Water: Sound Advice for Singers

Water: Sound Advice for Singers
You’re singing… and sweating. A friend says smugly: “I drink 12.5 glasses of water a day”.

You can’t be bothered. All of this measuring sounds like a lot of work. What’s the big deal about drinking so much water?

Dr. Ron Scherer explains: “I ask my students to clap their hands hard – there is a slight stinging sensation. Then, I ask them to do the same thing with a little soapy water: no sting. When you’re singing, your vocal folds are essentially slapping together. What the singer needs is a “cushion” between the folds and this is achieved by having a nice mucus coating on the vocal folds. This coating requires proper hydration.


“If you are not well-hydrated the vocal folds can become irritated more quickly, leading to redness and swelling. For physicians, this is called a ‘predisposing condition’ – leading more easily to vocal fold changes and issues”.

So, an inadequate intake of water is certainly not ideal for a singer. Vocal Coach Melissa Cross adds: “Maybe you don’t care about being ideal; you can still do a show. But why not strive to be at your optimum for performance?”

How Much H20?

Most experts recommend six to eight glasses of water a day, but there is no “magic amount”.

Everyone’s body is different and glands work in unique ways. As a general rule of thumb, Scherer says: “The more you use up water, the more you have to ingest to maintain a good balance”.

Singers use up more water if they are sweating during performances, or simply working in a hot, dry venue. It’s easy to become dehydrated without even knowing it.

Speech Therapist Ruth Epstein urges singers not to wait for the interval and then rush and drink all that they can: “Water should not be “glugged” as a punishment but sipped throughout the day and throughout the performance”.

Glass of water with a wedge of lemon

The more you use up water, the more you have to ingest to maintain a good balance.

But there’s another variable to account for when assessing water consumption: the amount of caffeine you’ve had.

Watch Your Other Fluids

Tea, coffee, coke and other caffeinated beverages tend to dehydrate the body by increasing urine production, known as the ‘diuretic effect’.

The singer needs to compensate for caffeine consumption. Marcus Coneys, MD, says: “One rule of thumb is that 10 fl oz of coffee needs 10 fl oz of water to replace this extra loss from diuresis”.

Coneys warns that the extra water needed to compensate for caffeinated drinks is a problem with vocal performance: “A singer can’t keep leaving the stage to urinate, can they? So best avoid caffeinated beverages before and during performances”.

You’ll know if you are drinking the right amount of water if you “pee pale” – though this is not a perfect measurement as multivitamins can color the urine and stress can cause urine to be excessively pale.

Don’t worry about the exact amount of water to drink—worry itself is not good for one’s health. Keep to six to eight glasses a day, but adjust up to take account of performance movement and caffeine intake.

Hot, Cold, or Room Temperature?

There is no magic number in terms of the amount, but is there a magic temperature?

The vocal folds do not need to have the water at a certain temperature to be lubricated. However, vocal folds are not the only part of your body responsible for your sound.

The muscles and mucus in one’s nose, mouth and throat (the pharynx) have a great deal to do with determining the singer’s sound quality.

Muscle function can be inhibited by very cold fluids while very hot fluids may cause the mucous membranes lining the pharynx to swell slightly and the muscles to relax too much

Dr. Coneys explains: “Muscle function can be inhibited by very cold fluids while very hot fluids may cause the mucous membranes lining the pharynx to swell slightly and the muscles to relax too much”.

These effects may be negligible for some vocalists but it’s why the experts say that room temperature is best.

Your H20 Checklist

  • Drink six to eight cups a day (but this is not a “magic number”)
  • Adjust the amount of water you consume to take into account sweating and caffeine
  • Have enough so that you ‘pee pale’
  • Room temperature is better than hot or cold
  • Sip rather than glug
  • Don’t wait until you are thirsty to drink

VoiceCouncil Magazine thanks the outstanding team of professionals who supported and reviewed this article:

Melissa Cross

Melissa Cross is considered worldwide to be an expert on rock vocal technique. Her well-known clientele attest to the fact that the traditional basics of vocal technique can be applied to even the most unorthodox of musical genres. Her unique method of vocal training has culminated in the critically acclaimed release of two vocal instructional DVDs: The Zen of Screaming and The Zen of Screaming 2, available at www.MelissaCross.com.

Ruth Epstein PhD

Ruth Epstein, PhD is Head of Speech & Language Therapy Services and Consultant Speech and Language Therapist (ENT) at the Royal National Throat, Nose & Ear Hospital in London. She is also the Director of the MSc program in Voice Pathology at the Ear Institute, University College London.

Ronald C. Scherer PhD

Ronald C. Scherer, PhD is a voice scientist and educator in the Department of Communication Disorders, Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Ohio. He teaches courses on voice disorders and voice and speech science. His research interests include the physiology and mechanics of basic, abnormal and performance voice production and the methodologies involved in such research. See more about Dr. Scherer’s work.

The editor also thanks Marcus C. D. Coneys, MD for checking the accuracy of many aspects of this article. Dr. Coneys is an anesthesiologist and pain clinician in Red Deer, Alberta.

© August 2009 Gregory A. Barker

  • barkeroni

    Hey great article – can you bring one out on alcohol?

  • guillejosef

    NIce info! I have a problem… I sweat a lot!!! I mean it… A lot!!! How much water do I have to drink?? I'd love to perform with no lights, but we all know that's imposible… hope anyone could answer my question!



  • Mark Sant

    Have to say I found this article very useful indeed. I've spent the last 12 years drinking iced britvic 55 on stage, after reading this I took a glass of room temp water and the differance was amazing!! I found before that as the night went on, my voice appears to strain a little making the more lively songs quite painful to do, but now using water instead, the performance is a lot easier to do.

  • The water you drink takes sometime before it hydrates your system. So, the water you drink (room temp or not) will make its effect quite a bit later. The problem is that i find sometimes my throat gets pretty dry during a performance. This is usually caused by three factors: the venue's atmosphere, too much push, a bit of stage fright. In my case, taking too much water during a performance cleans my mouth and throat a bit too much, eliminating all mocus that lines the vocal folds. What i do is drink a lot while warming up and as little as possible during the show. During the parts of the songs where i don´t have to sing, i move my tongue between my lateral up tooth and inside cheek. This provokes the production of saliva, which helps hydrating the folds inmediately. I guess everybody finds his own tips.

  • lapsmith

    Good article and tips…they certainly make sense. One misconception is that drinking water or other liquids directly lubricates the vocal folds. Not so since when you swallow, the liquid is redirected to the stomach, bypassing the folds (otherwise it would fill up the lungs instead!). Maybe by gargling you could get some moisture directly on the folds? Has anyone tried this? It could at least be less conspicuous than trying breathe steam on stage.

    I've also read that drinking milk isn't good for the voice, but why would that be?


  • garymckinney

    I love practical advice like this! I didn't know that caffeine had such an effect. From now on I'll compensate my coffee drinking with matching amounts of good old room temperature H2O.

  • Cejslp

    gargling would not allow fluid onto the vocal folds, the body protects the vocal folds from allowing fluids to pass onto them as they are directly above the trachea a place fluid should definately not enter

  • J0sephb0steder0217

    This was a very nice article to have come upon, I have been wondering this question for a while now. Doesn’t it also depend on one’s weight as to how much water should be taken in as well?

  • putuporshutp@me.com

    Great advice for all singer but not for de screeches or de wannabies.

  • Dr. Ronald Scherer is great! I’ll start by saying that…  In regards to water, I believe temperature is definitely critical. You should NEVER drink cold fluids when singing, especially extreme phonations. The basic physics of temperature and its influence is the principle here… 

    When singing, you need to manipulate your vocal folds, vocal tract and other critical components of what we call, “The Phonation Package” at The Vocalist Studio. If you are drinking warm fluids, your voice is more flexible, more capable of withstanding extreme configurations. If you drink cold fluids, your voice gets more stiff. What happens to things when they are really cold and you try to break them? They break… if they are warm, they ‘give’ and bend. The voice responds the same way.

    I have field tested this numerous times in my personal experience and it is proven to be true. In fact, the ONLY real vocal injury I ever really had came after flushing my body with a cold drink during a break in one of my practice sessions. Before I took a drink, I was screaming G4s and above and in good shape,, after the drink, something “popped”. I lost my ability to bridge to the head resonance and connect above E4 for about 90 days. I did fully recover, but never again will I drench myself with cold fluids when I’m singing.

    Robert Lunte

  • Andrea Gerak

    Because diary products produce too much mucus. Going diary free (or sometimes having only organic products) makes a huge difference in the quality of the voice. Personal experience, I would highly recommend it for fellow singers.

  • Poppa Madison

    All animals except Humans, drink only water.

    We get it, then we muck it about and make it into other potions.

    We pay dearly in terms of adverse bodily effects and the minus factor from our wallets.

    We are bathed with water at birth and death.

    You know what?

    I’m gonna have a beer and some peanuts and spend half an hour calculating how much water I will then have to ingest to counter the effect of what I am pouring down my much abused oesophagus.

    I hate drinking water from the tap, and can just cope with it chilled from the fridge. Now I am told that drinking icy cold water is bad for my voice.

    Why, oh why was I ever born from within a watery womb Pray tell ?

    I think I might just as well become a recluse and live a life of penury to await my final rinse and clean !

  • Abe

    Drinking water and constantly keeping your throat hydrated has proven to be quite useful for me as well. I’ve also been told that warm salt-water gargling really helps. Can someone explain how the salt essentially helps the vocal cords?

  • UnicornKatniss

    does anyone know what is the best bottled water for singers? i know this question is weird and doesnt really make sense but when i drink poland spring it makes me cough and my voice gets scratchy.
    is there a difference in different companies of water?

  • :D Funny!

  • Paul

    For sure.
    Water actually flowing over the vocal chords causes something called “Drowning”!!

  • johnonthespot

    Melissa Cross is NO rock singer. She’s an ex-cabaret singer. She’s never done 3 sets of rock singing. NEVER. She has never toured. Ever seen her sing? Anything? Going to her for live voice advice is like asking your dentist about life insurance.

    The “8 glasses a day of water” is nonsense for any human who isn’t herding camels across the desert. Drink water based on your needs. If you live in an air controlled home, got to work in your air controlled car to it in an air controlled office, you obviously don’t need 64oz of water A DAY to remain hydrated.

    Other drinks such as coffee, tea and soft drinks are ALL water based so you are getting water into your system. The rule of thumb is ratio 1:1. If you have a beer, have a cup of water. Have a Coke, drink water etc. Balance it out.

    Room temp water is best but I have sung with cold water many times without ill effect. The trick is to let it sit in your mouth for a couple of seconds before swallowing.

    All in all its about trial and error. See what works best FOR YOU.

  • johnonthespot

    You are essentially buying something that comes out of the tap for free. Get yourself a Brita filter jug and save your money.

    Water is water. Don’t buy into the hype of “better bottled water”. Bottled water is the greatest marketing scam in the history of product selling.

  • johnonthespot

    It doesn’t help the vocal folds, what the salt does is attack any bacteria that may be lurking on the back of the tongue and in the pharynx which can lead to sore throats or viral infections.

    Mix one teaspoon of salt with 8oz of warm water. Gargle in little batches. Try to get the water as far back in your throat as you can.

  • johnonthespot

    No. Your weight has zero to do with how much fluids to consume.

  • UnicornKatniss

    Thanks for letting me know. I actually got a Brita filter and it is just fine! I didn’t really know it was a huge hype until my friends (all big on singing) starting getting really into that and “which water is the best” and then I got the filter and it is absolutly fine.

  • God’s love

    That can’t be right. You wouldn’t give a baby 8 cups of water a day. Why? A baby weighs much less. The whole body needs to be hydrated, so there is a formula to know if you are drinking enough. It’s very simple to follow. Your body needs 1/2 your body weight in ounces of water. So if you weigh 150 lbs., you need 75 ounces of water daily.

  • vijay amit

    Sir ….only one question…. Ply.tell…..

    What is food..in daily routine…..,… Ply….

  • Iain Roy Orbison

    well… my best gigs.. aren’t the ones where you stand there sipping anything on stage between songs unless you have a problem.. it looks awful and is deemed un professional. If you drink 8 glasses of water a day your body will just jetison the excess and be accostomed to that. Then.. drinking water doesn’t ‘lubricate’ your voice at all – it washes it.. sometimes that can be useful.. but most of the time it isn’t. Saliva lubricates the voice not water.. I will chew chewing gum before going on stage and sometimes bite the tip of my tongue to stimulate my saliva glands.. many singers become dependent on this water thing constantly sucking on a bottle of water on stage – it’s all bit insecure and desperate to my mind – and unnecessary unless you have a frog in your throat or something. I always find that drinking water right before going on makes me burp as well…

  • Iain Roy Orbison

    the salt especially when mixed with bicarbonate of soda in tiny amounts of both – is helpful in reducing and breaking up mucus in the nasal passages where mucus drips down the back of your nose onto the vocal chords causing problems ( froggy throat) – but it needs to be tiny amounts and idealy ingested into the nasal passages up your nose – this is not reccommended a few hours before you’re due to sing or even on the same day really.

  • Iain Roy Orbison

    yes – can you imagine trying to sing with 4 pints of water inside you stomach? On top of your breakfast and some dinner?? That is crazy!