Monday, December 23, 2019

Singing and hydration – myths and recommendations

As singers, we’re often told to drink plenty of water.

But why is that, and how much is ‘plenty’?

the effects of hydration on the voice

Relatively few studies have been carried out to date to investigate the effects of hydration status on the voice.

Singers are often told to drink plenty of water before they sing. But there is a lot of misinformation out there about why that’s important.

Hydration within the body allows the vocal cords to stay flexible. It also helps us to maintain the protective lining of mucous which surround the cords.

In fact, hydration in general allows our body and internal organs to function properly. It’s only when we’re seriously dehydrated that problems can arise.

Many professional singers and actors avoid things that might dry out their vocal folds (smoke, alcohol, caffeine, arid environments) and may regularly take hydration treatments such as steam inhalations.

These measures are widely accepted as being beneficial to the voice, but without any scientific basis.

I did come across one study from 2003: Effect of hydration and vocal rest on the vocal fatigue in amateur karaoke singers. Its conclusion was that:
“subjects who sang continuously without drinking water and taking rests showed significant changes in the jitter measure and the highest pitch they could produce during singing.”
Which could just mean that singing continuously for a long time without resting the voice is not a good idea!

how do you avoid dehydration?

If it turns out that hydration status does affect the voice, how do we make sure that we’re sufficiently hydrated?

Whatever we drink doesn’t go straight to the vocal cords. It takes time for ingested fluid to reach internal parts. So there’s no point in having a quick glug before you go on stage. It won’t make any difference.

In fact, there’s not much point in having water available during a rehearsal or performance. To stay properly hydrated you will need to have drunk sufficient amounts several hours before.

The simple answer to avoiding dehydration is to drink when you’re thirsty. Simple!

Claims such as “everyone needs to drink at least eight glasses of water per day,” have no basis at all. There is no evidence to back this up.

The notion may have started in 1945 when the US Food and Nutrition Board of the National Research Council recommended approximately eight glasses per day.

But what people missed was that much of this water comes from what we eat during the day.
Where hydration is concerned, our bodies don’t care whether we’re drinking water or coffee or wine or coca cola. They all contain water, as does the food we eat.

The only downside of coffee and alcohol is that they’re diuretics which means we go to the loo more often and pee out some of the precious water we’ve taken on board.

advice to singers

Based on the above, the simple takeaways are:
  • there is no clear evidence that hydration status affects the voice
  • what you drink takes time to reach the vocal folds
  • drink when you’re thirsty
  • you don’t need to drink loads of water, and any liquid will do

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Chris Rowbury




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Chris Rowbury


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