Do you get a sore throat when you sing?

Do you get a sore throat when you sing?

Sore throat today - maybe a throat infection tomorrow. How to end this painful cycle.

by David Mellor, Course Director of Audio Masterclass

If I were a doctor, I would say that what I am about to tell you is correct because of my immense medical knowledge. But I'm not a doctor. What I am about to say is correct because I've tried it for myself and it works. (For me, but I think it will work for you too.)

Oddly enough, my inspiration for this article came from watching the UK's Chancellor of the Exchequer read his budget speech to Parliament a while ago. As he worked his way through the speech, his voice got hoarser and hoarser. And although the House of Commons has a voice reinforcement system, he was struggling against a considerable background of murmuring and shuffling from the jam-packed house.

The reason for this hoarseness is, in all probability, that he doesn't normally give such long speeches, and not in such a noisy atmosphere. Speaking up, even if not speaking loud, for a long period started to wear at his vocal cords and surrounding throat tissue.

And it's with same with singing. If your band performs once every other weekend, then that's the only time your singing muscles are really used to the full. And that's why you end the gig with a sore throat. Singing the odd song in between, or even rehearsing where there is (or should be) many intervals for band discussion, doesn't impose the same kind of stress.

I would liken this to a guitarist's fingertips. When you first start playing a steel-strung guitar, it is painful. But as you practise and practise (hey, in the UK we like to spell practise as a verb when it's a verb) your fingertips respond by toughening up.

And that's what your throat will do, if you sing regularly. If you make it your daily habit to sing for half an hour, (come on - half an hour against undoubted fame and fortune?) your voice will be robust and sore throats will become a thing of the past.

I don't think it's a good idea to try and force things so don't sing until your voice is ripped to shreds. Sing until you can feel that your voice has had a work out. Recover overnight, then sing again.

I may not be one of the best singers in the world. In fact I may just be one of the worst. But I know that if I get out of practice (noun), then I can expect some hoarseness next time I sing. If I sing every day, my voice becomes robust and there's no problem. And actually, it sounds better too!

By David Mellor, Course Director of Audio Masterclass
Friday October 21, 2011

Readers' comments on this article...

Jeff Hoffman, Eureka, USA
Friday May 11, 2012

One more comment; singers should avoid dairy products up to a couple of days prior to a vocal performance(your mileage may vary.) Dairy has a tendency to thicken your mucus. This is bad for the voice because thick mucus makes a poor lubricant for the mucus membranes of your vocal folds/vocal cords. If you lose lubrication of your vocal folds, vocal damage is just around the corner for you. Again, room temperature or warm (not hot) water is the best choice to help your body to produce lubrication for the voice
Jeff Hoffman, Eureka, USA
Friday May 11, 2012

Some good advice in these comments, some not so good. I have to disagree with Pete Darrow regarding his recommendation to drink ice water! Room temperature or warm water is best for the voice because you're trying to warm up the vocal folds for good flexibility and control, not freeze them! Acidic food or drink, like lemons and coffee, should be used sparingly as they can irritate and dehydrate the vocal apparatus; again, warm water is probably best. Alcohol will also dehydrate the vocal apparatus, so avoid it as much as possible when singing, to be safe.
Anonymous
Wednesday November 30, 2011

just to the lady who says that rock and heavy metals are bad techniques... the beatles??? they didn't get hoarse??? and I'll have you know that i sing daily to rock anthems that... rock... and i have no problem with my thoat... just cuz you're an oxford graduate doesn't give you the right to say that kelly jones, billie joe armstrong, paul mccartney, gerard way and many more who are probably way better singers than you anyway have bad singing techniques cuz i think they sound pretty fucking awesome... I think you just had an " i'm so clever... " moment. shut up.
Amiria, Tokoroa, New Zealand
Sunday October 30, 2011

Really interesting experiences shared here its great. I don't sing much now but I am looking to get back into it again. I have recently discovered that saying, ïf you don't use it, you lose it". In the past I was told if your thoat is sore or hoarse then "keep quiet" its like any other muscle in the body, it needs rest. Even whispering is harmful because your forcing the sound to be heard. I like the idea of steam, sounds refreshing. Thanks :-)
Melwyn, Vasai-mumbai, India
Friday October 28, 2011

What you share is so true. I will now make this a habit of exercising my vocal chords. unused muscles I now understand will weaken. Hey! thanks for the tip man. All the best from India.Mel...
Pete Downing, Barrow, England
Tuesday October 25, 2011

I wholeheartedly agree with Karen Kay here as I forgot to mention that most important of tips ...learning how to sing 'properly'. I was taken aside by some of my guest singers (who were members of a local amateur Opera production society) and I was given some useful free lessons on breathing technique (from the diaphragm). What a BIG difference it made to my power, control and sustain, as well as making it much easier and far less painful to sing. Like most, I was making the mistake of singing from my upper chest, which in turn makes it harder and harsher on the vocal chords. So take heed and GET PROPER LESSONS FROM A PROFESSIONAL VOICE COACH. The small extra investment will pay you back dividends (as even famous singers still do it after years at the top of the charts). Your voice box is the only one you have and it has to last you a lifetime.
Petru!, Costa Rica
Monday October 24, 2011

You´re right!! all is practice x1000000000!!! and more!!
Al Venditti, San Diego, Ca, USA
Monday October 24, 2011

I've always wondered should I do more or less when I feel the hoarseness/ tickle when singing after a long period of inactivity(sometimes weeks or months). I wasn't sure if I would be strengthening my vocal chords or irritating them. I will take your advice and do more (without ripping) to get my "vocal callouses" back.
Michael, Orange, Ca, USA
Monday October 24, 2011

I sing in the the car every day! Turn the radio down a bit, so you don't blow out your voice and you can hear what you are doing, but I do it every day. Most of us spend at least 30 minutes getting to work, especially if you live in LA, and instead of calling your mates to chat to pass the time I like to turn it into productive time. The windsheild slaps you voice right back at you, so it's actually not too bad of a monitoring situation either, excepting the traffic noise. That's my 2 cents. I'm sure I look like a fool, but then again that's kinda what we do on stage right? Risk looking like a fool. For me, the extra practice time is worth the odd looks.
Pete Downing, Barrow, England
Monday October 24, 2011

Here are some amazing tips and truths too. I had a major problem with my vocal chords in the early 90's when (for my sins and to pay the mortgage) I started my own highly successful Karaoke show and out on the road a grueling 6 nights a week. Not being very experienced at singing back then (and trying to sound 'Bryan Adams' cool), I was attempting songs way out of my (lower type) key range and I was also having to mc the show, talking constantly all night (for hours with no breaks). It was no wonder that I quickly ended up with serious and constant laryngitis and had to go to an expert hospital voice therapist as I was unable to even speak some days. First rule she gave me was DO NOT even try to force a whisper, as that can still cause damage and aggravate already inflamed v-chords. Nodules form on the v-chords (which have to be surgically stripped with a knife or laser when very bad). These lumps/scars create gaps in closed chords to make them very inefficient and also roughen the voice. You will find here as a sign that your falsetto will go first and start to crack. The lumps are actually scar tissue that form and reform over the tiny damaged blood vessels that burst when you push them too hard (similar situation to the pic above, although those are not your v-chords. V-chords are further down your neck in your windpipe area..NOT in your actual throat as some think). Smoking...well it goes without saying, so try to stop of drastically cut down. Second rule was DO NOT drink alcohol before/whilst performing. It dehydrates and weakens the muscles and then you cause more damage by forcing them even harder as they weaken. Notice how floppy and weak drunks are with a skinful of booze. SO DRINK PLENTY OF PLAIN ICED WATER too to keep yourself hydrated (as you will also sweat pints on a hot stage). WARM UP your voice too before a gig. Singing the vowels A E I O U is good to exercise all the vocal, throat and face muscles. Lastly, with reference to where the vocal chords are situated, most pills and potions do not work on them as they are actually in your windpipe. Those remedies only work on the immediate 'back of the throat' sore area that you see in the photo above. SO HERE IS YOUR SECRET WEAPON......STEAM !!! (with added natural oils as a curative bonus) The hospital therapist swore by what I am about to tell you and believe me IT WORKS !! For cheap money you can buy a face or mask steamer which makes a mist that you can inhale. She also told me to go to a health shop or Chemist and buy a small bottle of SANDALWOOD OIL. This amazing stuff has natural soothing antiseptic properties. It isn't cheap really but a bottle will last you a very long time as you only use a couple of tiny drops at a time. I would always use it first thing in the morning and then do a booster before my gig (for 10 minute session). ALSO..'Olbus Oil' or a similar menthol oil added to the steam will clear you pipes out (and your head too if you also happen to have a stuffy cold) As I was using this treatment and slowly easing myself back into it (still having to perform 'carefully', there were times as I was healing when I still could hardly speak the next day, but after 2 or 3 sessions I was back up and amazingly doing a full night. Two more tips too are, just before you go on stage get a slice of lemon (or maybe Orange) from the bar and eat it. If you can stand eating it, you will naturally screw your face up at first but after that initial reaction you will feel your mouth beautifully clean and crisp (as the acid melts away that claggy feeling you sometimes have in your mouth). ALSO you will find that it makes you salivate more, hence it will keep you mouth moist and better to sing with. We all know that feeling when your mouth dries up with stage nerves. All I can say is TRY IT and see if it suits you. Best of luck in your singing career everyone !
Bill. Mcdonald, Hamburg, USA
Monday October 24, 2011

I would like to know more about the vocal chords as mine are horse now and I sing everyday
Lindsay, Australia
Monday October 24, 2011

Good advice :)…
Karen Kay, Oxford, U.k.
Monday October 24, 2011

I agree that having a regular singing practice plays a big role in building up the vocal stamina. Stamina is a vital part of being able to sing at the gig without getting a sore throat. I have to add what I have learned as a singer and teacher, in addition to some notes of warning. I hope this is useful. A sore throat can be sign that the voice is being strained by lack of technique or just plain bad technique. Singing should not feel painful or a strain. This becomes particularly evident for singers who are singing very high, low, hard or intensely (eg. Rock or Heavy Metal). If a singer begins to practise this bad technique daily, it can lead to vocal damage. More hard and wrong singing will never lead to an end of problems, it will merely create more. When building up stamina, the voice should feel used but you should not feel pain. Vocal folds (cords) should never be toughened up and hardened in the same way as a guitarist's fingers. In my view, this can only mean nodules. You should expect to be able sing in your chosen genre without experiencing pain. This applies to hard and strong singing too. The process of building up stamina in a voice should be pain free too. The attitude of pushing through the pain can be harmful. The voice will produce the most extraordinary sounds if you give it what it needs. A daily practice is not just about going for it for 30 minutes, it is also useful to consider a few warm ups and exercises suitable for the time, who you are and your genre. In my own singing, I experimented with technique (some of it was awful), until I found what suited me. Explore and have fun.
Leonora, Sydney, Australia
Monday October 24, 2011

Good advice, David! Thanks for the reminder.
Redley , Honiara, Solomon Island
Monday October 24, 2011

I also have that same problem, a sore throat. But i blame it on my self for doing too much of voice training with out a proper training. I really regreat it, when i will sing better again.
Rick Marcil, Southwick, USA
Monday October 24, 2011

Anyone who uses her or his voice for a living should do vocal warmups every day, even on days when they have no engagements. This allows the voice to be ready for speaking, which is tiring for the voice.
Bernard, Perth, Australia
Monday October 24, 2011

David, You should stick to giving advice on audio engineering and leave the singing advice to those who really know what they are talking about. While rehearsing regularly will build up your muscle structure and enable you to maintain a good technique for a longer period without tiring, if your technique is bad in the first place and you get a sore throat every time you sing then your technique needs changing. Practising every day with a bad technique will only amplify the problem and set your bad habits in stone, not to mention potentially permanently damage your voice. If you get a sore throat from singing then your vocal folds are rubbing against one another and if that continues on a regular basis you will end up with nodules growing on them. Your vocal power must come from your diaphragm, not from your throat. It’s when your diaphragm gets tired and you start trying to sing using your throat muscles that you will always get into trouble. The last thing you want to happen is forming calluses on your vocal folds (a la a guitar player’s fingertips as you suggested would be a good thing – WRONG!!!). But that is precisely what will happen if you continually sing with a technique that gives you a sore throat. Your folds will grow nodules in an attempt to protect themselves from injury and you will lose flexibility in your voice. If you are serious about singing, my advice is to find yourself a GOOD singing teacher (now, there’s a very rare breed) who can teach you a proper technique first before you start trying to build up your vocal (really it should be your diaphragm’s) stamina. If, on the other hand, you are getting sore throats because of infection (like the photo of someone with tonsilitis with which you prefaced your article) then perhaps you may need to see an ENT and get their advice - perhaps have your tonsils removed (although that can sometimes be counterproductive if they damage nerves in your throat in the process - it happened to a colleague of mine). Or you could take David’s advice without the proper technique and quite likely have a short career (or regular trips to the ENT surgeon to remove nodes from your larynx) – You can choose.
Ariel, Jaffa, Israel
Monday October 24, 2011

From experience, if you take vocal pedagogy lessons, you learn there techniques that help you singing without (or with minimal) effort on your throat. Of course, as you mention in your article, the more you exercise singing the more you learn to control it and assimilate these techniques, but, as with everything you do, it helps a lot to learn from the experts how to do it right. BTW I enjoy very much your articles and get valuable information from them.
Marcello
Monday October 24, 2011

As you said in the beginning: this works for you. Unfortunately it doesn't work for everyone. It took me about 10 years of lessons and study until I could finally sing without pain. It's not just a matter of training. it's a matter of GOOD training. I've always been singing daily but that wasn't enough. You have to consider that for some people, like me, for example, singing isn't natural in the first place and people like me are likely to sing in a wrong manner, causing problem like pain and hoarseness. Actually, if you keep singing, it only makes things worse because you're doing it wrong. You have to learn how to sing first, then you can practice daily. For some people it's not necessary because they have a natural instinct for that, for some other it takes a lot of work to get there.
Name: E-mail address: