Safety of singing under more scrutiny

"A senior medical adviser at Public Health England (PHE), Dr Simon Tanner, said on Tuesday that his organisation was leading a small study with adult male choir-singers from Salisbury Cathedral, and some adult volunteers, to gain a better understanding of transmission." - Church Times

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G. N. Barkman's picture

I don't see any information about congregational singing while wearing masks, as we are currently doing.  We request that if you are not wearing a mask, please do not sing.  (Last Sunday, I saw only one person without a mask.)  We are also socially distancing by closing every other row of pews, which keeps people several feet apart front to back, and asking people to try to maintain a six foot space between family units.

I really don't see how there could be any danger with "masked" singing.  Anyone know otherwise?

G. N. Barkman

John E.'s picture

Here's a study on the efficacy of masks while the wearer is coughing. In short, since coughing is far more "violent" than talking/breathing, particles are pushed out of the mask. Epidemiologists urge that singing is worse than coughing, partly because it's sustained and as "violent." 

While masks are highly effective at greatly lowering the risk of spread, masks have never been recommended in isolation. Social distancing, hand washing, and staying home if exhibiting symptoms are still urged. Singing = exhibiting symptoms.

G. N. Barkman's picture

Interesting and helpful article.  (However, I did not see anything about singing.  Did I miss something?)

G. N. Barkman

John E.'s picture

Think of singing as an equivalent of coughing. 

John E.'s picture

Here's a pre-COVID19 paper that cites a couple of studies that conclude that singing (or any activity in which we project) releases more droplets than coughing, and spreads them further. 

Bert Perry's picture

Saw an article yesterday--sorry cannot remember where to provide a link--that suggested that, used properly, face masks reduce the likelihood of transmission by 65-90% in a given situation.  Not 100%, and I would guess that there is a "curve" where, as John points out, the "violent expulsion" of air/whatever in coughing/singing/yodeling/whatever will reduce the effectiveness of the mask further.  

Right now I'm wondering, however, if we're suppressing relatively benign factors while leaving the door wide open to the really bad ones.  We've mostly closed the door for nursing homes and somewhat shut the door for the subway, but there are still a lot of places out there where the virus can get going in a hurry.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Aaron Blumer's picture


It's good to see more energy going into studying it. Singing seems less "violent" and forceful to me than coughing... quite a bit less. But what seems and what actually is are often different in surprising ways.

In my experience, most people who aren't trained singers don't put much energy into it. They aren't breathing deeply, supporting with the diaphragm, etc. It's all throat singing... pretty much talking, only, in most cases, quieter.

But when assessing dangers, health leaders have to look at the big picture and average things out and try to generalize in a helpful way.

Last time I was in church singing (I was in the building for a service a while back when we were well spread out, and once out doors) one thing I noticed how the act of singing resulted in my more frequently coughing, throat clearing, and things like that. So, part of the risk associated with singing is the risk of meta-singing acts like throat clearing and light coughing.

Whole thing needs more study. We may well have it cured before we have its transmission well understood, but both tracks are worth pursuing because, who really knows?

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.