The first and most fundamental aspect of vocal hygiene is HYDRATION. Plainly stated, the more fluids you drink (within reason), the better your voice will be.
Hydration allows the vocal folds to stay limber, and helps us maintain the protective mucosal lining which coats the vocal folds and protects them from the natural friction that occurs during vocalization. Conversely, without the moisture, the flexibility is hindered, as is the vocal folds, which can cause an unhealthy swelling of the folds. Swollen vocal folds do not vibrate as freely as healthy folds do, thus hindering the voice’s potential. And swollen vocal folds, like any condition or injury to the body, are potentially vulnerable to further, more serious, and possibly permanent, damage.
So, we want to be completely hydrated when we sing. Now, keep in mind: when we drink fluids, the moisture does not go directly to the vocal folds. The vital organs get “dibs” on as much of the hydration as they require for proper function. So, the heart, the lungs, the kidneys, the lymphatic system…they all get hydrated first. If you are looking to hydrate enough to keep thevocal folds healthy, limber, and ready for action, you need to make sure you have hydrated enough to allow your entire body to benefit, not just your voice.
Also, be aware: when the rest of our body is properly hydrated, the moisture from what you drink to help your voice does not GET to your vocal folds immediately. It usually takes around twenty minutes (give or take) for the fluids to make their way through your system before actually arriving in the larynx and benefiting the voice. So, if you know you’re going to be singing, don’t take a swig of water 5 seconds before you step in front of the microphone and expect it to help you. Make sure you drink yourself fully hydrated at least twenty minutes or so before you step up to the mic.
Okay…so, how do you know when the body, and the voice, are fully hydrated? A good rule of thumb is this: PEE CLEAR, SING CLEAR.
When you urinate, if your urine is visually clear, then your body and voice are fully hydrated. If your urine is a rich yellow, chances are you are somewhat dehydrated and need to take in more fluids.
Incidentally, there *ARE* things you can drink and eat that will, INSTANTLY, help the voice get ready for action (as well as foods and drinks which have the exact opposite effect). Those elements will be covered in the next two articles on vocal hygiene, entitled “ Dietary ‘Do-s’ ” and “ Dietary ‘Don’t-s ”
Two other quick points:
1. You can get too much of a good thing. Drinking five gallons of water will not help your voice; it’ll just make you sick. But following the “Pee clear, sing clear” principle will allow you to know when you’ve had enough without overdoing it; if it’s relatively clear, then you’re probably sufficiently hydrated. Don’t go overboard.
2. This may seem obvious, but make sure you empty your bladder before you sing…especially if you’ve had a lot to drink in effort to hydrate yourself. There’s nothing worse than being in the middle of your second song in an eight song set, doing the “pee-pee dance” because you drank a lot and didn’t relieve yourself before going up on stage. (:
I’d like to quickly mention: some people complain of having “dry mouth”, even after drinking water. Though water does hydrate and eventually moisturize the vocal folds, it does not really stimulate the salivary glands, which serves to moisten the mouth and lubricate the vocal folds at the moment one drinks it.
One way to counteract dry mouth is to add some fruit juice to the water, which will not only prevent dry mouth, but will also instantaneously lubricate the vocal folds. More information on the subject of what to drink and eat to keep yourvocal folds moist, and your voice lubricated, will be provided in the next article on vocal hygiene, “ Dietary ‘Do-s’ ”.
I’ve mentioned the vocal folds quite a lot in this article, so my next post will provide an in-depth description of what thevocal folds are and how they function. And the next chapter on vocal hygiene, “ Dietary ‘Do-s’ “, will be posted shortly after.
I’ll leave off with one more benefit of in-taking fluids for the voice:
When the voice is heavily taxed, may it be from a performance, recording session, or rehearsal, or even just a lot of screaming or loud talking at a party, concert, sporting event, etc., the vocal folds can swell up. When this happens, like any muscle that is worked to the extreme, there can be a build-up of lactic acid in the vocal folds. Drinking a generous amount of fluids when the voice is compromised has the same effect on the folds that it has on taxed muscles: it helps flush out the built-up lactic acid, allowing the vocal folds to return to normal.
I’ll get into more detail in another article about what to do in the case of vocal strain, but for the time being, keep in mind: when your voice is taxed, or even when it isn’t…hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.
Have a question about singing technique, voice training, or performance, or an article you’d like to see written? ASK DAN.