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On Yom Kippur Jews fast for 25 hours, both food and drink.1 As somebody who helps to lead the communal religious services on that day, I know that my ability to sing is challenged by around hour 20 without any water. I usually just push through anyway (I don't have a large role in the services) and figure that for one day a year my voice can absorb whatever damage I'm doing, but this year I heard some choir members (who do more singing than I do) commenting on the difficulty.

So assuming that drinking water, which we would all normally do in abundance, isn't an option, what techniques are there for singing during a fast with minimal discomfort?

1 Unless there is a serious medical reason not to. Singing isn't a good-enough reason.

  • Can you have some chewing-gum or caramel, just to keep saliva production on? – Sergio Sep 15 '13 at 19:03
  • @Sergio, hmm, good question whether gum is ok. (Caramel, assuming you mean candies, is food so wouldn't be.) Would that help? I don't tend to chew gum normally so I don't know what effects it produces. – Monica Cellio Sep 15 '13 at 19:05
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    A classic technique for being without water is to suck on a pebble so that avoids any grey-area with gum. @MonicaCellio I assume the down-vote is simply a zealous atheist. – Mr. Boy Feb 5 '15 at 14:51
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    Here in Germany they do little bottles of Stimmen Öl or Sänger-Öl, you spray it into your throat. Unfortunately when I Google it in English I just get sewing machines. This may not count as food. I tested it in the music shop, it really works. It may not count as food because you don't swallow it. – RedSonja Nov 17 '15 at 9:13
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    I found Stimmen Öl easily on Google today: delmed.de/product/aktiv-stimmen-oel-spruehflasche.332082.html Zutaten: Orangen-Öl, Eukalyptus-Öl, chinesisches Minz-Öl, Zitronen-Öl, Krauseminz-Öl, Curcuma-Extrakt, Salbei-Öl, Thymian-Öl, Fenchel-Öl, Alkohol und Glycerin, ohne Konservierungsstoffe – jeppoo1 Jan 22 at 11:42
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Vocalists tend to be over-dramatic and hyper-sensitive when it comes to their voices - not much different than reed players complaining about their reeds or brass players complaining about their lips.

Honestly, it depends on how well you warm up, your vocal stamina, and how long you need to sing for. If you don't sing often at all and need to sing for a few hours, then you will probably experience a fair amount of vocal strain. However, if you typically sing for an hour a day, you will have more stamina for the service(s).

For this particular situation, there are three main things I can think to recommend:

1.) Do a nice, easy warmup. Start on a note in the middle of your range and then sing "ah" going halfway down the scale. Repeat this exercise going a half-step down each time. Once you get to the bottom of your range, go the other direction up to a comfortable note without strain.

2.) Arrange the musical selections. If possible, work with the musicians to perform any music in keys comfortable for your voice type. Singing at the extremes of your range is one of the quickest ways to tire your voice. I suppose the pre-requisite to this step would be to know your voice's range, which is a simple process.

3.) Take breaks. Even trained vocalists are taught (or should be taught) not to sing more than 45 minutes continuously without taking a break. If possible, take breaks and rest your voice. If necessary, perhaps even work with another person who may be able to lead a service for you if your voice should fail.

In summation, really, don't worry. It is highly unlikely you'll be doing any damage to your voice - especially since it's only one day. Hydration is good for resonance, flexibility, and efficient tone production. Going without for a day, in conjunction with the suggestions outline above should keep you comfortable throughout the day.

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I have heard from a vocally knowledgeable person that inhaling steam from a cup of coffee (containing only coffee and water) for about 10-15 minutes would help for situations where drinking is not an option. I suggest you try it - you have nothing to lose. I'm not sure how long the hydrating effect lasts, so you may want to do it a few times throughout the day.

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  • Coffee specifically, or is it just the hot water that does the trick? – msh210 Oct 26 '18 at 4:06
  • @msh210 I was told specifically coffee but maybe hot water helps a little too – Jack Nov 5 '18 at 0:18
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    @Jack Probably the steam from the cup of coffee is primarily water, not coffee :) What is the boiling point of "coffee" anyway...? For water, it is 100C. So, I would suggest to just boil water and inhale that steam. – jeppoo1 Jan 22 at 11:44
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In Finland they sell this kind of plastic inhalator in the pharmacy stores (https://www.yliopistonapteekki.fi/vesipiippu-muovinen-inhalaattori-1-kpl-26267.html). You put water (hot or cold) in it and inhale as though using a straw. I use it a lot, especially in the morning.

Don't know if this would count as drinking water though, because some of the water will get into your mouth too.

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