Hydration 101 For Vocalists
In summer 2022, we partnered with the online vocal coaching platform Singdaptive for their Sing, Hear Back & Win contest. Their weekly prize packages include our Emerald 16 oz water bottles. Jamie Babbitt, a session singer, and instructor with Singdaptive shares the most important truths about hydration for singers. In reality, it’s great advice for anyone wanting to keep their voice healthy!
Every singer needs to know the importance of keeping their bodies/vocal folds hydrated with plenty of (room temperature, non-carbonated) water. There are tens of thousands of articles, myriad sources of information on the interwebs and countless voice teachers nagging their clients every moment of every day to drink. more. water. Nonetheless, some singers haven’t yet gotten the memo. Moreover, for many, the reason why water is crucial to vocal health is still shrouded in mystery.
Here’s a quick anatomy lesson: when we swallow a mouthful of water, it doesn’t ever come in direct contact with our vocal folds. If it did, we would choke. However, drinking is still a wonderful means by which to hydrate. Why? Because the water we drink moistens our throats, gets processed by way of our digestive systems, and helps us produce mucus. And, guess what? Vocal folds need a thin layer of mucus to function optimally.
There’s more: by the time we feel thirsty and feel we’d like to have to drink, we are most likely already dehydrated and our mucus has begun to thicken, giving us more of the thick, gunky sound and feeling we do not want. So, what can we singers do to make sure we remain properly hydrated?
Know your body well so you can feel when you’re starting to dehydrate. This is not as simple as it sounds. Singers and non-singers alike know how easy it is to ignore signals and signs from our bodies. Singers, however, live inside their instruments and would do themselves a huge favor by becoming excellent caretakers of the machine housing their money-makers, aka vocal folds. In addition, vocalists may be required to work under extremely adverse conditions: outdoor performances during the summer months, or in cities and countries with sweltering temperatures. Drinking enough water can make the difference between having an enjoyable gig or having one plagued by said vocalist succumbing to heat exhaustion (...which is no joke. Been there, don’t want to ever do that again.)
One way to determine if your level of hydration is adequate is to notice the color of your urine. If it’s clear-ish, you’re hydrated. If not, it’s time for some non-carbonated water. Another sign is feeling like your throat is extremely gunky with mucus. This means the mucus is thickening and you need to hydrate to thin it out. At this point, you’ll find yourself wanting to clear your throat.
*Note: Don’t do that; it’s bad for you! Try tucking your chin and performing a hard swallow, or humming, or executing some lip trills instead. These are tips I impart to my clients; remember, having a voice teacher or coach can be very helpful, and a great way to make sure your voice stays in tip-top shape throughout your career. Even those who sing purely as a hobby can benefit greatly from instruction, as good instruction will instill a solid foundation of healthy singing habits.
Keep an eye on your caffeine and alcohol intake. Both these substances can really dry out the voice. If you must have caffeinated coffee, switch to half-decaf, or drink more water during/after ingesting it. Tea has caffeine, too, so don’t underestimate its effect. Check caffeine levels on any sodas you drink and if you must imbibe, choose a non-caffeinated variety. *Note: Carbonation for singers is generally not the greatest, both for the burp factor and the acid reflux potential, so it’s best to limit carbonated drinks, IMHO. Alcohol is an astringent, so do your best to abstain, especially when singing.
Nowadays, water bottles are ubiquitous, as they should be. I believe that having your very own water bottle with you is a wonderful habit to begin at any age. I’m no beginner at being a water bearer. I proudly carried my water bottle everywhere as a young adult when it was not in fashion at all. See, I was a newbie gym rat, and not even thinking of the benefits to my poor, put-upon, singing-in-a-rock-band-three-nights-a-week-in-smoky-clubs voice. Honestly, though, what better reminder to hydrate is there than having a bottle of your very own within arm’s reach as often as possible? To this very day, I have a couple in my car and a couple at home, festooned with my own personal monograms and patterns so I’m never caught without one. Make sure it’s well-made and can withstand being dropped out of a window of a moving car (Oops!) I’ve even gotten into the routine of leaving a full water bottle on my nightstand in the evening before bedtime so that when I awaken, I drink water before I even start thinking about the day.
Start small if you’re not used to drinking a lot. Sip throughout the day. See if you can work your way up to 64 ounces/approximately two liters per day. See if you feel a positive difference in your voice, your digestion and your skin. I bet you will. And find yourself a nice water bottle…you deserve it!
Author - Jaime Babbitt
Jaime Babbitt has been a coach for Disney and a leading session singer whose voice has been heard by millions, covering leading products and backing A-List artists. She is a staff instructor at the asynchronous online vocal coaching platform Singdaptive.