Musician’s Guide to Playing When You’re Sick

There will come a time in almost every musician’s life when you get sick but you still have to play you’re instrument. Whether you have an important performance or simply a lesson, here’s your guide to playing when you’re sick.

Hannah B Flute | Guide to Playing When You're Sick

With winter upon us, it’s important that we all stay healthy. However, if you do get sick, you need to be prepared for playing when you’re sick.

I’ve had my fair share of performances to give when I was under the weather, so I have some tips for performing without getting yourself even more sick.

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Should You Play When You’re Sick?

Ideally, you wouldn’t have to perform or practice at all when you feel sick. Unfortunately, that ideal situation doesn’t always happen. If you have a performance coming up, you might just have to power through. This is particularly true for students.

Concert attendance or performance plays a huge role in your overall grade for an ensemble. Of course there’s also rehearsal attendance and preparation, but illness usually warrants an excused absence. The concert itself is a different story.

If you have a professional gig coming up, then you have to weigh the options. Do you need the money? Who all is counting on you? If it’s an orchestra, can you find a substitute?

When possible, it’s best to take a day off from playing if you’re sick. If you can’t do that, keep reading for some tips on how to get through a performance when you’re sick.

How to Play When You’re Sick

While we would all love to take a break from playing when we’re sick, that isn’t always easy or possible. If you’re a student, you might have an important concert. Professionals might have a gig that they just can’t miss.

Prepare ahead of time

The best thing to do is to avoid getting sick, so make sure your shots are up to date. Try your best to eat a healthy diet, and drink a ton of water. Staying hydrated will not only help you avoid getting sick, but it will make your recovery go much more quickly.

Another way you can prepare ahead of time is by keeping up with your practice. I try to at least maintain my current level of playing each day. While there are days where I don’t want to pick up my instrument, I do so in case there are days where I can’t play.


Whether you’re healthy or sick, you need to get enough rest. Of course you need enough sleep, but I’m talking about other forms of rest. A chill night on your couch or a relaxing hot bath are both great ways to rest.

You’re more likely to get sick when you’re overworked and low on rest. When you do get sick, your body needs rest to get rid of illness and to repair your cells. Let your body do its job and take some time off from the world.

Play as little as possible

When you get sick and you have to play your instrument, do your best to play as little as possible. If you’re a singer or a wind player, this is especially the case. Your body needs to heal, and playing or singing too much can slow that healing process.

Even if you play piano, percussion, or a string instrument, you still shouldn’t push yourself too hard.┬áSo if and when you have to perform while sick, don’t play any more than you have to.

When I first had to perform when I was sick, I didn’t practice at all that day. I didn’t go to my classes, and I only went to the dress rehearsal and the concert. Once I was done performing, I left. I didn’t want to get anyone else sick, and I needed the rest.

Disinfect your instrument

Especially if you play a woodwind or brass instrument, you should disinfect it after your performance. Then, don’t play it again for a few days until you feel better.

For flutes and other metal instruments, you can use some rubbing alcohol on the mouthpiece or headjoint. I wouldn’t do anything specific to disinfect the rest of the instrument other than to let it rest. Time can kill the rest of the germs.

If you play a wood instrument, such as a wood piccolo, don’t do anything. Just set your instrument in its case and let it be. In a few days, you can take your instrument back out and play it, but alcohol can dry out the wood.

Keep resting

Even after your performance is over, you need to get rest. Avoid the temptation of an after party. If you can, get out of there as soon as you’re finished playing, and get home.

Make sure you listen to your body, because it’s all you have. If your body is sending you a message, listen to it. Keep getting that needed rest until you are fully recovered. Then repeat the cycle to avoid getting sick in the future.


Have you ever had to play when you’re sick? Let me know in the comments!


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