The Neuroscience of Singing

BY Cassandra Sheppard
The Neuroscience of Singing
Singing together Brings Heartbeats into Harmony

The neuroscience of singing shows that when we sing our neurotransmitters connect in new and different ways. It fires up the right temporal lobe of our brain, releasing endorphins that make us smarter, healthier, happier and more creative. When we sing with other people this effect is amplified.

The science is in. Singing is really, really good for you and the most recent research suggests that group singing is the most exhilarating and transformative of all.

The good feelings we get from singing in a group are a kind of evolutionary reward for coming together cooperatively.

The research suggests that creating music together evolved as a tool of social living. Groups and tribes sang and danced together to build loyalty, transmit vital information and ward off enemies.

Alt text hereSinging in a group has been a part of tribal traditions for thousands of years.

Science Supports Singing

What has not been understood until recently is that singing in groups triggers the communal release of serotonin and oxytocin, the bonding hormone, and even synchronises our heart beats.

Group singing literally incentivised community over an “each cave dweller for themselves” approach. Those who sang together were strongly bonded and survived.

In her book Imperfect Harmony: Finding Happiness Singing with Others, Stacy Horn calls singing:

An infusion of the perfect tranquiliser – the kind that both soothes your nerves and elevates your spirit.

Alt text hereGroup singing not only brings happiness but deeply connects people.

Singing Makes You Happy

For a decade, science has been hard at work trying to explain why singing has such a calming yet energising effect on people. Numerous studies demonstrate that singing releases endorphins and oxytocin – which in turn relieve anxiety and stress and which are linked to feelings of trust and bonding.

Singing helps people with depression and reduces feelings of loneliness, leaving people feeling relaxed, happy and connected. What’s more, the benefits of singing regularly are cumulative. People who sing have reduced levels of cortisol, indicating lower stress.

UK singer, singing teacher and choir leader Sophia Efthimiou describes singing as a process of consciously controlling our breath and larynx to create and sustain certain pitches and we blend that with rhythm and poetry to create songs.

In a group setting, each group member feels the musical vibrations moving through their body simultaneously. Our heartbeats become synchronised. Sophia explains:

We literally form one unified heart beat.

Alt text hereSinging together synchronises heartbeats so that they beat as one.

Anybody Can Sing

One of the great things about singing is that you can receive the wellbeing benefits even if you aren’t any good. One study showed that:

Group singing can produce satisfying and therapeutic sensations even when the sound produced by the vocal instrument is of mediocre quality.

Tania de Jong, singer and founder of Creativity Australia, has effectively harnessed this ability of group singing to lift every member of the group up, no matter their singing ability.

The organisation’s project With One Voice puts a diversity of people together regularly to sing. The group euphoria is harnessed allowing people’s natural creativity, triggered by the group singing session, to generate new levels of community support, connection, and opportunities. Tania says:

One of the great things about singing is that is connects you to the right side of your brain. This is the side responsible for intuition, imagination and all our creative functions. It connects us to a world of possibilities. In modern life we are constantly bombarded with so much information that we process and analyse. We tend to get stuck in the left, processing side of our brain. So it becomes fundamentally important to nurture the attributes of human beings that set us apart from machines. The best way to do that is singing.

Alt text hereIf you have a voice then nothing can stop you from singing your heart out.

Sing Anywhere, Anytime

These benefits are free and accessible to all. We all have a voice. We can all sing, even if we don’t think we can.

There was a time when we all used to sing. We sang at church, around campfires, at school. While group singing is experiencing a resurgence, not so many of us sing anymore. At some stage, someone told us to be quiet or judged our imperfect singing voice. Sophia Efthimiou suggests that singing is very personal, an expression of sound coming from within us, so we cannot help but take this criticism very personally and it sticks.

Yet, people who claim they cannot sing because they are tone deaf are more likely to be very unfamiliar with finding and using their singing voice.

Tone deafness is comparatively rare and means that you would be unable to recognise a song. If you can recognise a song you are not tone deaf, you are just unpractised. Sophia clarifies:

When our voice makes the wrong note we can feel terrible as though it is a reflection of our self worth. But – if you can talk, you can sing.

Alt text hereEverybody can sing so let the songs flow out wherever you are.

Raise Your Voice

US opera singer Katie Kat wishes to encourage all of us to sing far more often regardless of our perceived skill.

Singing increases self-awareness, self-confidence and our ability to communicate with others. It decreases stress, comforts us and helps us to forge our identity and influence our world.

When you sing, musical vibration moves through you, altering your physical and emotional state. Singing is as old as the hills. It is innate, ancient and within all of us. It really is one of the most uplifting therapeutic things we can do. Katie continues:

However, society has skewed views on the value of singing. Singing has become something reserved for elite talent or highly produced stars with producers, management, concert dates – leaving the rest of us with destructive criticism of our own voices.

She claims that singing is instinctual and necessary for our existence. You do not have to be an amazing singer to benefit from the basic biological benefits and with practice the benefits increase.

Alt text hereSinging in a group brings joy to people of every age.

Singing Creates Connection

I have fond memories of hearing my grandmother singing throughout the day and of large group singing sessions with her friends.

One of my favourite memories of group singing is the old Scots tradition on New Year’s Eve of singing Auld Lang Syne. My grandmother and all her friends would stand in a big circle just before midnight.

Everyone would hold hands, and then at the beginning of the final verse we would cross our arms across our bodies so that our left hand was holding the hand of the person on our right, and the right hand holds that of the person on the left. When the song ended, everyone would rush to the middle, still holding hands. It was beautiful fun and as a young girl, I felt so safe, included and loved within that singing circle.

The phrase “auld lang syne” roughly translates as “for old times’ sake”, and the song is all about preserving old friendships and looking back over the events of the year.

A tradition worth resurrecting, considering the benefits of singing in a group.

BY Cassandra Sheppard
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2 days ago

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Here are some links to sites that we link to mainly because we feel they may be worth visiting.

العاب تلوين
العاب تلوين
1 year ago

Thank you so much this is very good and beautiful good work.

Alyssa Boyett
Alyssa Boyett
1 year ago

I like to sing some Alanis Morissette songs!

Monifa
Monifa
1 year ago

“If you can talk, you can sing.” This is something I tell people all the time this article is so great and I’m sharing with my community. Thank you!

L. Victor Del Negro
L. Victor Del Negro
1 year ago

Interesting and rings true

Douglas Varney
Douglas Varney
1 year ago

In the tiny towns of Underhill and Jericho Vermont, we have been coming together to sing for years. First with the a gospel group with many people who had to learn to clap off beat 😉 Now we have a community of singers who sing one night a week in a “drop in” chorus. You come when you want. We NEVER ask you why you were not there and the ONLY requirement is that you can “assemble your instrument” – pretty easy for a singer. We have people of ALL types some who have sung their entire lives, some who only sing in the shower, and people who just love to vocalize with a group. (We DO ask that the shower singers remain clothed) — it IS cold in Vermont.

bob guyer
bob guyer
1 year ago

I love to sing, particularly with other people, always have. In the Master and his Emissary, Ian McGilchrist observes that western culture has been shifting from a right brain dominant (holistic) to a left brain dominant (mechanistic) orientation. In the science half of the book he touches on the role singing may have played prior to the localization of vocabulary based speech in the left hemisphere of the brain. Some evidence points to pre homo sapiens, homo habilis, having used singing as communication. This matches how deeply ingrained singing feels to me so I wrote a poem about it.

The Machine can’t Hear Our Song

The machine gone deaf
Now thinks a world apart
Making power
For its own sake
Can’t hear our beating heart

The science now is in
You should surely know
Our singing first
Your words came late
Then they both did grow

A problem you can handle
To you it so must seem
Without our song
The world you make
Is nothing but a dream

Come back to life
And hear our song
Music always in your ear
Without communication
A troubled path is clear

Will you hear an old song?
Is a new one what you need?
To break the spell
Of isolation
Loneliness and greed

We’ve lost some skill in singing
Our songs may not be right
Your strength has grown
Into a thing
Of awesome fright

Our song can’t be a solo
Together it must bring
The song of modern humans
With the songs
Of living things

We live and die together
Two worlds we bring to view
The lead must now be taken
By our singers
Singing true

It used to be this way
The long passage of our time
Is held much more closely
In rhythm
Song and rhyme

Melody and harmony
Sung close and clear, on pitch
Can dance the mind
Machine to heal
Lead by songs deepest wish

The words we live in song
A flowing signing bridge
Find it now
And join us
Just beyond the ridge

JoRae
JoRae
1 year ago

No comment at this time,but will in the future.

Ava Jean Lawler-Lunn
Ava Jean Lawler-Lunn
2 years ago

The site is called UPLIFT, people. Please don’t be so critical and unkind of others. If this article is not your cup of tea, then go to Google Scholar and look for academic peer reviewed papers on the therapeutic benefits of group singing. BTW, I am a therapist and a singer and I loved this article!

Jennifer Arnold
Jennifer Arnold
2 years ago

RE :Seratonin and Oxytocin – Many people will not draw or sing because of comments made in a judgemental environment during early development . Dont touch the stove , its hot , Dont draw , your picture looks like a scribble … Words are formative , and caution should be used when using them … when people do not turn to song and singing for artisitic expression , they should be encouraged to perceive music and singing as medicine – they will take their medicine , especially when it is the best medicine in the world . I do not know about Seratonin , except that I do know that music washes through the entire brain , as the breath washed through the entire body , so music and breath , become an energy overhaul. Oxytocin , I do know about , in my independant study – Oxytocin is the hormone of forgetting , and is created by spiraling increase of sensations . The body reaches a limit , and releases oxytocin , which allows the situation to re start . In classic hymn and chants , the melodies are repeated in every expanding spirals , you know how at church , the last verse is usually played really loud by the organist — the song format is actually a replica of a spiral , and this creates the forgetting , and the unity that then arrives – forgetting / forgiveness . I always wanted to experience a three day chant in India , only have ever done three hour session . As a song writer , I take the science of it all very seriously , we live in a world where science IS our religion — as well is should and can be ! Praise god !

Janet Alexander
Janet Alexander
2 years ago

As a psychologist and a singer, music and singing has to involve our brain. So whether we are conscious that it is mostly right hemisphere of the brain with some left brain when we listen to music or sing. Or that it involves the limbic system our emotional centre. The word identification, the timing, the reading of music notes and translating it into the correct shape of the mouth and tongue and where to pitch the breathe to produce the right note are all complex and done by various parts of the brain. But the amazing thing is that the more you practice the more muscle memory will remember these complex computations and it will seem effortless.
I guess the important thing to remember is to sing, to hum because it makes us feel good or expresses an emotion we feel.

Patricia
Patricia
2 years ago

I have been singing in a choir for 31 years now, and I loved this article! Everything it says is true! So sing, sing, sing! Who cares about references? Don’t be so left-boring-brained!

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TEFL-consulting services
2 years ago

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Lyelle Palmer
Lyelle Palmer
2 years ago

Strong singing (not crooning) stimulates the Vagus Nerve that is involved in the viscera (abdominal area) by vibrating the neck where the nerve is easily activated. Various cultures use singing for aesthetic and physical stimulation, such as plainsong (chant) in the Catholic monastic traditions, and Tibetan monk solfeg for men. Women ululate with high trills in the Arab cultures. The aesthetic (beauty) sense is felt so intensely that in many people a climax that coincides with the production of oxytocin. The aesthetic senses melody, harmony, tonal color, rhythm and all combinations including the story and emotional moment in opera. Some persons sense individual aspects/facets more or less than most (as some are tone deaf). Just as we are brought to tears with a deep sense of joy, pathos, irony or ecstasy, we are brought to the climax emotional explosion that is physically sensory with motoric responses (reflexive shudders). Singing has many dimensions of understanding and appreciation and is more than a feast or banquet in savoring the many possible aspects when we allow our bodies to feel the full physical acoustical massage.

Donna Beard
Donna Beard
2 years ago

Singing has been a part of my life since I can remember. I have had some voice training, but just love to sing with or without music and with or without someone else,

Angela Denzer
Angela Denzer
2 years ago

I absolutely love to sing and my dog stares at me with so much love when I sing to her, lol. I love almost all genres of music, thank God I don’t have a horrible voice because my poor neighbors have to hear it pretty much every day and you’re absolutely correct I’m on top of the world when I have my music cranked up and singing just as loud as possible!

John Alexander Murray
John Alexander Murray
2 years ago

Never felt bad after a performance or rehearsal, always upbeat, energized.

TERRY W Hamilton
TERRY W Hamilton
2 years ago

Start singing with a group and see if you feel better.

Or, visit the website below to learn about how one man made a difference in the lives of hundreds of young people in the turbulent 60s and 70s by combining singing with traveling the world.

Cathy DeWitt
Cathy DeWitt
2 years ago

With a day job for twenty years of singing and playing for a diverse population of patients in the hospital, from pediatrics to geriatrics, from waiting rooms to the ICU, I have studied and been asked to participate in numerous research projects. We are constantly striving to validate our practice by doing research. But, here’s the thing: There are so many factors involved in music making that it is quite difficult to measure in specific ways–although of course there is some great research about brain activity, helping with memory disorders, pain management, the value of community, who else is in the room (Will we be having a singalong?)etc. In addition to taking “requests”, I enjoy making up interactive chants, like call and answer, that people can easily respond to and sing with. But when people ask me, “What’s the best kind of music to play in the hospital?” My answer is “what the patient wants to hear.” That may vary according to: their mood, their medication, whether their relationship to a certain song has changed, whether there is a desired outcome (relaxation, energy, distraction) … so many factors. So, I am in agreement that research is valuable, but also that it is worth sharing anecdotally the stories of how music has helped people in various ways, how singing together creates community and erases boundaries, etc. Someone might get something from this information.

Russ
Russ
2 years ago

Sadly, I guess there have to be haters even with an article about something that makes people happy. The article puts together ideas supported by research in a way that the general public might enjoy reading it.

For those who complain there is not enough research listed in this online article, that is what Google search is for. Doing a Google search for ‘The Neuroscience of Singing’ yields about 2,950,000 results. Is that enough?

For me, singing makes me happy, and I love all the people I sing with. That’s all the proof I need.

Joanne
Joanne
2 years ago

Actually, there’s much info on singing loudly stimulating the vague nerve>>>parasympathetic nervous system>>> rest and repair

siv
siv
2 years ago

Dont worry, be happy, start singing, it workes!!!!!

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