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Doc: I Can’t Hit My Low Notes!

Doctor's Corner with Anthony Jahn
Hi, Dr. Jahn!

Some days I have trouble hitting my low notes; I go down to about a low D. I’m having trouble with E and Eb, and even F occasionally. I find myself clearing my throat quite often, and it helps – sometimes. But that’s not good in a concert situation, and we have one coming up this Sunday!

I was wondering whether Mucinex or some such mucus-buster might help and whether it might have a negative effect on other aspects of my singing? Or is there another medical aid for me?

I’ve been trying to hydrate as much as possible, but so far it’s no help. I would greatly appreciate any help you can give.


Dear SV,

As you know the problem with swollen vocal cords usually affects the high notes. Difficulty with the low notes with intact high notes would suggest some clumpy mucus on the surface of the vocal folds.

In addition to what you are what are you doing, I would recommend steaming, avoiding mucus-producing foods such as dairy and sugar, and keeping your environment humidified. This would be in addition to increased water intake.

You should also take a look at N-acetylcysteine (NAC), a supplement which can break up mucus. This is available at drugstores in Europe, or you can order it online.

Finally as secondary factors, consider acid reflux, which can irritate the cords and make mucus more sticky, and allergies.

Best of luck and let me know how you make out!

– Anthony F. Jahn, MD, FACS, FRCS(C)

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Dr. Jahn welcomes your questions.

This discussion is for general information and not to be construed as specific medical advice that you should obtain from your own physician.

  • Marshall Bradshaw

    This is my number one problem with singing – Mucus. I have both allergies and acid reflux and struggle daily with clearing my throat and hitting my lower notes. I lead worship at my church and have a routine where I take antihistamine before bed on Sat night, then Mucinex when I wake up followed by herbal teas and all natural herbal cough drops. Still haven’t fully cracked the code on this yet though.

  • Engage more vocal twang and modify the vowel to shift the resonance. http://Www.thevocaliststudio.com.

  • Kirk Leavesley

    Personally, I’ve used Guaifenesin with great success. Costco sells the, Kirkland Mucus Relief Chest Expectorant 400mg. If I have a lot of mucus, I’ll take 1-2 tabs about 1-2 hours before I perform.

  • Wes Craft

    I’ve found that giving up dairy clears me up. It may take a week or so for a fuller effect and I know it’s hard to let the cheese and butter go. I’m back off the wagon now but I’m also not a performing musician or worship leader so I’m risking it. :)

  • Try singers tea. It was made specifically for singers. It works great!