AS A MUSICAL THEATRE performer, you probably know how important it is to practice good vocal hygiene. Musical actors differ from other professional voice users because they not only are singing but also frequently acting and dancing at the same time, which can take an added toll on their bodies and voices. As a result, many musical performers question what proper vocal health means for them.

There are many factors musical theatre artists must consider, from vocal use to nutrition and hydration to the impact of the environment and technique. The advice here is culled from respected researchers and practitioners across varied disciplines, including medicine, speech-language pathology, music, and theatre.


First, it is important to know your limits relative to the amount of time you spend singing and vocalizing. While conditioning is important, it is possible to over-rehearse. Overscheduling the amount of time you spend singing can tax your instrument and prevent you from getting adequate rest.

Be conscious of how often you clear your throat, yell, or scream, all of which can damage your vocal folds. The same is true of talking loudly to overcome otherwise noisy environments (known as the Lombard effect) or singing too long without breaks.

Finally, artists commonly think “The show must go on” no matter the circumstances. They worry about disappointing their director, fellow cast members, or audiences by not performing or fear they will appear unreliable. However, pushing through an illness or injury can lead to the overuse of your voice and cause more serious problems in the future.

Photo from the J.J. Pearce High School 2017 ITF production of Heathers
Musical theatre artists are different from other professional voice users because they must sing, dance, and act simultaneously. Photo from the J.J. Pearce High School 2017 ITF production of Heathers by John Nollendorfs.


Good vocal hygiene starts with good overall health. Make sure you hydrate adequately. Start with eight, eight-ounce glasses of water daily, but understand you may need more fluids depending on numerous external and internal factors. Temperature, altitude, your body build and metabolism, the clothing you wear, the amount of physical activity you experience, and other environmental or physiological factors can all affect the amount you need to drink.

It’s commonly said that you are what you eat, but this is especially true for musical theatre performers. For some singers, consuming excess caffeine may dry out their vocal folds, while others find they are more likely to cough when they eat dairy products or chocolate.

Many singers swear by drinking tea or herbal concoctions for a sore or strained throat. Yet, while these beverages may make your larynx feel good, they are unlikely to provide actual medicinal benefits. 

Finally, it’s important to consult a doctor or other health care professional before adding medications, herbs, or supplements to your diet, especially if you are experiencing other health concerns.


Pyrotechnics, artificial smoke, and fog are often used to add excitement or atmosphere to a theatrical production. But for some artists, the chemicals used to create these special effects can cause respiratory, eye, and mucous membrane irritation or even an allergic reaction.

On the flip side, there are environmental aids that can improve your breathing. Using a humidifier to add moisture to the air may help you maintain healthy mucosa.

Woman drinking water
Proper hydration is key to good vocal and overall health.


Proper technique is critical to safe singing. Make sure you are ready to perform by warming up before speaking or singing and cooling down promptly when you finish. Good posture and alignment while you’re singing not only optimize vocal health but also improve expression.

If you are under the weather, be conscious of the ways you may overcompensate for temporary weakness in your voice. Even the best technique can fall apart when you’re not feeling your best.

Finally, remember that you must condition yourself over time to perform multiple shows each week. Proper vocal and speech training teaches you to switch seamlessly between singing and speaking. Both a singing teacher and speaking coach can help you learn to do this safely.


Even if you monitor how frequently you rehearse, watch what you eat and drink, and practice good technique, there are times you will need to seek medical care for your voice. Consult a health care professional before using pain medication (such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen) or numbing agents to treat your sore throat. The first can promote bleeding, while the second can lull you into a false sense of security during which you may unintentionally overextend yourself, risking further vocal injury. Always visit a doctor if you experience the sudden onset of hoarseness or huskiness in your voice, as these may be signs of a more serious condition.

Musical theatre performers need to understand vocal health to protect themselves from injury. With a little prevention, caution, and training, you can set yourself up for short and long-term success, onstage and off.

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