Vocal Health FAQ

I have heard that dairy foods produce mucus, should a singer stay away from milk products?

 It is completely individual. If you are lactose intolerant or if milk products happen to not agree with you, of course you should avoid them. Doctors have assured me that it is a total myth that dairy foods  actually produce mucus. This myth is being spread by non-medical voice specialists, but I have yet to hear a plausible explanation of the mechanism which allegedly causes this. If your singing teacher tells you this you might want to ask about whether they have any scientific studies  that backup this claim.  Then run the explanation past your doctor. Dairy products contain important nutrients that are necessary for your long term health. You should not give these benefits up on the say so of a singing teacher that has latched onto this philosophy. Physicians at the National Jewish Medical and Research Center,  have learned that dairy, high fat dairy in particular, simply  thickens the mucus that is already present in your throat, which momentarily may feel uncomfortable. This may explain the "old wives tale" that is being spread that  consuming milk increases mucus output. Studies have shown that is most cases a nice glass of water rinses it all away and leaves you feeling comfortable and ready to sing.

When I was in grad school the opera director made  some cast members actually consume ice cream on stage in Kurt Weill's  opera " Street Scene". I remember the poor tenor complaining bitterly that he was unable to sing afterward. Having to consume ice cream on stage (high fat dairy) and continue singing without a glass of water to wash it down is clearly unreasonable.

I heard that coffee and tea cause dehydration should I avoid these drinks?

Coffee and tea both contain caffeine and caffeine causes dehydration, therefore, of course, it makes perfect sense not to over-consume coffee and tea. Must you completely avoid these drinks? OF COURSE NOT.  Tea consumption is second to water consumption amongst professional singers. Many professional singers can not sing without tea!

I have personally witnessed a world famous opera singer standing in the middle of the stage at a tech rehearsal, in her multi-thousand dollar costume with her hand outstretched demanding " Hot Tea".

During union breaks at the international opera house where I used to work there was always a huge line (queue) for the coffee and tea machines, where the entire chorus and principals would gather and partake of caffeinated drink before  singing gloriously. Obviously, it is possible to drink coffee and tea and then sing well!!!! It probably helps to warm the throat and wakes  up  a singer enough to reduce the chance of mistakes.

*Water is the best drink, providing it is not ice cold and freezes up your throat!*

**Whilst caffeinated drinks do not interfere with many peoples ability to sing well, do remember**
 that sugary drinks and drinks that contain caffeine do not sufficiently hydrate your system therefore
 you should also drink water!

I was told that chocolate is bad and causes mucus. Should I avoid it?

I have heard of anecdotal evidence that eating chocolate makes one's throat uncomfortable.  But I know of no definitve studies. Chocolate has lots of sugar , which can negatively effect people with low blood sugar and caffeine which does have a drying effect. Personally, I do not eat chocolate right before I sing. Other singers can tolerate it. Try it and see what effect it has on you . If you test it at non-critical times and it is ok, then don't worry!

I was told that I should avoid spicy foods, is that true?

It is an individual thing. I find that eating spicy foods clears out my congestion. But then it leaves me feeling dry, therefore, I would not eat a very spicy meal right before an important performance. I do believe spicy food is a good tool to move congestion before it settles and makes you ill. Try it for yourself and see how it effects you as an individual.

Ok, so milk, chocolate, spicy foods, tea and coffee might not be a problem. What should I worry about?

Ok, below is my list of things proven to have a negative effect on the voice.

1. Lack of rest and vocal rest
2. Dehydration

3  Having to speak over noise.
4. Smoke, including second hand
5. Alcohol on the day that you sing or more than one drink the night before
6. Eating too close to bedtime causing acid reflux
7. Sick people that will infect you with upper respiratory infections.

As you can probably imagine, attending an opening night party where you tire yourself out, speak over loud music, drink too much, eat too much before going to sleep and shake hands with many sick people is the worst thing you, as a singer can do!