Breakthrough as UK scientists say singing is no riskier than ordering a drink

Breakthrough as UK scientists say singing is no riskier than ordering a drink


norman lebrecht

August 20, 2020

A UK research team backed by Public Health England and the Culture Department has concluded that singing produces no more aerosols than speaking loudly in a pub.

The researchers – from Imperial College, Bristol University, the Royal Brompton Hospital and three other centres – studied the aerosols emitted by 25 professional singers.

They found that the numbers rose with any increase of vocal activity, no matter whether singing or speaking, in church or concert, classical or rock music.

Jonathan Reid, Professor of physical chemistry at Bristol, said: ‘Our research has provided a rigorous scientific basis for Covid-19 recommendations for arts venues to operate safely for both the performers and audience by ensuring that spaces are appropriately ventilated to reduce the risk of airborne transmission.’

This is hugely encouraging, vastly more so than the latest German studies.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said: ‘Singing is an important passion and pastime for many people who I’m sure will join me in welcoming the findings of this important study.’

UPDATE: Some more from the Bristol team:

While singing does not produce very substantially more aerosol than speaking at a similar volume.  The researchers discovered that there is a steep rise in aerosol mass with increase in the loudness of the singing and speaking, rising by as much as a factor of 20-30.

 Musical organisations could consider treating speaking and singing equally, with more attention focused on the volume at which the vocalisation occurs, the number of participants (source strength), the type of room in which the activity occurs (i.e. air exchange rate) and the duration of the rehearsal and period over which performers are vocalising.


  • Ines says:

    Well, may be they mean per second: but it takes 10 seconds to order a drink and .1- 2 hours of singing in an opera or concert. So is an infected person dangerous when speaking 10 seconds or when singing one hour

  • David Howell says:

    Tell that to the various choirs that have ‘hit the news’

  • Le Křenek du jour says:

    To state that these results are “hugely encouraging, vastly more so than the latest German studies” would require:
    i. a serious quantitative comparison;
    ii. a clear understanding of the emission levels;
    iii. a clear understanding of the viral load per aerosol volume and of its cumulative infectious impact.

    Until such data and analyses are forthcoming, and their statistical significance made clear, a statement such as that of Culture Secretary Dowden is mere whistling in the dark: understandable, but from a person in a position of power, unconscionable.

  • BP says:

    There have been a vast number of outbreaks in pubs and restaurants, so is this good news ? (And is it really news at all ?)

  • Anon! A Moose! says:

    “has concluded that singing produces no more aerosols than speaking loudly in a pub.”

    So in other words, still not safe.

  • Doc Martin says:

    Reid is a chemist not a virologist and has no background in medicine. His paper which is not peer reviewed is utter pap. A report in BMJ, confirms aerosol transmission of sars-cov-2 exceeds 2m, the range is over 5m. In fact singing, jogging, yoga, exercise etc will increase respiration rate and hence aerosol output. Wear a mask, an n95 at all times, indoors, best watch operas etc at home. The second wave has arrived.

  • caranome says:

    This is great, but does raise very troubling question: why is there such a variety of results from studies by reputable scientific orgs. around the world on something so seemingly cut/dry as aerosol dynamics? Then the politicians come in and muck it up for their political purposes, no wonder it’s such a mess now.

    • SVM says:

      Probably because, like most objects of study in the applied sciences, “aerosol dynamics” involve many unknown and/or uncontrollable variables that are not fully understood.

      Scientific consensus is actually quite rare, not only due to insufficient evidence, but also due to legitimate and informed diversity of thought on how to interpret evidence. Inevitably, this makes science vulnerable to abuse by politicians who seize upon the arguments that accord with their own existing agenda without considering the arguments that are less amenable.

      The scientific theories and concepts that *are* widely accepted as so reliable to be essentially infallible are usually the product of *centuries* of study, experimentation, and improvement. A good scientist (or person who claims to be informed by scientific evidence) needs to be constantly sceptical and constantly prepared to change his/her mind as new evidence and arguments emerge.

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    Explain that to the youth choir in the Seattle region, where many of its members became infected in just one rehearsal. What fools these mortals be.

  • Bill says:

    This is not necessarily encouraging, but it is good to have better understanding. By saying it is no worse than the aerosol production involved in shouting a drink order over the din at a pub does NOT imply that the aerosol production is insignificant.

    “When you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind.”

    William Thomson, Lord Kelvin

  • Hmus says:

    Pubs are still closed in the more responsible areas of the US… and that’s the reason!

  • Fred Funk says:

    Yeah, but HOW many drinks does it take?

  • will says:

    ‘Singing is an important passion and pastime’ ? It’s also a CAREER for thousands of musicians, FFS!

  • Edward says:

    Singing is also a PROFESSION for many, Mr. Dowden…

  • Bim says:

    What a crass and patronising remark from Oliver Dowden.’Singing is an important passion and pastime’ For Christ sake!! He seem’s to be treating this as some jolly little hobby we do on the weekend. This Secretary of State for Digital,culture,Media and Sport does not fill me with great confidence….and on this subject..why have the same minister in charge of Sport and Music ???… I despair !!!!!

  • Rachel says:

    So the “ update” tells us what we all feared and all knew at heart anyway …?