I came down with laryngitis for the first time as an 11-year-old in the 6th grade. Little did I know that it would be the first of many, many cases that would disrupt auditions, performances, competitions, and eventually, work responsibilities.
As someone who makes her living as a music therapist, studio teacher, and occasional performer, my voice is my livelihood. I’m a one-woman show, and I don’t have a substitute therapist or teacher I can call in when my voice goes MIA. Needless to say, that old phrase “the show must go on” resonates deeply with me.
Take this afternoon, for instance. I’m scheduled to lead an early childhood music class that is open to the public; not everyone who might attend is on the email list. So I have no choice but to show up and do the best I can to provide an enriching musical experience for those families.
I’ve done it many times before, both in this setting and in others, and there are a few techniques I rely on to avoid a total FAIL of a class or music therapy session.
- Many of my students love to perform for each other, and this is the perfect time to let them have an impromptu talent show.
- Lead movement-based activities that rely on imitation rather than verbal instruction.
- Sign along to meaningful recorded music and have students follow.
- Let students take turns leading musical activities or interventions.
- Pass out percussion instruments and have a drum circle.
- Use color-coded lyric sheets to lead handbell playing.
- Student-facilitated songwriting and lyric analysis. They talk, I write and/or play.
And the one big no-no: DO NOT FORCE YOUR VOICE. That sentence deserves capital letters. I used to do it all the time despite warnings from my doctor, but I know now that it’s just not worth it in the long run. Besides, there are lots of different ways to make music beyond singing. What can you add to my list?
(A final note — as much as I love MacGyver-ing my way through life as a music therapist with laryngitis, I really like to sing and would very much appreciate good vibes sent my way for a speedy recovery!)
Good luck! I have SO been in your shoes and gather that I will again in the future. It’s one of the downfalls of being a music therapist. Our voice truly is our livelihood! Another suggestion that was handed me by someone when I was sick was: use a microphone. Then you can make what little voice you do have sound more powerful. I have a few clients who would LOVE to make a game out of seeing how little they could use their voice during the session. Perhaps that’s a good route with some. Anyway, prayers headed up for you. Hope you find your voice quickly!
Thanks so much, Jessica! I would use a microphone this afternoon…if I had anything at all to amplify. I like your game idea and will most likely be putting that into practice this week :)
I’ve struggled with laryngitis, too. It usually strikes in December – not a great time for singers to succumb. I used to keep a set of index cards with oft-repeated statements that I could show people. I found that index cards were much better than me trying to mouth words to people; I could avoid trying to whisper. Whispering is the worst thing to do when your vocal folds are inflamed. Good luck, and keep sharing the good strategies!
Yes, December is a common month of laryngitis for me, too. Index cards are very smart! Oh yea, and the whispering thing – it’s so tempting to whisper because you still can, but I know how damaging it is and have to restrain. Thanks for the tips :)
This has happened to me a million times before as well. Until I decided to take an entire month of talking. That was NO TALKING, whispiering, squeaking, whistling – nada – for an entire month.
I walked around with a whiteboard. People thought I was deaf. But at least I could communicate.
THEN I made a promise to myself to reduce my case load regardless of financial consequences. In fact, I graduated all of my early childhood classes to reduce the amount of strain on my voice.
Girl, get better soon!!! And take it easy . . . We’re sending you lots of love!!!
WOW – a whole month of no talking? I can’t even imagine, but I would LOVE to do it. I know that the kind of work I do (and the quantity in which I do it) is not great for my voice…hopefully I can scale back at some point like you did. Thanks for the advice and the good thoughts!
Hi, I am new to this blog but wanted to weigh in on the laryngitis issue. My sister is an elementary school music teacher, and when she was completing her studies, she developed laryngitis a couple times a year. Her voice instructor also noticed some issues, so she went to voice therapy. Eventually they identified some issue with her vocal cords being partway open when she sings certain notes, and she learned exercises to correct it and strengthen her vocal cords. She hasn’t had laryngitis since (unless it was illness-related). I doubt everyone who had chronic laryngitis has this issue, but it might be worth looking into!
Hi Molly! That’s very interesting about your sister; I would wonder if the same thing is true for me except that mine is usually paired with respiratory congestion issues (including this time around). I know that being around sick kids all the time doesn’t help. It probably wouldn’t hurt to look into this, though – thanks for the input!
I have definitely been in your shoes. In fact, I had 3 days off last week due to loss of voice due to fatigue!
I had my first loss of voice in my 2nd year of Musicalia…working with young children definitely uses much whole body energy:). I ended up back in vocal training and the teacher had me completely retrain the way I was using my singing voice…a lot of work.
I do massive hydrating now and when I don’t (like the week or so leading up to last week’s fiasco) I lose my voice. I think Kat made a great point in finding a balance between work and rest. Personally, I too find it hard to not sing and do all I do simply because I like it. Winter is the hardest simply due to heat and cold and the body drying out from indoor heating…of course, if you live in a place with summer indoor cooling…you face that issue again:)
So, my recommendations….:)
lots of fluid
rest your whole body
get those email and phone #’s for the Sunday class so you can cancel if you need to…even God recommended taking a day off (I had a little boy tell me this just last Wednesday).
much love to you and your family…big get well vibes coming your way!
Thanks for the input and tips, Susan! I hope your voice is back to normal now!
I do collect email and phone numbers for my Church Mice class each week, but have new attendees show up every week and no way of announcing a class cancellation. I have canceled once before, when I had the flu last year and couldn’t get out of bed, and in that case I just notified everyone I could and had a sign put up on the door for those who showed up.
I’m so thankful for the Casmir Pulaski holiday tomorrow and my intern coming on Tuesday…that gives me a little extra time to rest and recover :)
First off, many vibes so that your voice feels better. As a music therapist, I too have struggled with laryngitis, having just gotten over a case that started last July (yes, I had laryngitis for about 7 months resulting in small vocal nodes and a round of speech therapy). My speech therapist is also a singer, so she GOT IT (which is more than I can say for my ENT) But, her advice, reduce caffeine b/c it can dry out the vocal cords, hydrate, and to do some head/neck stretches in the morning before I go to work, and I have found that to really help.
Hi Courtney. I literally cannot imagine having laryngitis for 7 months. That had to have been miserable :( I’m getting antsy and it’s only been 2 days! Thank you for the advice – I’d never thought to do head and neck stretches but could see how that would be very helpful. I very much appreciate the good vibes!
~saying Heavenly healing prayers for you, Rachel~
Thank you so much, Sandie! They must be working…I am already starting to get a little bit of sound back :) Hi to Matthew!
Yay for all these online supporters! =) Hope your voice is healing nicely~
Hi, Thank you for this article and for all the comments. This is very timely for me and it helps to know that I am not the only one going through it. I’ve made a document with all of the advice in it and am going to contact my former voice instructor for some coaching.
I’m interested in being a music therapist but I’m concerned about the singing part of the job. Is being a music therapist unhealthy for my voice? Do you have to sing throughout all of your sessions, I tried to find research online but I couldn’t find anything. Thank you.
Hi! Music therapists do rely on their voices for a majority of their work, so while it is not unhealthy for our voices, it does require a lot of care and proper technique to keep our voices healthy.