Vocal coach Line Hilton reveals the do’s and don’ts of working with singers with allergies.
In a perfect world, every singing student would be fighting fit and brimming with good health all year round. But unfortunately, things don’t always work out like that. Sometimes, students arrive in the studio feeling below par. When this happens, teachers need to adjust their lessons to ensure the student doesn’t damage their voice.
Allergies and the voice
Allergies are a common cause of problems for singers. Symptoms can vary, but may include a runny nose, itchy throat, dry cough or difficulty breathing. Then there’s the weepy eyes (not great for reading music) and hearing loss caused by blocked sinuses.
Kate Cubley, a vocal coach and lecturer who has studied the effects of allergies on singers, says: “Whilst any of these symptoms might initially affect our ability to sing phrases with the same poise and agility as usual, a singer may work harder to retain their preferred sound, causing unnecessary stress on the voice, vocal fatigue or worsening discomfort in the throat.”
Singing with allergies
In the latest episode of the Singing Teachers Talk podcast, BAST founder and vocal coach Line Hilton discusses how best to work with sick voices. Here are Line’s tips for working with singers with allergies.
Listen to your student
Your student should be able to tell you if something feels different or doesn’t feel right. “They may feel out of control or that they’re not able to access areas with the kind of ease that they did before,” Line says. “I always listen to what the singer says about how they feel and keep checking in with them as we go.”
Ask your student if they’re taking any allergy medication, such as antihistamines.
“If they’re taking antihistamines, I will discuss the best time of day to take them in terms of when they’re singing,” Line says. “Antihistamines can reduce the swelling of vocal folds, making it a little safer for singing.”
Encourage students to hydrate
Many allergy medications can be drying, so it’s important that singers remain well hydrated. “It’s about ensuring that the singer is maintaining good hydration from a systemic point of view and maybe also topically,” Line says.
“Start with exercises that don’t slam the vocal folds together too much,” Line says. “Things like gentle lip trills, tongue trills, using a straw with water, or puffy cheeks with your fingers at the lips.”
Vibrant voice strategies
“This involves holding a vibrator [no laughing, please] against the larynx as you make gentle, creaky hum sounds, just to try and get that puffiness out,” Line says.
Line recommends starting with a third, fourth or fifth glide. “I wouldn’t go for the full octave stretch initially,” she says. “It might be single notes as well and then just gliding up and down a couple of intervals, or as far as the voice wants to. I like to toggle; to go up and come back down, and then go up a little bit further, and come back down again.”
Encourage your singer to go for broke
“We have to be careful because when the vocal folds are swollen, they are more vulnerable to injury,” Line says. “Things like polyp haemorrhage would be a bigger risk in this sort of situation.”
Teach for too long
“I would probably only do half-hour lessons,” Line says. “I wouldn’t try and do any belty sounds, and I wouldn’t necessarily do any melodies either.”
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Study with BAST Training
Want to equip yourself with the knowledge to recognise vocal problems and help your students reach their potential? Then sign up to BAST Training’s 20-Hour course to learn more about vocal pathology, diagnosing the voice, and vocal exercises.