Although singing may look simple, the voice is actually a complex series of systems that form an expressive and delicate living instrument. Just as you would care for a physical instrument, singers need to understand how to preserve and protect their voice to best position them for success.
Voice lessons are the best way to train and perfect your body’s natural instrument. But there’s another important consideration you may not have thought of: your beverage choices.
With a myriad of options at your disposal every day, it can be hard to know what drinks will help or harm your singing voice. To help you parse out the dos and don’ts, we asked a group of Ensemble Music Schools voice teachers to share their advice on what singers should (and should not) drink to maintain optimal vocal health.
What You Should Drink
H2O is the way to go
It should come as no surprise that the simplest and most commonly recommended beverage is water. “General hydration is hands down the best,” says Luisa Rodriguez, voice teacher at Dana V Music. “My voice teacher in undergrad used to say ‘the water you drink today is the water that will hydrate you tomorrow.’” Plan for extra hydration in the days prior to your performance to ensure your body is well-fueled for success.
Vocal folds are part of our complex airway and protected by the epiglottis, which prevents most of what we consume from actually reaching the vocal cords. Water vapor is the only particle small enough to reach the cords, making steam an excellent option to lubricate your voice. Consider buying an over the counter facial steamer or stopping in your gym’s steam room before a performance. Alternatively, a hot shower with lots of deep breathing will do the trick!
Spill the tea, please
Add some flare to your water repertoire with caffeine-free teas, also known as herbal infusions. Peppermint, licorice root, or ginger teas offer flavor without sacrificing hydration. Voice teacher Rachel Slotnick of Grace Music School swears by Throat Coat tea, which combines powerful herbs to offer a sweet and silky flavor. “It does not have caffeine so it keeps the vocal cords super hydrated and healthy,” she says. Tampa Music School’s Christine Honein recommends lo han kuo — a Chinese medicinal infusion used to treat everything from sore throats to gastrointestinal problems — for any respiratory concerns.
When life hands you lemons, make lemon water
Another option to dress up your water intake is to infuse it with fruits, such as lemon. Tampa Music School voice teacher Grace Scarberry likes to add a dollop of natural honey to lemon-infused, lukewarm water (but cautions, “get the real honey, not the fake stuff!”). Starting your day with a cup of warm lemon water mixed with honey can soothe your throat and voice for singing.
Rest and recover
When a singer is sick or the voice is in distress, many think that there is a magic tea, tincture, or some other drink that will fix everything. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. “Other than the general tenets of hydration and rest, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all,” adds Rodriguez. “There are many useful things for hydrating the throat and the tissues surrounding the vocal folds, but there isn’t a lot that is better than vocal rest when one is having voice issues.” Making rest and recovery a part of your regimen is essential to caring for your voice long-term.
Drinks to Avoid
Ditch the dehydration
However tempting it may be to make up for lost sleep, singers should avoid caffeinated beverages — such as coffee, alcohol, and energy drinks — especially around performance time. “Caffeine and alcohol are abrasive and should be avoided,” warns Slotnick. These drinks dehydrate the body, causing unnecessary friction and tension on your vocal cords, while their high acidity levels can prompt uncomfortable acid reflux. Try a warm, caffeine-free tea instead (and make sleep a priority!).
While water intake alone is absolutely essential, it’s also important to be intentional about the temperature at which you drink it. Vocal cords are surrounded by muscles that help the cords expand to hit high notes. Some experts believe ice-cold water can constrict those muscles, preventing them from achieving optimal movement. Many singers prefer room temperature or warm water to maximize both hydration and muscle movement — especially around performance time.
Moo-ve beyond dairy
While generally acceptable in moderation, dairy products like cow’s milk can wreak havoc on your voice. Not everyone will experience issues, but some may find themselves more sensitive to dairy, both in terms of its tendency to promote acid reflux and increase the body’s mucus production in the back of the nose and throat. The natural reaction would be to cough to clear your throat, but doing so repeatedly can have a damaging effect on your vocal health. Instead, opt for plant-based alternatives such as soy or almond milk.
Phase out the fizz
For some singers, soda and other carbonated beverages have a number of concerning characteristics. In addition to promoting a temporary caffeine high, the bubbles in these drinks can cause a sense of fullness in the stomach while it fills with air. This can inhibit singers’ breath control and make you feel an overall sense of discomfort. Sparkling water is a no-sugar alternative, but doesn’t solve the challenge of bubbliness. Though not all will experience these side effects, your best bet is to reach for still, room temperature water.
Frequently Asked Questions
Author: Megan Walcek
Megan brings nearly a decade of nonprofit and for-profit marketing and communications experience to her role of Staff Writer at Ensemble Music Schools. She has dedicated her professional career — first at the Alliance for a Healthier Generation and presently at GreatSchools.org — to advancing children’s health and education. Megan graduated with honors from Harvard University with a degree in Human Evolutionary Biology and Global Health & Health Policy and currently resides in New York.
Last concert attended: P!nk at Madison Square Garden