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Hydrate the Smart Way for Singing

Water splashing

Dr. Rachael Gates, a voice wellness expert and author of ‘The Owner’s Manual to the Voice’ tells us how to most effectively lube our larynx for hydrated singing.


Did you know that the water we swallow never actually touches our vocal cords? Everything that we swallow lands at the base of our tongue and travels around the voice box (larynx) and down into the food pipe (esophagus) just behind!

It is the motion of our swallowing that helps to raise and tip the voice box, dislodging mucus and leaving us with the feeling that we’ve rinsed off our instrument.

You can feel this raising and tipping motion of the voice box if you put your finger on the front most portion of your voice box known as your Adam’s Apple and swallow.


Sweaty summers, dry winters, and high altitudes deplete your body of water and can take a toll on your vocal folds. Help your body maintain optimal hydration levels by keeping the air in your home (especially your bedroom) at 40% humidity.

Purchase a simple hygrometer from a hardware store to monitor your rooms’ humidity levels. Humidifiers and vaporizers can correct a dry living environment.

Whether to use a cool-mist humidifier or warm vaporizer is up to you. Both have tanks that need to be cleaned often with vinegar or soap and water and sanitized with hydrogen peroxide to reduce the transfer of bacteria and mold into the air. Filters need to be changed frequently (about one time each month).

Make the best citrus choice

Did you know that the acidic properties of an orange and lemon are different?

You may experience difficulty singing after drinking orange juice because of the thick phlegm the body produces to digest it. Lemon, however, is a natural mucolytic.

Adding a little bit of lemon to your water will cut through thick mucus secretions and actually encourage your body to produce plentiful thin mucus. Plenty of thin mucus is highly desirable for beautiful, healthy singing.

Be careful with actually sucking on a lemon, however. Undiluted, a lemon’s acidity can corrode tooth enamel – not recommended for singers’ pearly whites!

Know your caffeine levels

Caffeine is a stimulant and should be consumed carefully by singers. It can cause irritability and nervousness, it can also irritate the bladder and give us the need to urinate more often. Bodies can develop a tolerance to caffeine with regular consumption and not experience these effects, however.

Experts at the Mayo Clinic say that in excess of 500 mg, caffeine has a diuretic effect and causes our bodies to lose water.

Try not to mess with too much caffeine. What you’re really looking for to have a successful performance is stability. If you are not accustomed to caffeine, you’re probably wise not to start consuming caffeine.

Besides, as a serious singer you need plenty of water. You are hopefully rarely without your water bottle and are likely urinating often enough without caffeine as it is!

Caffeinated substances differ in how much caffeine they contain. Even among coffees, caffeine amounts vary. An 8oz cup of caffeinated coffee typically has 100mg of caffeine but, depending on the brand, the grind and the type of bean, can have anywhere from 58-281mg of caffeine!

Water evaporation contributes too; the older the pot of coffee (or tea), the higher the caffeine concentration.

Go herbal

Aside from coffee, caffeine is found in black teas, green teas, white teas, many sodas, chocolate, energy drinks, some medications and even some bottled water.

Because caffeine cannot be completely removed from something that is naturally caffeinated, “decaf” drinks contain some amount of caffeine. While decaf may be less of an issue, there are no regulations on how much caffeine must be removed for coffee to be considered decaffeinated and generally ranges from 5mg to 32 mg.

Herbal coffees and teas (e.g. mint, chamomile, hibiscus, and red “rooibus”) are caffeine-free, meaning they never had caffeine to begin with.

My Reaction to This Week's Singing Competition Entry

Gary Clute Gary Clute - Every Breath

This is a very beautiful and heartfelt composition. The delivery was emoted with convincing sincerity. Gary’s voice is not as efficient as it could be due to neck tension, jaw tension and a lack of resonance. His vibrato is wide and unstable likely due to age and practice habits. However, Gary is very musical and enjoyable to watch and listen to.

  • Kathy Coneys Alexander

    I never knew orange juice did that! Thanks for giving us concrete numbers, such as 40% humidity and the amount of caffeine in drinks. Very helpful!

  • Kim Chandler

    Hi Rachel. What was your doctoral thesis on? And is it available online anywhere?

  • Michael Vaughn

    Water, water, water! We must hydrate.
    I drink a minimum of one gallon of water per day.