Singing Articles

A collection of newspaper articles related to singing:

Singing is good for you

http://heartresearch.org.uk/fundraising/singing-good-you

Singing is good for you

Not only is singing a great way to raise money, research shows that it’s also good for your heart.

Professor Graham Welch, Chair of Music Education at the Institute of Education, University of London, has studied developmental and medical aspects of singing for 30 years and he says the health benefits of singing are both physical and psychological. “Singing has physical benefits because it is an aerobic activity that increases oxygenation in the blood stream and exercises major muscle groups in the upper body, even when sitting. Singing has psychological benefits because of its normally positive effect in reducing stress levels through the action of the endocrine system which is linked to our sense of emotional well-being. Psychological benefits are also evident when people sing together as well as alone because of the increased sense of community, belonging and shared endeavour.”

All for One choir, one of our supporters, also advocates the importance of singing to help keep your heart healthy. Choir members sang for their hearts when they performed a flash mob in Princes Quay Shopping Centre in Hull.

Regular exercising of the vocal cords can even prolong life, according to research done by leading vocal coach and singer Helen Astrid, from The Helen Astrid Singing Academy in London. “It’s a great way to keep in shape because you are exercising your lungs and heart. Not only that, your body produces ‘feel good’ hormones called endorphins, which rush around your body when you sing. It’s exactly the same when you eat a bar of chocolate. The good news with singing is that you don’t gain any calories!”

Singing even helps you live longer according to the findings of a joint Harvard and Yale study which showed that choral singing increased the life expectancy of the population of New Haven, Connecticut. The report concluded that this was because singing promoted both a healthy heart and an enhanced mental state. Another study at the University of California has reported higher levels of immune system proteins in the saliva of choristers after performing a complex Beethoven masterwork.

Bjorn Vickhoff, who led a study at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden into music and wellbeing, also believes that singing has positive effects on your health. The study showed how musical structure influenced the heart rate of choir members. “Singing is good for your health. Our research indicates that it may even be good for your heart. Further research in this field is much needed, such as the long term effect of choir singing.”

So go on, keep your heart healthy, get singing and support Sing for your Heart this December! Click here for more information about how to get involved or give our fundraising team a call on 0113 234 7474.

Singing Changes Your Brain

Group singing has been scientifically proven to lower stress, relieve anxiety, and elevate endorphins

When you sing, musical vibrations move through you, altering your physical and emotional landscape. Group singing, for those who have done it, is the most exhilarating and transformative of all. It takes something incredibly intimate, a sound that begins inside you, shares it with a roomful of people and it comes back as something even more thrilling: harmony. So it’s not surprising that group singing is on the rise. According to Chorus America, 32.5 million adults sing in choirs, up by almost 10 million over the past six years. Many people think  of church music when you bring up group singing, but there are over 270,000 choruses across the country and they include gospel groups to show choirs like the ones depicted in Glee to strictly amateur groups like Choir! Choir! Choir! singing David Bowie’s The Man Who Sold the World.

As the popularity of group singing grows, science has been hard at work trying to explain why it has such a calming yet energizing effect on people. What researchers are beginning to discover is that singing is like an infusion of the perfect tranquilizer, the kind that both soothes your nerves and elevates your spirits.

The elation may come from endorphins, a hormone released by singing, which is associated with feelings of pleasure.  Or it might be from oxytocin, another hormone released during singing, which has been found to alleviate anxiety and stress. Oxytocin also enhances feelings of trust and bonding, which may explain why still more studies have found that singing lessens feelings ofdepression and loneliness.  A very recent study even attempts to make the case that “music evolved as a tool of social living,” and that the pleasure that comes from singing together is our evolutionary reward for coming together cooperatively, instead of hiding alone, every cave-dweller for him or herself.

The benefits of singing regularly seem to be cumulative. In one study, singers were found to have lower levels ofcortisol, indicating lower stress.  A very preliminary investigation suggesting that our heart rates may sync upduring group singing could also explain why singing together sometimes feels like a guided group meditation. Study after study has found that singing relieves anxiety and contributes to quality of life. Dr. Julene K. Johnson, a researcher who has focused on older singers, recently began a five year study to examine group singing as an affordable method to improve the health and well-being of older adults.

It turns out you don’t even have to be a good singer to reap the rewards.  According to one 2005 study, group singing “can produce satisfying and therapeutic sensations even when the sound produced by the vocal instrument is of mediocre quality.”  Singing groups vary from casual affairs where no audition is necessary to serious, committed professional or avocational choirs like the Los Angeles Master Chorale or my chorus in New York City, which I joined when I was 26 and depressed, all based on a single memory of singing in a choir at Christmas, an experience so euphoric I never forgot it.

If you want to find a singing group to join, ChoirPlace and ChoralNet are good places to begin, or more local sites like the New York Choral Consortium, which has links to the Vocal Area Network and other sites, or the Greater Boston Choral Consortium.  But if you can’t find one at any of these sites, you can always google “choir” or “choral society” and your city or town to find more. Group singing is cheaper than therapy, healthier than drinking, and certainly more fun than working out.  It is the one thing in life where feeling better is pretty much guaranteed.  Even if you walked into rehearsal exhausted and depressed, by the end of the night you’ll walk out high as a kite on endorphins and good will.

 

Choir singing ‘boosts your mental health’

There is a growing body of evidence which claims that singing as part of a group can have a range of health benefits

Singing in a choir can boost your mental health, a new study has found.

Researchers carried out an online survey of 375 people who sang in choirs, sang alone, or played team sports.

All three activities yielded high levels of psychological well-being – but choristers stood out as experiencing the greatest benefit.

The findings could help develop low cost treatment to improve people’s well-being, researchers suggest.

Compared with the way sports players regarded their teams, choral singers also viewed their choirs as more coherent or “meaningful”.

Once reserved for the church pews, the groups are becoming increasingly popular, buoyed by programmes such as Gareth Malone’s The Choir, which follows the London Symphony Orchestra choirmaster as he tries to train groups.

Nick Stewart, from Oxford Brookes University, who led the study, said: “Research has already suggested that joining a choir could be a cost-effective way to improve people’s well-being. Yet we know surprisingly little about how the well-being effects of choral singing are brought about.

“These findings suggest that feeling part of a cohesive social group can add to the experience of using your voice to make music.”

While the feel-good effects of singing have long been recognised, there is growing evidence that it can have a positive impact on a range of physical and psychological conditions, leading to campaigns for singing on prescription.

In previous studies experts claimed that joining a choir could improve symptoms of Parkinson’s, depression and lung disease.

Swedish research has suggested that it not only increases oxygen levels in the blood but triggers the release of “happy” hormones such as oxytocin, which is thought to help lower stress levels and blood pressure.

A year long study on people with mental health problems, carried out by the Sidney De Haan Research Centre for Arts and Health, Canterbury, has also shown the some 60 per cent of participants had less mental distress when retested a year after joining, with some people no longer fulfilling diagnostic criteria for clinical depression.

Mr Stewart will present the findings at the annual meeting of the British Psychological Society’s Division of Clinical Psychology in York today.

The fact that the group, made of 197 women and 178 men, found singing in a choir was “significantly” more effective at improving their mood than a team sport could be down to the synchronicity of the activity, Mr Stewart said.

“The implications may be that any activity we do as part of a group is particularly enjoyable”, he said.

“But people who sang in a choir had a stronger sense of being part of a meaningful group and there is a suggestion that there is something unique about the synchronicity of moving and breathing with other people.”

Previous studies have found that a group of singers actually synchronise their heart beats.

He said further research needs to carried out to establish why singing in a group had such powerful effect, adding: “At the moment it is speculative, but it could be that singing in a group gives us something that we have lost as a society.”

The findings echo the experiences of Siobhan Patten, a social worker for Birmingham Council who featured on The Choir: Sing While You Work last month.

She told the Guardian: “It was a cathartic moment for me when I realised that I had an outlet for all the emotions I was carrying, and the choir became my much-needed therapy. I had never before realised the incredible healing powers of music.”

 

Choral singing regulates heartbeat

Singing in a choir is as good for you as yoga, according to a study which found that the regular breathing patterns it requires can reduce the variability of your heartbeat.

Singing could boost endorphin levels, studies suggest

The study could explain why choral singing is said to be good for your health Photo: ALAMY

When choir members sing together their heartbeats become synchronised, growing faster and slower at the same time as they breathe in and out in unison, researchers found.

The study could explain why choral singing is said to be good for your health, because reducing the variability of your heart rate is likely to be good for your well-being, they said.

It also suggests that singing can enhance the spirit of cooperation in a group because it helps regulate activity in the vagus nerve which is linked to emotions and communication with others, according to the study published in the Frontiers in Neuroscience journal.

The researchers, from the University of Gothenburg, studied the heart rates of fifteen 18-year-old choral singers as they performed three different vocal exercises: humming, singing the Swedish hymn “Härlig är Jorden” (Lovely is the Earth), and chanting a slow mantra.

The combined results showed that the melody and structure of the music directly affected the singers’ heart rates, and singing in unison caused their pulses to rise and fall at the same time.

The mantra, which unlike the other two exercises forced the singers to breathe in and out at exactly the same time, had the greatest effect.

Björn Vickhoff, who led the study, explained: “Singing regulates activity in the so-called vagus nerve which is involved in our emotional life and our communication with others and which, for example, affects our vocal timbre.

“Songs with long phrases achieve the same effect as breathing exercises in yoga. In other words, through song we can exercise a certain control over mental states.”

Singing could provide a health boost by forcing participants to adopt a calm and regular breathing pattern, which in turn regulates the heartbeat, he said.

“We already know that choral singing synchronises the singers’ muscular movements and neural activities in large parts of the body. Now we also know that this applies to the heart, to a large extent.”

 

Health choirs: let’s have singing on prescription

Joining a choir may help those suffering from a range of chronic illnesses.

Members of Breathing Space, a specialist 'breathing' choir - Health choirs: let's have singing on prescription

Members of Breathing Space, a specialist ‘breathing’ choir Photo: ALEXIS MARYON

nce the domain of the blue-rinse brigade, choirs are certainly on-trend. The Choir of the Year competition, the UK’s largest amateur choral contest, last year saw entries increase by a third, while the TV show Glee (series 3 starts next week) has even made singing cool for teens.

There are all-gay choirs, cappella groups for doctors and choruses for lawyers. But while the feel-good effects of singing are well-documented, experts now believe that joining a choir could improve the symptoms of a range of health problems including Parkinson’s, depression and lung disease.

At a conference of the Royal Society for Public Health in London last week, Grenville Hancox, professor of music at The Sidney De Haan Research Centre for Arts and Health, Canterbury, described the changes that can take place through singing together as “extraordinary”.

He told how he and colleagues have witnessed people with respiratory problems learning to breathe more easily, those with depression beating the blues and patients with Parkinson’s disease standing tall and singing loudly.

Prof Hancox is the founder of Skylarks, a new choir for people with Parkinson’s. This disorder of the central nervous system makes normal movements difficult and weakens the voice as the muscles in the face and vocal chords deteriorate.

Prof Hancox and his colleague Stephen Clift, the centre’s professor of health education, are undertaking research to find out if choral singing can help with Parkinson’s symptoms, especially those affecting the voice, with choir members undergoing computer-assisted acoustical voice analysis at the start and finish of the study.

Although the formal research is in the early stages, one patient is convinced he has benefited from being in the choir. Roger Clayton, 65, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s five years ago. The disease had left his voice feeble, but he says singing has made it stronger.

“I think the improvement arises from deeper breathing, and the extended use of the vocal cords,” says the retired university manager.

Ian MacDonald, voice specialist with the British Association for Performing Arts Medicine, says it is logical that singing can help in this way. “The vocal cords are muscles,” he says. “By exercising them, you increase tone and restrict tremor, and the voice is less jittery. Singing warms the muscles up – just as athletes warm up theirs.” Being required to stand tall when performing may also improve core strength and benefit these patients.

A choir for patients with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) has also been set up by the Research Centre, with the aim of improving the breathlessness associated with this condition.

Recruits to a 10-month trial, starting this month, will sing a repertoire of spirituals, folk songs and world music while changes in lung function will be monitored.

Although the evidence so far is anecdotal, Sonia Page, the specialist respiratory nurse who is leading the current Singing for Breathing choir, says it has helped people with COPD “gain greater control of their breathlessness instead of being at the mercy of it.”

Patients have also reported improved respiratory stamina, reduced impact of chest infections and improvements in sleep apnoea (a condition that causes interrupted breathing during sleep).

As yet, researchers can only speculate about the physiological changes singing might bring about and how these might impact on disease. Dr Nicholas Hopkinson, a consultant chest physician at the Royal Brompton Hospital in London, notes that singing cannot reverse the lung damage caused by COPD, but it can still be of benefit.

COPD patients have difficulty emptying the air from their lungs (known as gas trapping), he says, which is why they suffer from shortness of breath – a problem made worse if they panic and start to hyperventilate.

“Singing may help these patients to improve their posture and learn techniques to help control their breathing. In particular, by breathing out more slowly they give their lungs more time to empty, reducing gas trapping,” says Dr Hopkinson.

That singing is uplifting and can help improve mood is so far its best documented health benefit. A recent Swedish study published in the journal Integrative Physiological and Behavioural Science suggested that it not only increases oxygen levels in the blood but triggers the release of “happy” hormones such as oxytocin, which is thought to help lower stress levels and blood pressure.

Meanwhile results of research by Prof Clift on a choir for people with mental health problems, published in Mental Health and Social Inclusion this summer, showed some 60 per cent of participants had less mental distress when retested a year after joining, with some people no longer fulfilling diagnostic criteria for clinical depression.

Prof Clift and Prof Hancox believe the health benefits of belonging to a choir, for some chronic conditions will become indisputable. “There are examples of arts on prescription and gym on prescription,” argues Prof Hancox. “How about singing on prescription, too?”

For further details about health choirs, call Prof Clift on 01303 220870.

All together now: singing is good for your body and soul

As scientists show that choir practice is healthier than yoga, Sarah Rainey – who does both – praises the power of song

Since joining a choir, Sarah Rainey has felt healthier and happier

Since joining a choir, Sarah Rainey has felt healthier and happier Photo: Geoff Pugh

After years of singing in the shower and warbling my way through karaoke duets, 18 months ago I finally joined a choir. Every Thursday evening, I head to a church hall in Marylebone, central London, where, along with 30 others – mostly women, the occasional bloke – I spend 90 minutes belting out Motown, gospel and pop classics, from Abba to Bon Jovi. I’m more of a keen amateur than a wannabe soloist, but even the odd off-key note or wrong lyric can’t detract from how good singing makes me feel. I leave every session uplifted, buoyed by a flurry of endorphins flooding through my body.

So it comes as no surprise that scientists have shown that not only does singing in a choir make you feel good, it’s got health benefits, too. Researchers at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, found that choristers’ heartbeats synchronise when they sing together, bringing about a calming effect that is as beneficial to our health as yoga.

The scientists asked a group of teenagers to perform three choral exercises – humming, singing a hymn and chanting – and monitored their heart rhythms during each. They showed that singing has a dramatic effect on heart rate variability, which is linked to a reduced risk of heart disease.

“Song is a form of regular, controlled breathing, since breathing out occurs on the song phrases and inhaling takes place between these,” says Dr Björn Vickhoff, who led the study. “It gives you pretty much the same effect as yoga breathing. It helps you relax, and there are indications that it does provide a heart benefit.”

Having done both yoga and singing, I’m inclined to agree. Panting one’s way through a downward dog just isn’t as soothing as a floaty aria; nor does contorting oneself into the shape of a cobra make you feel quite as good as a burst of Aretha Franklin. Yoga may supposedly be relaxing, but it’s also sweaty, tiring and often painful. Singing, on the other hand, never fails to leave me feeling fabulous. But is it really better for your heart?

Over the years, scientists have found that crooning has a number of health benefits. The Gothenburg researchers proved that with singing we can train our lungs to breathe better; similarly, a study at Cardiff University in 2012 found that lung cancer patients who sang in a choir had a greater expiratory capacity than those who didn’t. Singing has also been shown to boost our immune system, reduce stress levels and, according to a report published in the Journal of Music Therapy in 2004, help patients cope with chronic pain. A joint study by Harvard and Yale Universities in 2008 went one step further, claiming that choral singing in a Connecticut town had increased residents’ life expectancy.

“Singing delivers a host of physical and emotional benefits, including increased aerobic exercise, improved breathing, posture, mindset, confidence and self-esteem,” says Jeremy Hywel Williams, who leads the Llanelli Choral Society in Wales. “While singing alone is good, singing with others can be even better.”

It explains why we Brits are flocking to choirs in our thousands. There are more than 3,000 groups listed on the British Choirs on the Net website, and the body that runs my choir, Rock Choir, has over 16,000 members in 250 communities nationwide. There are said to be more choirs across the country now than there are fish and chip shops. Gareth Malone, the preppy choirmaster credited with reigniting our interest in choral singing through his BBC Two series The Choir, helped a new generation of singers realise the benefits of making music; his Military Wives Choir had a Number One hit in December 2011.

Tom George, a Rock Choir leader in Surrey, says singing takes his members’ minds off physical and mental illnesses. “We receive many emails from members telling us how Rock Choir has helped them,” he adds. “People recovering from depression, arthritis, surgery, dealing with the effects of cancer and many other ailments find it a real tonic and have even suggested it should be prescribed on the NHS.”

Do choristers agree? David Webb, 30, part of the Amore quartet that serenaded the Queen during the Diamond Jubilee Pageant, equates singing with a session at the gym. “Using your whole body as you sing is massively important,” he adds. Rachael Brimley, 25, from Bedfordshire, whose vocal group Les Sirènes was named the 2012 Choir of the Year, agrees: “The discipline of breathing often feels like a good workout, as you are using the core muscles and focusing your energy to achieve a great sound.”

Alex Bucktin, 25, a graphic designer from Harpenden, joined a choir in March and says singing has helped her sleep more soundly. She adds: “I have done yoga and pilates, and singing uses so many muscles and so much concentration on your breathing that it exerts your body in the same way.” Suzie Jennings, 30, a London-based resource manager, says she has slept better since she started singing last year, and has noticed a positive mental effect. “A few months ago I was made redundant on the day of choir practice,” she explains. “I went along feeling pretty depressed, and while singing didn’t solve my employment issues, it made me feel a million times better.”

Choral singing has been used as music therapy in hospitals, care homes and hospices for decades. “Singing enables people with dementia to access memories and joy in times when communication is faltering,” says Sarah Teagle, co-founder of the Forget-Me-Not chorus, a charity for dementia sufferers.

Can as much be said for the downward dog? Those living in Los Angeles don’t have to choose between the two: vocal yoga is the latest trend in the US, combining the health benefits of both in a single class. Back in the UK, no such newfangled activity exists – but joining a good old-fashioned choir can provide benefits aplenty. The science doesn’t lie: singing really is better for your health than yoga. And, in the words of Ella Fitzgerald, “the only thing better than singing – is more singing”.

Perfect harmony: how singing in a choir can make us more ‘moral’

Forget the Olympic spirit, playing sport doesn’t make you good – but music and drama does

Ice-skating

Ice-skating choristers Photo: HEATHCLIFF O’MALLEY

Children who sing in a choir, play in an orchestra or take to the stage are more likely to make good moral choices than their fellow classmates, a study has concluded.

But contrary to belief that sport promotes ideas of fair play and team spirit, the research concluded that playing games does nothing to strengthen people’s moral fibre.

Meanwhile those who go to church or other religious observances regularly emerged more likely to fare better in the face of moral dilemmas than their peers who do not.

And those whose parents have a higher level of education, or who achieve good grades themselves, are also likely to demonstrate moral virtues such as honesty and self-discipline than others.

The project also found that eight in 10 teachers fear that moral development of children is being squeezed out of schools by the relentless pressure of exams.

As part of the research a sample of children aged 14 and 15 from across Britain were asked to take part in “moral dilemma” tests in which they are faced with a series of detailed scenarios and a choice of what to do.

In each case they were given a range of possible responses and then asked to select one as well as giving a reason for their choice.

Those choices were then compared against a list of “preferred options” chosen by an expert panel based on whether they showed qualities such as honesty, self-discipline, courage and an overall lack of self-interest.

Overall only 42.6 per cent of the teenagers’ responses matched the more moral options chosen by of the panel.

Girls far outperformed boys with a 47 per cent match compared with only 37 per cent.

Notably, the results also lagged behind those in comparable studies in other countries such as Taiwan where children achieved a 53 per cent match and the US with 49 per cent but well ahead of those in Macedonia.

But the researchers also analysed the teenagers’ scores in the moral dilemma based on other information they had given about their hobbies and interests, beliefs and backgrounds.

Overall those who were members of choirs or took part in other musical activities outside school were 17 per cent more likely to choose the more moral options than those who did not. Similarly those involved in drama groups outside school scored 14 per cent better on average while those involved in photography or art groups also fared better.

By contrast those involved in sports clubs or teams scored marginally worse than those who did not.

Similarly those who said they adhered to a religion scored almost 10 per cent more highly on average than those who said they were atheist or left the question blank. And the gap widened to 14 per cent when comparing those who said they were actively practising against those with no religion.

Although the schools in which children scored most highly spanned the regions and social backgrounds, the top school on the moral dilemma tests was a Roman Catholic academy in the midlands with two other Christian schools in the top seven.

The researchers noted: “Despite a widely held public belief that sport builds character, this is not always supported in the philosophical and empirical literature.

“Arguments against sport as a character builder take the line that sport is a neutral domain, and qualities developed from this do not necessarily transfer to other domains.

“Researchers have also pointed to much negative behaviour involved in sport. All of this is not to say that sport cannot be used to build character, but it can only if coaches and parents etc work together to ensure positive character building in sport.”

Prof James Arthur, director of the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues, said: “Academic attainment is, of course, important, but the moral character of a child matters more.

“Research shows that a good grasp of moral virtues, such as kindness, honesty and courage can help children to flourish as human beings, and can also lead to improvements in the classroom.

“And that level of understanding doesn’t just happen; it needs to be nurtured and encouraged, both in school and at home.”

 

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