The Effect of Alcohol on the Singing Voice | #DrDan 🎤

By Brian Lemay No comments

Alcohol. What is your relationship with alcohol? This is an important
question, and even more so if you’re wanting to use
your voice for singing. What is the impact of
alcohol on the singing voice? I’m glad you asked that question. I’ve got the all-important
answers coming right up. – [Female Voice] Sound check. (jubilant crowd applause)
Check one, check two. – Good day there. Dr Dan here with another
Voice Essentials video, and today, we’re talking about alcohol. Now, before we investigate
the detrimental effects of alcohol on the human
voice, let me state upfront that I enjoy a glass of wine with a meal. I love standing around
the great Australian BBQ with my mates, tongs in one
hand and beer in another. And sometimes, there’s nothing better than relaxing with a glass of scotch while I watch my favorite movie. I say all this to point out that despite what I’m about to say, I am a consumer of alcohol in moderation. So, what follows is
not a foolhardy attempt to stop you from drinking your
favorite alcoholic beverage. Moreover, I want singers,
and by singers, I mean you, to understand how alcohol
affects the human voice and the singing performance. And what I won’t be covering in this video are the significant
personal and social issues that can arise for people who start to abuse the
consumption of alcohol. Substance abuse, including alcohol, is a significant issue in modern society and musicians don’t escape the statistics. If you think alcohol may
be a problem for you, then I urge you to speak
with a trusted friend, a friend or family member who can support you towards recovery. One of the reasons why
alcohol has become an issue for some singers is because
of the Rock ‘n’ Roll culture that tends to follow the
pubs and clubs scene. It’s not unusual, for example, for a band in residency at the local club to be offered an open
bar tab during their set. For some, the temptation
to consume alcohol, especially when it’s offered for free, can be a temptation too great to resist. Another reason why singers fall into the trap of drinking alcohol while singing is to
mask those pesky nerves. Often referred to as Dutch
courage, apologies to the Dutch, some people use the
calming effects of alcohol to quell their performance anxiety. Unfortunately, it’s not
only your inhibitions that are affected. Dr. Scott McCoy warns, “The
immediate effect of alcohol “is to decrease inhibitions
and fine motor control, “so it is important to
limit alcohol intake “and avoid strenuous voice
use if under the influence.” You see, when your ability to monitor your voice use is impaired,
then your capacity to manage your singing
voice is compromised. This compromised state exposes the voice to overuse at a time when the voice may well be severely dehydrated. (chuckles) There’s that
word again, dehydration. Few things sap your body of much-needed water content like alcohol. And when your body is
dehydrated, then your vocal folds are less likely to remain well-lubricated, which in turn heightens
phonatory threshold pressure, which merely results in you
working the voice harder for significantly less result. Essentially, alcohol can place the voice into a negative downward spiral. A vocal health nosedive
that can only be rectified by the cessation of consumption. When discussing the lifestyle
of many contemporary singers, Amy Lebowitz-Cooper writes, “It’s not that we don’t
want you to enjoy yourself, “but if you are a singer,
then you are a professional; “singing is your work. “When you treat your work
with care, others will notice, “and you’ll be giving
yourself every chance “to succeed in your genre and life.” I’d go one step further by
stating that if you are a singer, then you are your instrument. Everything that you ingest
will have some form of impact on the health and function of your voice. Now at this point, I can hear you saying, “But Dr Dan, doesn’t the rule
of moderation apply here?” Absolutely. Generally speaking, alcohol should always
be consumed moderately, but when it comes time to sing, I turn the dial of caution from moderation down to abstinence. Professor Sataloff writes,
“Many experts oppose its use “because of its vasodilatory effect “and consequent mucosal alteration.” Vasodilatory is the medical term for the widening of blood vessels. With the widening of blood vessels, due mainly to the dehydrating
effect of the alcohol, comes the potential for
an abnormal accumulation of blood within the vocal folds. And this, in turn, heightens the risk of
vocal fold hemorrhage. It’s important that I stress here that one glass of beer before you sing is most probably not going
to destroy your voice. The challenge is one beer can all too easily lead to a third. But even if you’re only having one standard drink before you sing, over time, the accumulative
effect can be detrimental. And we can’t close without mentioning the heightened risk of reflux for those people who consume alcohol. Leda Scearce writes, “For some, alcohol can
be a reflux trigger. “As with caffeine, I typically advocate “for moderation in alcohol consumption, “taking cue from most healthcare providers “who recommend limiting oneself “to no more than one
to two drinks per day.” Actually, in Australia,
many medical practitioners advise two to three days
of complete abstinence from alcohol consumption. I also highly recommend this practice and personally observe
Monday through Wednesday as my alcohol-free days. This not only gives my liver a rest, which has to work hard to
metabolize the alcohol, but it helps me to manage my reflux, which incidentally is
aggravated more so by spirits, like Scotch and fortified wines like Port, which have higher levels of acidity. So, let me finish by
offering a good rule of thumb when it comes to singers and
the consumption of alcohol. I advise my adult
students to avoid alcohol during the 24 hours preceding
significant vocal load. This means abstaining
from the open bar tab and waiting until after the gig to share a glass with friends. This suggestion comes
with the small caveat: if you have another
performance the next day, then you’re best to make that beverage a glass of room temperature water. Tomorrow’s performance is
just as important as the last. So, whether it be for
reasons of vocal health, dehydration, reflux, reflux management, improved vocal performance
or merely overall well-being, alcohol consumption is something that we all need to respect and monitor. Perhaps you’ve noticed
some adverse effects of alcohol on your singing voice. Leave your comments below so that we can all learn
from your experience. I look forward to reading and learning from all your thoughts. I’m Dr Dan, sing well.

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