The Whole Truth About Water and Singing?

Doctor with singing ensemble

Dr. Jahn:

Everyone always says “drink water well before your gig” – because the water doesn’t touch the folds but needs to be absorbed before it can hydrate the voice. But it always feels good to drink water as I’m performing! So I am wondering if this is not the whole truth! Does the immediate effect of the water on the mouth/throat lining above the vocal folds also, in some way, impact the lining on the vocal folds and therefore help my singing immediately?


Dear Kevin,

As a general principle, hydration is good. More specifically, as a singer your entire respiratory and vocal tract benefits from drinking water. So, as a baseline, I recommend drinking water throughout the day. it is best to spread this over your day – like “grazing” when you eat. That way, the water is absorbed easily, and you’re not overly distending your stomach, which might impair breathing and support.

We generally recommend eight 8 oz glasses a day, two with each meal and one between meals.

Now, consider what happens when you perform. Your mouth is open, and you may be sweating, two facts that add to your insensible water loss. It is somewhat like exercising – you’re losing more water, and need to replace it. Most importantly, however, the excitement of the performance pumps adrenaline, causing what is called a sympathetic response. Adrenaline shuts off many of the secretory glands, and, guess what? Your mouth and throat get dry. So, definitely drink, not just before the show for hydration (but don’t overload your stomach), but also during the show.

Finally, if you think about what happens when you drink during the show, you will realize that it gives you a little break, and causes your larynx to move up and down in the neck, almost like a momentary massage to your vocal tract. So definitely keep sipping! The bottle or glass of water on stage is now a generally accepted prop, and will not interfere with your performance.

-Anthony F. Jahn, MD, FACS, FRCS(C)

This discussion is for general information and not to be construed as specific medical advice that you should obtain from your own physician.

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