The wellbeing benefits of singing

Like laughing and dancing, singing is a simple and joyful expression of humanity. But did you know there are a number of wellbeing benefits of singing too?

James Sills is a musician and vocal leader who believes singing, particularly in a group, is a fundamental part of being human, fostering community, creativity and wellbeing.

Here he shares some of the health benefits of singing and reveals what we have to gain from warming up our vocal chords.

Connect with others

The most immediate benefit of singing is connection. It’s one of the simplest and most fundamental human pleasures when we synchronise our activities with other people. Whether we’re coordinating movements such as clapping or dancing, or coordinating our voices when chanting or singing, it feels intuitively good. It gives an immediate sense of community and unity.

The Choir With No Name is a charity in England that runs choirs for those who have experienced homelessness and other forms of marginalization. In their 2018 survey of members, 96% said they had made new friendships, 76% reported improved mental health and 93% have improved confidence.

Happy hormones

There’s a lot going on physically when you sing in a group. And this includes the release of hormones associated with mood elevation and reducing symptoms of depression. These hormones are endorphins, dopamine and oxytocin.

Endorphins are chemicals produced in the nervous system that both relieve pain and elevate mood. As well as singing, there are lots of ways we can boost endorphin levels, such as regular exercise. Anyone who has ever experienced a ‘runner’s high’ will know the joyous feeling.

Dopamine is a neuro-transmitter that regulates different functions in the body, including sleep and digestion. The sense of satisfaction we feel when completing a task is due, in part, to a rush of dopamine. Whether it’s learning a new harmony part, finishing a song in rehearsal, or performing in front of an appreciative audience, singing provides many opportunities for a rush of dopamine. Not only does dopamine positively affect your mood – and therefore can be linked with alleviating depression – but you are more likely to get a good night’s sleep.

Oxytocin is often called the ‘love’ hormone as it plays an important role in human-to-human attachment. The release of oxytocin is linked to trust and bonding, feelings that are frequently experienced when singing as part of a group. There is much ongoing research working on the principle that the release of oxytocin may help to explain why groups bond so quickly while singing.

Keep your brain active

Singing uses different parts of the brain as you process new words, melodies and rhythms. It’s fair to say that when you’re singing in a group, there’s a lot to focus on at any one time. You’ll be concentrating on delivering the lyrics, whether you have memorized them or are reading from a lyric sheet. You may also be using musical notation.

At the same time, you’ll be listening closely to yourself and to the other members of the choir. You’ll be listening to the voices in your section within the group to see how this fits in with the bigger picture. You’ll be constantly adjusting what you’re doing to blend in with the group sound. If your group has a leader, you’ll need to watch them carefully for further musical directions, such as beginnings, endings, changes in volume and changes in speed.

There may also be synchronized movement, whether it’s hand claps, stomps or choreographed dance moves.

Be mindful

We are living in the age of distraction. An ever-increasing number of things are vying for our attention, with our smartphones being the biggest culprits. We allow ourselves to be constantly interrupted by texts, email and social media notifications. This makes it difficult for us to feel fully present.

There are remedies that can help bring us into the present moment, and they fall into two broad categories: practices that focus on controlled breathing and physical discipline to encourage mental stillness. This includes mindfulness, meditation and yoga. Then there are immersive activities that enable deep engagement in something and allow us to ‘get in the zone’. This includes reading, surfing, cooking, running and crafting. It could be argued that singing brings together both of these remedies. It’s an immersive activity that requires controlled breathing and physical discipline.

Let it out

We have songs for all the big moments in life – births, deaths, weddings, celebrations. Coming together to sing is a safe and healthy vehicle for us to express ourselves, both individually and collectively. Singing your heart out when times are good is easy. It’s thrilling and intoxicating. It feels like you are floating on air. This is less so when times are hard. Singing together is cathartic. It helps us to say things we need to say. And when we do this as part of a group, we feel both comforted and strengthened.

Extracted from Do Sing: Reclaim Your Voice. Find Your Singing Tribe by James Sills

How to find a singing group

Singing during social distancing

Since the outbreak of coronavirus, we’ve seen many in lockdown use singing to lift spirits and bring communities together. We’ve seen videos of Italian neighbours singing together from their tower-block balconies, and choirs continuing business as usual by holding rehearsal over Skype or Zoom.

Don’t let social distancing put you off reclaiming your voice. Join a virtual choir, or pop notes through your neighbours’ letterboxes advertising a regular ‘out the window’ sing-along or simply belt out a few of your favourite tunes around the house.

Join a choir

There are many different types of choir and it’s definitely worth doing some research. Look online – most choirs will have a website. This should give you a feel for what they do, even if they’re not meeting at the moment due to social distancing.

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