The Human Brain and the Influence of Music

Are you looking for a great book to add to your holiday reading list?
By Developing Voices Author Jamea J. Sale, MME

Are you looking for a great book to add to your holiday reading list? I suggest Musicophilia (2007) by Oliver Sacks. Musicophilia explores the wonders of the brain, neuroscience and music. In any other hands the topic could make for dry reading, yet Sacks exudes enthusiasm about advances in neuroscience which enabled the visualization of the human brain under the influence of music. Sacks also adhered to his point of view that the description and observation of the people being studied is paramount. Perhaps this explains why Sacks’ writing is so appealing and accessible to readers; he weaves the clinical aspects of musicophilia into an artful telling of each patient’s life experience.
What is musicophilia? The Greek word suffix -philia as applied to music refers to an abnormal or heightened awareness of music which presents as intense music-seeking or music-associated behaviors in people. This might include the playing of music, dancing, or singing along to tunes (Fletcher, Downey, Witoonpanich, & Warren, 2013). An example is the account of Tony Cicoria, a surgeon who had a near death experience when he was struck by lightning in a telephone booth. He made a full recovery and returned to his work as a surgeon, but his life was transformed by an extraordinary craving to play the piano thereafter.
Sacks refers to such phenomena as musical “hauntings.” Less dramatic hauntings occur for the average person. Many have experienced the occasional “ear-worm” in which a song is “stuck” in one’s mind. The music subverts a part of the brain somewhat like a tic. Unfortunately for some people, this repetitive firing of the brain becomes a musicophilia, and it takes on a disturbing pathological quality taking place at a high level in the brain.

Sacks made profound discoveries about music and the brain in his lifetime. Movie enthusiasts may be acquainted with the dramatic film called Awakenings, based on his 1973 book of the same name which recounted the experience of catatonic patients suffering the after-effects of sleeping sickness. These patients miraculously “awakened” after being treated with the drug, levodopa, but sadly the effects of the drug were short-lived. However, Sacks found that his patients responded to music! They were observed to temporarily move with ease and grace in response to music, and they could sing expressively. Music represented auditory dopamine for these patients, a testament to the therapy of music in their lives. (Awakenings trailer)
Musically talented people are often described as having a marked, innate musical ability, and a good ear for pitch and rhythm (Watts, Murphy, & Barnes-Burroughs, 2003). In Musicophilia, Sacks suggested that there is innate musical talent in everyone but that the cognitive and emotional capabilities needed to grasp music varies from person to person. He explored the ability of people to realize the artistry, meaning, and phrasing of music, and the apparent neurological misalignment that inhibits some people from achieving their desire for great musical ability. The advent of MRI morphometry in the 1990s made it possible to visualize the brain structures of musicians. It was determined that in the brains of professional musicians, the corpus callosum is enlarged and that the planum temporale, a part of the auditory cortex, is asymmetrically enlarged in those having absolute pitch (Gaser & Schlaug, 2003; Hutchinson, Lee, Gaab, & Schlaug, 2003). There are “increased volumes of gray matter in the motor, auditory, and visuospatial areas of the cortex and in the cerebellum” of this population (Sacks, 2007, p. 100).

Figure 4: Gaser, C., & Schlaug, G., 2003, pp. 9243.
For a very few, amusia is a reality. Acquired amusia can occur as part of a neurological event (stroke, migraine, etc.) that may affect one’s perception of music. Researcher Steven Mithen, author of The Singing Neanderthal (2005), was convinced that musical language is embedded in the human genome, even more so than spoken language, yet Mithen said that he, himself was unable to match pitch or rhythm. Therefore, Mithen was compelled to discover whether his claim to life-long amusia could be overcome. His adventure involved taking singing lessons and having brain examinations under fMRI. Mithen’s singing practice not only led to heightened activity in his brain’s inferior frontal gyrus and superior temporal gyrus but Mithen also had substantial improvement in his ability to sing! After the year-long experiment, Mithen wrote that it is “remarkably difficult to sing—to simultaneously and unconsciously manage pitch, rhythm, timbre, tone, and dynamics—I am even more mystified as to why humans have evolved such an amazing ability.” (Mithen, 2008, p. 39).
Musicophilia concludes with a reminder that all cultures hold music in high esteem. It is central to human dance, religion, celebration and entertainment. One need not be particularly knowledgeable about music to be profoundly affected by it. The same could be said about the artfully woven personal stories and scientific studies of humans and music in Musicophilia. It is a compelling and worthwhile addition to your holiday reading list!

Jamea Sale, Director of the Institute for Healthy Singing:                                                                                                                                    Executive Associate Director, William Baker Choral Foundation
Voice Specialist, Allegro Choirs of Kansas City
Fletcher, P. D., Downey, L., Witoonpanich, P., & Warren, J. (2013). The brain basis of musicophilia: evidence from frontotemporal lobar degeneration. Frontiers in Psychology, 4, 347.
Gaser, C., & Schlaug, G. (2003). Brain structures differ between musicians and non-musicians. Journal of Neuroscience, 23(27), 9240-9245.
Hutchinson, S., Lee, L. H. L., Gaab, N., & Schlaug, G. (2003). Cerebellar volume of musicians. Cerebral cortex, 13(9), 943-949.
Koelsch, S., Skouras, S., Fritz, T., Herrera, P., Bonhage, C., Küssner, M. B., & Jacobs, A. M. (2013). The roles of superficial amygdala and auditory cortex in music-evoked fear and joy. Neuroimage, 81, 49-60.
Llinás, Rodolfo (2001). I of the Vortex: From Neurons to Self. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.
Mithen, S. (2008). Singing in the brain. New Scientist, 197(2644), 38-39.
Robb, S., Hanson-Abromeit, D, May, L., Hernandez-Ruiz, E., Allison, M., Beloat, A., Daugherty, S., Kurtz, R., Ott, A.,
Oyedele, O., Polasik, S., Rager, A., Rifkin, J., & Wolf, E. (2018). Reporting quality of music intervention research in healthcare: A systematic review. Complementary therapies in medicine.
Sacks, O. (2007). Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain. New York: Vintage Books.
Storr, A. (1992) Music and the Mind. New York: The Free Press.
Tomaino, C. M. (2015). Music therapy and the brain. Music therapy handbook, 40-50.
Watts, C., Murphy, J., & Barnes-Burroughs, K. (2003). Pitch matching accuracy of trained
singers, untrained subjects with talented singing voices, and untrained subjects with nontalented singing voices in conditions of varying feedback. Journal of Voice, 17(2), 185-194.

Organizing the Chaos: Managing the Middle School Choir

I’ve heard it said that teaching middle school puts one at the front of the line for sainthood. We’ve all had days on which we have earned that status. I have been teaching middle school choir for seven years, and in that time I have witnessed the full spectrum of adolescent behavior; from the sweet to the disrespectful, from the silly to the hyper-focused, and sometimes just chaotic madness. Classroom management is more of an art than a science; it requires flexibility, reflection, and attention to detail. I don’t have all the answers, but thought I would share some practices with which I have had success.

Problem: My choir is too chatty during rehearsal.

Option 1: Call and Response. This seems elementary, but it has worked for me.  There are many types of calls and responses you can use. Make your expectations clear when you teach the protocol: one call, one response, refocus, and move on with rehearsal.

  • Clap or “Sh” a four beat rhythm for students to echo
  • Vocalize a “Yoo-hoo” and students echo
  • “One, two, three. Eyes on me” Students respond “One, two, eyes on you.”
  • Be creative—there’s no wrong way to do this

Option 2: Rehearse your rehearsal. At the beginning of the year, my students practice standing with their folders, ready to sing, over and over again.  If students talk during this process, we start again. We don’t move on until everyone can stand poised and ready to focus.  We usually revisit this exercise a handful of times each semester when things really devolve.

Option 3: Reward Chart.  Another elementary technique, but one that my sixth graders seem to respond to. After each rehearsal that the class meets my behavioral expectations, they earn a mark on the reward chart. After 10 such days, they receive a free seating day. I’ve heard of teachers offering a day of music games, movie days, or candy—just find out what will motivate your bunch!

Problem:  My students don’t use good singing posture or technique, even though we talk about it all the time.

How’s your sticker game?  My students love stickers (really! they love being recognized in front of their peers).  I keep a pack near the piano, and whenever I spot a student using good posture, tall vowels, marking their music with a pencil, etc., I quickly acknowledge their good behavior by passing them a sticker. There’s minimal disruption to rehearsal, and it’s amazing how many students start to sit taller and follow directions after they see their classmates earning stickers.

Bonus: Let a student or two students play “Posture Police”.  Have them walk around while you are sight-reading or rehearsing.  They can give stickers to students who are demonstrating great posture.

Problem: My students don’t stand still when they sing. 

In Rehearsal: Use movement to your advantage. As much as I understand the need to practice standing still while singing, I encourage my students to use movement while warming up or practicing parts in rehearsals.  Deliberate movement can help students connect their breath to their sound.  We make waves for crescendos, pop bubbles for staccato sounds, shoot basketballs for ascending leaps, and much more. Sometimes, I’ll have students alternate between sitting and standing while we are singing to keep them moving and alert.  Control the movement and make it work for you.

For the Performance: I use a saying that I learned from my friend and colleague Nathan Dame.

Feet, feet”(stomp each foot down)
“Hips straight” (point to each hip)
“Shoulders back” (touch the left and right shoulders)
“Head tall” (Pull an invisible string from the top of your head)
“ Chin down” (check that the chin is parallel to the ground)
“Eyes on you.” (students use their two fingers to point at their eyes then yours and FREEZE)

The students learn the chant at the beginning of the year.  When we are preparing for a concert I have them repeat it.  Once they say “eyes on you,” they freeze with their hands at their side and then we run our music.  If one member moves before the music starts, we do the whole chant again. I have found this to be a very helpful tool in getting students in the correct performance posture.

Final Thoughts

  • Make your expectations known from day 1, and be consistent! Research suggests posting expectations in the classroom is best practice.
  • You must allocate time in your rehearsal to practice the simple tasks: walking on risers, standing quietly, using good posture, etc. Be diligent and don’t move on before they achieve mastery.
  • Positive reinforcement works. It’s basic human psychology. Offer ways to earn rewards.
  • If a management technique is failing, try something different. Reach out to colleagues for ideas. Talk to the effective core subject teachers in your school. They may offer something you can adapt for the choir room.
  • Choose your battles; I laugh when I think about all the time I wasted as a new teacher sweating the small stuff. There are annoying behaviors that adversely affect rehearsal—but there are also annoying behaviors that don’t.  Learn to let the small stuff go and your nerves will thank you for it.
  • Above all, cultivate a sense of family and teamwork in your classroom. When everyone invests and trusts each other, working towards that common goal becomes much easier.

Jennifer Berroth


Making the Most of Practice Between Rehearsals


by Special Contributor Dr. William O. Baker

What is the difference between rehearsal, the work accomplished corporately when the ensemble is gathered, and practice, the individual preparation each member engages between rehearsals.  I believe the distinction to be a critically important one, especially in the world of excellent church choirs and high-achieving volunteer choruses.

Most choral organizations hold weekly rehearsals of 2-3 hours.  For a 100-voice volunteer chorus to accomplish a work of the magnitude of the Brahms Requiem in, say, 10 weeks of rehearsals, it is incumbent upon every member to “practice” between rehearsals, and to do so in a productive way.

I propose a programmed method of 30-45 minutes each day to maximize the effectiveness and efficiency of her practice.  Let’s assume a Tuesday evening rehearsal for the sake of our discussion.

Wednesday… The Day for Review

STEP ONE: Find a comfortable and quiet place, perhaps with a cup of tea or glass of wine, to review instructions, notes and inspiration from the previous rehearsal.  Review should not include any time at the piano, or listening to a recording or study tracks.  All focus should be given to reading through the score silently to reinforce every marking given, perhaps to clarify written notes and instructions jotted in haste.

STEP TWO:  Mark any places in the music that will need extra attention as the week of practicing progresses.  If the director spoke at length about a certain issue, perhaps a troublesome interval or a German vowel needing special attention, some thought-time should be invested remembering and reinforcing the instruction.  It bears repeating, this is not the day to approach the piano.

GOAL: Let instruction sink in to the memory.

Thursday… Rhythm and Text

STEP ONE: Returning to the quiet place with another cup of tea or glass of wine, spend a practice session devoted entirely to rhythm and text. Review any challenging rhythmic figures on nonsense syllables, then on staccato, then counting (1+ 2+ T+ Fa+… avoiding the clarity challenges of the words “three” and “four”).

STEP TWO: Speak the text in rhythm to work toward perfect placement of vowels and consonants in rhythmic figures, giving special attention to the placement and efficiency of releasing consonants.

STEP THREE: Careful and intentional consideration of inflection and the impact of vocal timbre to the goal of making the words come expressively alive.

GOAL: Secure structural rhythm.

Friday… Approaching the Piano

STEP ONE: Abandon the contemplative place and approach the piano.  Having marked troublesome areas for pitches during the Wednesday review period, this is the time to tackle those pitch issues at the piano. Play the knotty passage on the piano without singing.

STEP TWO: Sing the passage on numbers or a nonsense syllable without playing.  Then play again without singing to check your work, and then sing again without playing to confirm your progress.  The pattern of singing without playing and playing without singing should continue with nonsense syllables, then with vowels alone, and finally with consonants and vowels together.

GOAL: Secure the correct part in the mind’s ear of the singer.

Saturday… Enjoying Recordings

STEP ONE: It is time to gain perspective by enjoying various recordings of the work.  Most conductors will share a recommended recording with their singers and audiences. I believe it benefits singers to hear a work, from as many perspectives as possible.  There is always great benefit to listening to a good reference recording repeatedly so the chorister might see how a particular nuance fits into the whole of the work.

GOAL: Listen to 10 different recordings, each one with its own array or strengths, weaknesses, and wonders.

Sunday… Giving Thanks

STEP ONE: Avoid contact with the work entirely.  It is helpful to the progress of any endeavor to periodically apply a mental break.  On the off-day spend the same amount of time in contemplation and thanksgiving that you have invested in practice during the other days of the week.

GOAL: Experience a renewed inspiration.

It is easy to forget the privileges we share as we participate in great choral music in the first quarter of the 21st century.  Rehearsals are led be well-educated, well-experienced and highly dedicated leaders.  Skilled accompanists assist with rehearsal on modern, well-tuned instruments.  Heat and an air conditioning provide for our comfort during rehearsals.  We travel to and from rehearsals in safe and reliable automobiles, trains or buses.  Most of us possess a device that, though small as a deck of playing cards, can summon hundreds of versions of the music we are studying for our inspiration, enjoyment, and education.  We live in a day where we have centuries of perspective, reference and access to comparative works through abundantly available scores and recordings, a blessing the people of Brahms’ time could not even have imagined.  If we seek to pause and consider the wealth of blessings afforded us through the choral experience, we will easily fill an hour per week with renewed inspiration that will greatly enhance our enjoyment.

Monday… Final Preparation for Rehearsal

STEP ONE: The day before rehearsal, spend the first 20 minutes of your practice time addressing the single most urgent challenge the music holds for you.  In any particular week that challenge may be a tough rhythmic passage, a reminder about a certain pronunciation, or a problematic tuning issue.

STEP TWO: Invest in researching something new and interesting about the work and/or about the composer.  Spending a few minutes in the composer’s world as the last exercise before rehearsal is quite valuable.

GOAL: Seek to master your one issue and only one issue on the final day of practice before rehearsal.

A healthy person is always a healthy singer.  Having completed a week of structured preparation and practice, having meditated well on the blessings of the experience, and having accomplished good habits of exercise, nutrition and rest, you will be fully prepared to make the most of your contribution to the Tuesday rehearsal.

William Baker

Image found at:

Is Caffeine Dehydrating to the Vocal Folds?

Caffeine has generally been recognized in the past as being dehydrating to the body while also causing diuresis. Health advocates in the past have encouraged singers as well as educators and public speakers to reduce their intake of caffeine because it is presumed to have a dehydrating effect on the voice. Presently, some information provided on vocal health websites encourage consumers to refrain from caffeinated beverages, in order to maintain fluid balance and one’s hydration status in the body.

Is caffeine dehydrating to the vocal folds? Does it compromise a singer’s ability to perform well?

Caffeine is one substance assumed to be associated with voice problems by causing systemic dehydration. It has been thought that if you drink coffee, you are robbing the body of water. Past reports have stated that for every cup of coffee drunk, 2 cups of urine is eliminated.

Why is hydration so important for the singer?  Singers rely on a well hydrated body for optimal vocal production for many reasons, but primarily because hydration maintains suppleness and litheness for the vocal folds. Hydration also helps to lubricate the mucosal lining protecting the folds from resistance or abrasion during phonation. Well lubricated and supple folds provide stamina for the speaking voice, aid in vocal projection, maintain flexibility with regard to the cartilage and muscular tissues and keep inflammation from becoming an issue.   Avoiding agents that dehydrate the vocal folds is an integral part of vocal hygiene education.

Singers are encouraged to establish and maintain a vocal hygiene program. Since systemic dehydration is detrimental to voice production the avoidance of any external agents that might prevent lubrication of the folds and their flexibility is critical. Because of the presumed drying effects of caffeine, many voice clinicians encourage an abstinence of all beverages containing caffeine. This advice remains common among medical and voice instructors even though there is little evidence to support the belief that caffeine consumption induces negative changes to the voice. Still, singers must consider how their behavior regarding use of the voice, diet, exercise and sleep impact their performance. All decisions regarding lifestyle can serve as a benefit or detriment to the singer.

Should we partake of caffeine? If so, then how much? Does the water in caffeinated drinks help us or not? Killer, Blannin, and Jeukendrup (2014) conducted a study to compare the effects of caffeinated coffee consumption against water ingestion using a range of validated hydration assessment techniques. 50 male coffee drinkers that habitually consumed 3 – 6 cups a day participated in two trials. Each of the trials lasted three consecutive days. In addition to controlled fluid intake, the food intake and physical activity were also controlled. The participants consumed either 200 milligrams of coffee containing 4 milligrams/kilograms caffeine or water. The results showed that there were no significant changes in total body water or total body mass from beginning to end of either trial . There were also no differences between trials with TBW and TBM. These data suggest that coffee, when consumed in moderation by caffeine habituated males provides similar qualities to water. The researchers did caution that no results of this study would be used to infer if there would be no effect with greater amounts of caffeine.

Franca and Simpson (2013) conducted a pilot study to understand the effects of the interaction of caffeine and water intake on the voice as evidenced by acoustic and aerodynamic measurements. The investigation was to determine if the ingestion of 200mg of caffeine and various levels of water intake have an impact on the voice. The participants (N=48) were 49 females ranging in age from 18 – 35 years. The participants followed a protocol that included recording weight and height, as well as menstrual cycle phase identification. Results showed no significant changes in voice or acoustic and aerodynamic measurements across all four groups. The results suggest that 200 mg caffeine may not degrade vocal acoustics and aerodynamics. It also suggests that 200 mg caffeine and water hydration may not lead to statistically significant changes.

Current research shows that a moderate intake of caffeinated beverages do not put one at risk of dehydration. Journals now report that informed medical doctors, exercise physiologists, and human physiologists agree that caffeinated beverages when consumed in moderation cannot put the body in dehydrated status. The body must replenish its fluids everyday because a significant amount of whatever we drink is lost.

If you’re a regular coffee drinker, one cup will hardly have negative ramifications. The body adapts to a person’s coffee-drinking habits. The more coffee you habitually drink, the less water you’ll lose from it.  (Evans, 1998). Many experts also agree that coffee has a hydrating rather than a dehydrating effect because it is a fluid. It is absolutely not recommended over water. As long as one does not add cream and sugar to their cup of coffee, their cup of coffee will contain 95% water!

Still, water is the best source for hydration and therefore the best means to ensuring a singer’s vocal folds are operating at the most optimal level. Over the last several years, we have come to understand that the amount of water one should intake on a daily basis depends on your size and weight, as well as your activity level. As recent as 2014, the United States Food and Drug Administration stated that one should drink eight, eight ounces of water every day. Now, the general rule of thumb is to drink between half an ounce and an ounce of water for each pound you weigh, every day, based on normal physical activity.

In the end, be sensitive to your body. Listen to it. Monitor everything that goes in so the notes that come out are as sweet as the sugar you left in the doughnut still sitting on your plate.


Ahmed, S., Coomber, S., Chetwood, T. (2013). Effects of caffeine on vocal acoustic and      aerodynamic measures of adult females. CoDAS. 25(3), 250-5.                              

Artan Laboratories. (n.d.) Retrieved from: Caffeine Amounts: Retrieved from:                                                   

Center for Science in the Public Interest: (n.d.) Retrieved from:  

Duke Voice Health. (2012). Retrieved from:        vocal%20health.pdf

Erikson, E. (2010). Systematic investigation of caffeine ingestion on voice. Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery. 143.(2) 83-84.

Family Doctor. (n.d.) Retrieved from: wellness/food-nutrition/nutrients/hydration-why-its-so-important.html   

Fletcher, H. M., Drinnan, M. J., Carding, P. N. (2007, January). Voice care knowledge among clinicians and people with healthy voices or dysphonia. Journal of Voice. 21(1), 80 – 91.

Franca, M. C., Simpson, K. O. (2013). Effects of the interaction of caffeine on water on voice performance. Communications Disorders Quarterly. 35 (1), 5 – 13.

Franca, M. C., Simpson, K. O., Schuette, A. (2012). A pilot randomised control trial: the effects of decaffeinated drinks on voice quality. Clinical Otolaryngology. 37 (5), 428-431.

Erickson-Levendoski, E., Sivasankar, M. (2011). Investigating the effects of caffeine on        phonation.  Journal of Voice. 25. (5). E215-E219.

Killer, S.C., Blannin, A. K., Jeukendrup, A. E. (2014). No evidence of dehydration with         moderate coffee intake: a counterbalanced cross-over study in a free-living population.

Maughan, R. J., Griffin, J. (2003, Nov. 18). Caffeine ingestion and fluid balance: a review. PubMed. US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of  Health.                         doi: 10.1046/j.1365-277X.2003.00477.x

Parillas, D. (n.d.). Vocal hygiene – part 2: hydrate! hydrate! hydrate! why vocal hydration is important to singing. Vocal Brilliance. Retrieved from: 2-hydrate-hydrate-hydrate-why- hydration-is-important-to-singing

Popkin, B. M., D’Anci, K. E., Rosenberg, I. H. (2010, August).Water, Hydration and Health. National Institutes of Health. Nut.Rev. 68.(8) 439-458.                                                           doi: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.2010.00304.x

The United States Food and Drug Administration. Last updated (2014, July 7). Retrieved from:

Vocal health top ten list. (1994, April). American Salesman. 39.(4) 24.


Myths and Facts: Caring for Your Voice during the Winter Months

Taking care of the voice or Vocal Hygiene

can be thought of as the care and feeding of the voice. 

These are things we do to keep the voice healthy.

To take care of the voice, we must also take care of the body.

Here are the facts regarding hydration of your body and therefore your voice ~



To keep the vocal folds moist from the inside, make sure you drink plenty of water.

The vocal folds function best when the entire body is well hydrated. Since fluids and food pass through the pyriform sinus cavities avoiding the vocal folds and air passageway, vocal folds do not receive direct hydration. Rather, the body supplies hydration to the areas of the body that need it foremost. This is why it is important to hydrate on a consistent and constant basis as it does not help your voice if you plan on waiting and drinking water just before your choir rehearsal.

  • Good hydration also makes the mucus that covers the vocal folds thin and slippery, so that they move against each other easily and vibrate smoothly. Think of the mucus coating as being like motor oil to your car’s engine: if it is thin and slippery, the engine will run smoothly!
  • Alcohol is drying to the entire body. Monitor your consumption of alcohol as it can make the vocal folds drier. If you are a regular coffee drinker of caffeine, moderate and regular intakes are now considered not to be as de-hydrating as once believed. Research shows that a profound tolerance to the effects of caffeine and its response are much diminished in individuals who regularly consume tea or coffee. Doses of caffeine equivalent to the amount normally found in standard servings of tea, coffee and carbonated soft drinks appear to have no diuretic action. Coffee contains 95% water.
  • Foods that have a lot of water in them can help with hydration. Examples: cucumbers, melon, grapes, and gelatin. It might be a great idea to stock the fridge at work as well as at home so they are readily available.
  • Dairy products do not produce phlegm in the majority of people (the exception is people who are allergic to casein, the protein in some types of milk). Instead, the high fat content in dairy products thickens the mucous that is already present in a person’s airway, making it seem like there is more phlegm. Thicker phlegm can be just as problematic as having more phlegm. This thickening sensation can be diminished by eating dairy products that have a lower fat content.


Many medications, such as cold and allergy medications, are drying to the body. Try to avoid these medications to help your body stay hydrated.


Your doctor may recommend a mucolytic medication. This is a medication that can  help keep mucus thin and slippery. These medications are  available  over the counter. GUAIFENESIN is the active ingredient. Brand names include Humibid, Mucinex, and Robitussin.  Be sure to get the preparation that does not contain decongestants, antihistamines,  or cough suppressants.


Many cough drops and throat lozenges are drying to the mucus membranes of                the mouth and throat. This is especially true for products that contain   menthol and eucalyptus. The best lozenges for soothing the mouth or throat are glycerin lozenges.



Steam inhalation: Inhaling or breathing steam helps the voice box stay moist and can be very soothing to irritated vocal folds. Breathe the steam through your nose for three to five minutes, two to three times per day.

  • Breathe shower steam or from a personal steamer.
  • You can also boil water, pour it into a sink, and breathe the steam.
  • Never breathe steam standing over a hot stove or boiling water.
  • Moisten a washcloth under hot water, hold it over your mouth and nose, then breathe in.


Room humidification: You can increase the moisture in your home or office by using a room humidifier or hot water vaporizer.  Cool mist vaporizers can cause chemicals and germs to get into the air.

Room humidity should be between 30 and 50 percent. You can check the moisture in the air in your home by using a hygrometer.

The most important thing when using room humidifiers or vaporizers is to carefully follow the cleaning instructions in the package. If you don’t keep the humidifier or vaporizer clean, germs can get into the air that you breathe.

Allergies to Mold or Mildew: Be careful using humidifiers or vaporizers. They can  increase the moisture in the environment and can cause mold and mildew to grow.

Even after maintaining proper hydration and practicing good vocal hygiene, we must always use our voice efficiently with proper breath support and appropriate resonance.

To learn more about vocal hygiene, you may visit: Duke Voice Center.


Daugherty, J. (2012). Vocal health handout. University of Kansas.  Lawrence,  KS.

Daugherty, J. (2015). Graduate vocal pedagogy.  Retrieved from

Duke Voice Care Center.  Vocal health information. Retrieved from 

Erickson-Levendoski, E., Sivasankar, M. (2011). Investigating the effects of caffeine on  phonation.  Journal of Voice. 25. (5). E215-E219. Feldenkrais, M. (1949). Body and mature behavior. New York: International Universities Press.

Killer, S.C., Blannin, A. K., Jeukendrup, A. E. (2014). No evidence of dehydration with moderate coffee intake: a counterbalanced cross-over study in a free-living population. PLoS One. 9 (1). e84154. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0084154

Parillas, D. (n.d.). Vocal hygiene – part 2: hydrate! hydrate! hydrate! why vocal hydration is important to singing. Vocal Brilliance. Retrieved from: