Singers and actors are warned not to consume dairy, primarily milk, before a performance. From personal experience, I know that this is a very valid warning. It is commonly assumed that this is due to milk causing either more or thicker phlegm.
Has the mechanism behind this been studied and verified?
As it turns out, dairy products do not produce phlegm in the majority of people (the exception is the tiny group of 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 to deal with. Of course, having thicker phlegm can be just as problematic as having more phlegm. Luckily, this thickening sensation can be diminished simply by eating dairy products that have a lower fat content.
Regarding the above quote, there is no medical evidence that states milk consumption causes phlegm production even for casein allergic individuals.
The study cited at the end shows that there is a correlation between milk consumption and thicker phlegm. However correlation is not causation. The authors explain that the allergy-like effects of milk are produced only when tissues are actively inflamed and exorphins (peptides produced when milk is broken down) stimulate mucus production from gut glands. The thicker phlegm effect is shown in only a segment of the studied population. Unless you're one of the few with inflamed tissues, you should be ok with drinking milk before a performance.
The Best and Worst Foods for Your Voice
In the summertime, you use your voice a lot. You have more time to stay up all night talking, visit amusement parks or sing in the shower. That’s why it’s important to make sure you take good care of your vocal chords during these warm, school-free months. These ten foods and drinks come highly recommended by vocal trainers, singers and professional speakers.
Staying hydrated is huge, so drink lots and lots of room-temperature water. It keeps your throat and vocal chords in tip-top shape. Avoid ice water, if you can.
Drinking game: take a drink of water every time you read “drink” or “hydrated” in this article.
2. Toasted bread or non-salted crackers
Have you ever gotten a bit of dry bread or graham cracker stuck in your throat? It doesn’t feel too good, but it does cause your mouth to create a lot of extra moisture to unstick the crumbs. This can continue for long after your meal, keeping your voice naturally hydrated.
Don’t let the pastel color and crisp crunch fool you. Cantaloupes are about 90% water. Try popping some chunks of cantaloupe (or other melons) into a glass of water for added flavor and hydration.
4. Apple juice
A glass with half apple juice and half water will keep you hydrated throughout a long speech or your favorite karaoke song. If apple juice isn’t your thing, eat a raw green apple or drink some fresh veggie juice instead.
5. Warm herbal tea
While caffeine does nothing good for your voice, decaf tea is wonderful for it. Herbal teas that are naturally decaffeinated work like a little sauna in your throat to get your vocal chords all comfortable and warm. Add a little honey, and your voice will thank you.
DO NOT EAT/DRINK:
Drinking milk increases mucus in the back of your nose and throat, so to avoid sounding like Chewbacca, go easy on the milk intake.
2. Ice cream
Eating ice cream can also make your vocal chords feel gunky because of the high levels of lactose and sugar. If you’re dying for some sugar, try sucking on a hard candy instead of devouring a bowl of mint chip.
Sorry to all those bacon lovers out there, but bacon just isn’t good for your voice. Its high salt content is too drying. If you’re dying for some bacon before a big speech or performance, try the lower salt varieties.
4. Citrus fruits
There’s nothing as refreshing as a fresh orange in the summer. However, citrus fruits (and citrus fruit juices) are very drying, so occasionally take a pass on the OJ for your voice’s sake.
Photo by Elizabeth Layman
Maybe you think you sound better after alcohol, but chances are you don’t. Not only is alcohol drying, but if you drink too much of it, you can lose control of your vocal chords. If you’re singing or speaking loudly, this can be especially dangerous. To avoid damaging your voice and the ears of those around you, exercise caution.
The next time you have to sing or speak or scream, be mindful about what foods and drinks you pack in your bag.
Inspired by many different how to keep your voice happy blogs, including this one and this one.
Also, a big thanks to singing instructor, Heidi Jacobs, for her tips!
Is tea good for singing or is tea bad for singing ?
The answer is yes and yes, or no and no, depending which teas you’re talking about and how you’re taking them.
There are different types of tea, so to categorise all flavours and types would be illogical. However, most caffeinated black teas do more harm than good for your voice. Caffeine can have a negative effect on your performance – such as stimulating anxiety . Avoid green and black tea as these contain the highest levels of caffeine. However, you could avoid this by switching to decaffeinated tea if you typically get nervous on stage.
Hydration is a vital factor, however cold water isn’t ideal for your vocal cords because it can cause them to tense up. When the muscles get cold, they contract, thus tension.
The whole idea behind singing is to have your vocal cords and surrounding muscles as loose as possible while singing. Hydration is a huge part of healthy vocal cords, so drink as much water as you can. Ideally, room temperature to ensure you are well hydrated.
Singers should avoid eating or drinking anything containing caffeine or dairy on the day of an audition. Caffeine can dry out the vocal cords, and dairy products such as milk, cheese or yogurt have a tendency to increase phlegm production. Singers also should avoid chocolate, which contains caffeine, or any food or beverages containing refined sugar because sugar can increase nerves or jitteriness. It's also a good idea to avoid sodas, as the carbonation can cause gas or burping during the audition, which can have a negative effect on your performance.
Jae Allen has been a writer since 1999, with articles published in "The Hub," "Innocent Words" and "Rhythm." She has worked as a medical writer, paralegal, veterinary assistant, stage manager, session musician, ghostwriter and university professor. Allen specializes in travel, health/fitness, animals and other topics.
Truth or Myth? The Reality Behind 6 Common Tips for Singers
There are so many tips for singers out there — but did you know some of them may not be actually true? Here, Ann Arbor, MI voice teacher Elaina R. dispels some of the common myths about singing…
“It’s bad luck to say ‘Good Luck’ before a performance.”
“Don’t eat chocolate! It clogs your vocal cords.”
“A bad dress rehearsal leads to a good show.”
We singers toss around myths more than most. It’s important, however, to recognize which ones are just for fun and which ones are harmful. Here are some of the biggest myths about singing – and the truth lurking behind them.
Myth: Drinking Milk (Or Eating Chocolate) Will Ruin Your Voice Fact: Unless You Have Acid Reflux, You Can Have Your Milk
Have you ever swallowed something and commenced a loud coughing fit because it “went down the wrong tube”? That correctly implies that we have two tubes in our throats (one for air and one for food). We are built so that food does not touch our vocal cords. The esophagus transports food and the trachea transports air. Unless you have a condition such as Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) – wherein stomach acid and food re-enters your esophagus and leaks past your epiglottis into your vocal tract – enjoy that glass of milk.
Myth: You Sing From Your Throat Fact: You Sing Using A Whole Lot of Stuff
Saying that a singer sings “from the throat” or even “from the diaphragm” is an oversimplification. It’s like saying that a flute can make noise by itself. A singer is a complicated, protean instrument with a power source (air), a sound maker (the vocal cords and the muscles that control them), and a resonator (the face and vocal tract). There are a myriad of parts involved in this process, from the intercostal muscles to the tongue to the soft palate.
Myth: The Voice Is Strong and Can Take Lots of Abuse Fact: Your Vocal Cords are Tiny and Need TLC
Vocal cords are squishy, miniscule, and helpless. They are made of mucous membrane (a soft tissue) stretched between muscles. Adult male vocal cords are about the length of a quarter adult female vocal cords are about the length of a dime. When you sing or speak improperly (e.g. yell in loud restaurants or sports games), your vocal cords slam together. There is only so much of this your poor little cords can take before bumps, calluses (nodules), or even bloody hemorrhoids form. So, if you think your voice is invincible, think again.
Myth: If I Take Voice Lessons For A Month I Will Know Everything About Singing Fact: No One Knows Everything About Singing
Expecting to know everything about singing after a few lessons is like expecting to know everything about cooking after taking a few cooking classes. There is always more to learn, even for the best chefs (and singers) in the world.
Myth: If My Throat Hurts, A Special Concoction of Lemon Water, Tea, Honey, and Herbs Will Cure Me Fact: If Your Throat Hurts, Baby It
There are a million reasons your throat could hurt. Illness, abuse, allergies, environmental factors, and medical conditions abound. Instead of trying to find a “magic pill” (here’s a little secret: there isn’t one), rest your voice the same way you would rest your leg if you hurt it. This is one of the most important tips for singers. Stay hydrated, get enough sleep, and use a humidifier in dry climates for a speedy recovery.
Myth: Cough Drops are Good For Vocal Cords Fact: Mentholated Cough Drops are Bad for Vocal Cords
Menthol, the active ingredient in most cough drops, numbs your throat. It’s just like taking a painkiller to mask pain from an injury. The injury isn’t gone you just don’t feel it (and are therefore more likely to do further damage). Menthol can also be drying, which is the last thing you want if you have a sore throat. Stick to normal candy (glycerin coats the throat as well as any cough drop) or cough drops with pectin as the active ingredient.
The biggest myths about singing probably evolved from people who genuinely wanted to sing well. Learning which common beliefs and tips for singers are true – and which ones are false – helps you focus on actually improving your vocal health and technique. Toss those mentholated cough drops, enjoy that morning cup of coffee guilt-free, and work with a qualified voice teacher to see real results.
Elaina R. teaches opera voice and singing in Ann Arbor, MI, as well as through online lessons. She is currently working on a Master of Music at the University of Michigan, and she has a B.M. from the University of Southern California. Learn more about Elaina here!
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Understanding how puberty affects the singing voice: First round of tests completed on groundbreaking study
The first round of tests have been completed for members of the Cincinnati Boychoir who are part of a joint study with Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center to look at the changing voices of male singers.
This groundbreaking study is being done to better understand how puberty affects the singing voice.
"In the early traditions of the boychoir, you were sidelined when your voice started to change. In Europe, this is still the case in some boychoirs," said Christopher Eanes, DMA, Artistic Director for the Cincinnati Boychoir. "We feel it's important to keep these boys singing all the way through."
Boychoir singing is an art form dating back more than 1,000 years. The Cincinnati Boychoir, founded in 1965, is composed of more than 250 young men from 100 schools in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana.
"From a singing voice perspective, one of the things we don't know in certainty is whether we should be training voices through puberty or whether they should stop singing through puberty.This study will help guide us with information through that process," said Wendy LeBorgne, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, a voice pathologist with the Professional Voice Center of Greater Cincinnati and co-investigator of the study.
About the Study
The purpose of this study is to examine the vocal fold vibration patterns, aerodynamic, acoustic, and perceptual voice changes as boys who sing progress through puberty. Currently, 21 boys with unchanged voices between the ages of 7 to 12 years are enrolled and being evaluated.
Over the last month, computer software has recorded the boys' talking and singing voices in a sound booth to measure pitch, loudness, airflow and air pressure.
"We want to measure what happens as the air comes up from the lungs into the area of the larynx that makes the vocal cords vibrate, which produces the sound of the voice," said Barbara Weinrich, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, a researcher in speech-language pathology at the Center for Pediatric Voice Disorders at Cincinnati Children's.
There are only a few studies to date in the United States looking at the performing voice. This study will be significantly different because each boy participating is having an endoscopic procedure.
"A flexible endoscopy is where we take a little telescope that looks like a piece of spaghetti and we put it in the nose to look through the nose, around the palate, to the top of the voice box," said Alessandro de Alarcon, MD, MPH, with the Division of Pediatric Otolaryngology at Cincinnati Children's. "The image quality from the telescope is phenomenal. It's the primary way we identify problems in the voice box."
The recordings from the endoscopy create baseline measures and will track how the vocal cords change or thicken through puberty leading to a deeper voice.
The study entitled "Perceptual and Objective Measures of Boychoir Voices during the Phases of Pubertal Voice Mutation" is being conducted at the Cincinnati Children's Center for Pediatric Voice Disorders over the next several years.
The research team is going to evaluate the current data and develop initial findings. When the boys begin experiencing a vocal change, they will be evaluated again. There will be at least 3 evaluations per boy as they mature into their adult voice.
The data collected from this study will be presented at conferences attended by voice scientists, speech-language pathologists, surgeons, voice teachers, performing artists, and students seeking the most up-to-date research findings.
"This will be very helpful in terms of informing choir directors and vocal coaches in what they can do to assist boys and their family so they have a better understanding of what's happening. They can choose to continue singing versus stop performing," said Weinrich.
The way you sound affects your mood
Researchers have created a digital audio platform that can modify the emotional tone of people's voices while they are talking, to make them sound happier, sadder or more fearful. New results show that while listening to their altered voices, participants' emotional state change in accordance with the new emotion.
"Very little is known about the mechanisms behind the production of vocal emotion," says lead author Jean-Julien Aucouturier from the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), France.
"Previous research has suggested that people try to manage and control their emotions, for example hold back an expression or reappraise feelings. We wanted to investigate what kind of awareness people have of their own emotional expressions."
In an initial study using a novel digital audio platform, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), participants read a short story aloud while hearing their own altered voice, sounding happier, sadder or more fearful, through a headset.
The study found that the participants were unaware that their voices were being manipulated, while their emotional state changed in accordance with the manipulated emotion portrayed. This indicates that people do not always control their own voice to meet a specific goal and that people listen to their own voice to learn how they are feeling.
"The relationship between the expression and experience of emotions has been a long-standing topic of disagreement in the field of psychology," says Petter Johansson, one of the authors from Lund University, Sweden. "This is the first evidence of direct feedback effects on emotional experience in the auditory domain."
The emotional manipulations were created by digital audio processing algorithms that simulate acoustic components of emotional vocalisations. For example, the happy manipulation modifies the pitch of a speaker's voice using pitch shifting and inflection to make it sound more positive, modifies its dynamic range using compression to make it sound more confident, and modifies its spectral content using high pass filtering to make it sound more excited.
The researchers believe this novel audio platform opens up many new areas of experimentation.
"Previously, this kind of emotion manipulation has not been done on running speech, only on recorded segments," explains Jean-Julien Aucouturier. "We are making a version of the voice manipulation platform available as open-source on our website, and we invite anyone to download and experiment with the tools."
For applications outside academia, co-author Katsumi Watanabe from Waseda University and the University of Tokyo in Japan considers that the platform could be used for therapeutic purposes, for example for mood disorders by inducing positive attitude change from retelling affective memories or by redescribing emotionally laden events in a modified tone of voice. It might also be possible to enhance the emotional impact of Karaoke or live singing performances, or maybe to alter the emotional atmosphere of conversations in online meetings and gaming.
The study was conducted by researchers at the Science and Technology of Music and Sound Lab (STMS), (IRCAM/CNRS/UPMC) and the LEAD Lab (CNRS/University of Burgundy) in France, Lund University in Sweden, and Waseda University and the University of Tokyo in Japan.
Voice care: Sorting fact from fiction
We enjoyed gearing up for World Voice Day – which is April 16, 2016 – by answering your questions about how the voice works and how to care for it during our live chat on April 12.
The director of the UT Southwestern Clinical Center for Voice, four speech therapists, and I discussed common myths and offered tips for how to best keep your voice in tip-top shape.
If you were unable to join us, here’s a summary of what we talked about – plus a few questions we didn’t get to during the chat:
Q: Who should think about voice health?
A: Anyone who uses their voice! It’s not just singers and actors who should give their vocal cords special care. We only get one set of vocal cords, so it’s crucial to take good care of them.
Q: Are the vocal cords muscles?
A: The vocal cords themselves are made up of a mucosal cover and a muscular body. These structures vibrate, which is what produces our sound.
Q: Does whispering save your voice?
A: Whispering is OK in principle, but most people do not whisper in a way that is good for the voice. When most people whisper, they want to be heard, so they strain to produce sound. It can be as bad for your voice as shouting. There is a type of whispering, called an “open throat whisper,” which is fine, but the problem is no one will hear you! If you are trying to rest your voice, we recommend you not talk, not even in a whisper.
Q: Which foods and drinks can help heal your voice? Which can damage your voice?
A: The most important thing we can consume to improve vocal health is water. Staying hydrated helps your body produce thin, watery mucus. Your vocal cords vibrate more than 100 times a second when you speak, and they need that mucus to help them stay lubricated.
We recommend drinking 64 ounces of water each day. If you enjoy a caffeinated or alcoholic drink, you need to add more water to your daily consumption. So, if you drink 64 ounces of water, and then you have a 16-ounce coffee, you need to drink 16 more ounces of water.
It’s a myth that what you eat or drink comes into direct contact with your vocal cords. Drinking honey or tea, or gargling salt water or apple cider vinegar can definitely be soothing for your throat, but they aren’t washing off the vocal cords. If you do use cough drops, we recommend using glycerin-based products and to avoid menthol. Prolonged use of menthol can further irritate your throat.
Some supplements in excess can potentially irritate your vocal cords. For example, too much vitamin C can be very drying. Others, including large amounts of ginger, gingko, and garlic can thin the blood, putting you at risk of a vocal hemorrhage.
If spicy foods cause you acid reflux, you may want to order something else off the menu to help avoid vocal damage over time when reflux occurs.
Q: How can I prevent damage to my voice?
A: The five main tips we give to avoid damaging your voice are:
- Warm up your voice before extensive use, just like you would warm up your muscles before exercise.
- Do not use your voice when you are hoarse or have laryngitis.
- Rest your voice when it feels strained or tired.
- Drink 64 ounces of water a day.
- See a laryngologist if you have been hoarse for two weeks or longer.
Q: Do your vocal cords age?
A: Yes, your vocal cord tissues change with age just like the rest of the body. Your vocal cord muscles also can atrophy over time, causing your voice to change in pitch or volume, or to sound thin, breathy, or weak. However, you don’t necessarily have to accept your voice changing as you age. As the population ages, we are seeing more patients who want to know what they can do to make their voices sound more robust. Depending on your situation, we may recommend voice therapy to optimize your voice or injecting fillers to enlarge or bulk up your vocal cords.
Q: My mom’s voice doesn’t sound thin, but it sounds shaky. Why is this?
A: This may be a sign of a vocal tremor. While there is no cure for a vocal tremor, if diagnosed, a laryngologist can offer treatment options to help decrease the severity of the tremor.
Q: What are some home remedies to heal a lost or hoarse voice?
A: The best home remedies are very simple: Drink water and rest your voice. Steam inhalation also is great for the voice. When you drink water, it doesn’t actually touch the vocal cords, but instead hydrates the entire body. However, inhaling steam does bring the water into direct contact with the vocal cords.
Q: Can you help transgender patients change their voice?
A: Yes. Gender perception of the voice can be modified through voice therapy or, in some cases, surgery.
Q: How can I ensure that my voice comes through clear and strong when singing and speaking in public?
A: Using good breath support and forward resonance helps. Forward resonance refers to allowing the sound to resonate in the front of the face, which results in a more focused sound.
Q: How can sleep or lack of sleep improve or hamper our voice?
A: Lack of sleep and fatigue reduces our breath support and negatively affects the mechanics of voice production, which causes our muscles to work harder than they need to when vocalizing.
Q: I have a naturally raspy voice and I worry about making sure it doesn't get any lower. Any tips?
A: You should be evaluated by an ENT doctor to determine what is causing the raspiness and determine a cause of action from there.
Q: Why do I get a headache when I sing or hear loud sounds?
It’s not normal to feel pain when you’re using your voice. There can be many reasons for getting a headache from loud sounds. We recommend seeing an ear, nose, and throat specialist for both issues.
Q: Sometimes when I wake up, it’s hard to swallow and I’ve lost my voice. What is the fastest way for me to get back to normal?
A: Drink plenty of water and inhale steam.
Q: Are there seasonal or environmental concerns regarding the voice?
A: Allergy season can cause your vocal cords to become irritated due to all the coughing and throat clearing. In the winter, we see patients struggle with thick mucus because the heating systems in their homes are causing such dry air. Using a humidifier can help during those times. Smoke can irritate the vocal cords and airways, so try to avoid exposure to secondhand smoke.
Q: What are vocal cord nodules and polyps? How are they treated?
A: Vocal cord nodules and polyps are examples of wear and tear injuries. Nodules are a thickening of the vocal cord lining and usually occur on both vocal cords. Polyps are growths that usually develop on one vocal cord. We initially treat nodules and polyps with therapy, although surgery sometimes is needed to remove a polyp.
Q: Can acid reflux damage my vocal cords?
A: Yes, acid reflux can affect the vocal cords if it is coming all the way up into the voice box. A laryngologist may be able to see some telltale signs of acid erosion during an exam. To prevent damage, we often recommend weight loss, dietary changes (such as avoiding spicy food), and other behavioral changes such as not eating or drinking two hours before going to sleep. If these interventions do not work, medication may be prescribed.
Q: I have struggled with laryngitis for years. Seeing a speech therapist helped, but what else can I do?
A: There are many therapy approaches, so you may want to ask your therapist about different exercises. If it continues to be a problem, you may want to get a repeat exam.
Q: My child’s ENT who put in his ear tubes said he doesn’t work with voice problems? Who should I see instead?
A: Look for a fellowship-trained laryngologist with special training in voice care. A laryngologist is an ENT doctor who has received extra training on caring for those with voice, airway and swallowing disorders. A laryngologist also can recommend a voice therapist. Did you know that fewer than 5 percent of speech therapists in the nation specialize in voice therapy, specifically?
Q: My child loses her voice often. Is this more common for some people?
A: Some people do lose their voice more often than others. Certain behaviors, such as frequent yelling or cheering can cause you to lose your voice. If it’s happening often, see an ENT.
Q: Why do we feel the need to “clear our throat”?
A: We do this because we have the sensation that there is mucus on the vocal cords that we need to clear off. However, it sets off a vicious cycle. Basically, it pushes the mucus over a little bit, but doesn’t get rid of it, so we keep doing it. Meanwhile, it causes our vocal cords to grind together. It’s actually more vocally healthy to cough once than clear your throat multiple times.
We usually feel the need to clear our throat when we’re not adequately hydrated. If we’re not hydrated, the mucus we produce is thick, and we’ll notice it more. But if we’re adequately hydrated, our mucus is thin and watery, and we don’t notice it as it lubricates our vocal cords.
If you have further questions or are experiencing voice problems, request an appointment here or call 214-645-8300.
LETS GOOOOO MILK MILK MILK MILK
A doctor actually recommended milk, ice cream and chocolate while my family was dealing with a bout of bronchitis. I don’t remember if it was to generate mucus or to soothe the damaged throat.
I know for sure that marshmallows can leave a smooth sugary coating in your throat which makes sore throats bearable.
I’m happy to learn about the milk thing, coz the idea my morning coffee (latte, all milk) was making me do more than shit myself was too much to hear.
When I had the whooping cough milk was my saving grace
May be related to the advice some singers follow of not drinking milk before a performance.
This Stack Exchange explains where this may come from and it’s rather interesting
As it turns out, dairy products do not produce phlegm in the majority of people (the exception is the tiny group of 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 to deal with. Of course, having thicker phlegm can be just as problematic as having more phlegm. Luckily, this thickening sensation can be diminished simply by eating dairy products that have a lower fat content.