing: either an octave-lower voice, or lost it completely.

    Since I had my own bout of it, I’ve occasionally experienced some kind of auto-strangulation, which has continued even now. I’ll start to talk, or laugh with my face tilted up, and suddenly can’t push any sound out at all. It’s a horrid feeling – be careful.

  6. Mary Robinette Kowal

    Vy: Yeah, being an alto or a female tenor would be much handier.

    Kristen: That sounds like what I’ve got. How long does it last?

    C.S.: It’s one of the silver linings of illness.

    FYI, same thing happens to create “bedroom voice.” All sorts of things get inflamed and er…I suspect that’s part of why we associate that husky sound with sexiness.

  7. -e-

    I caught an odd throaty thing weeks and weeks ago, and in the past week the cough got much worse, actually sending me to the doctor to make sure it wasn’t walking pnuemonia. Evidently my lungs are fine, but the bronchial tubes are mighty inflamed, and I am, much to my dismay, on a steroid inhaler to get the coughing under control. Sicker than I’ve been in years… yecch.

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