Health benefits of singing
Last update 23/3/16
by Neil Hawes   Email contact
The health benefits of singing
Whitton Choral Society
Sight-singing pages

The great benefits to mental and physical health of music and particularly singing have been in the news for a few years now.

It is not just anecdote or hearsay though - there are a number of good scientific studies that prove the benefits.

Whitton Choral Society summer concert 3rd July 2010 - a section of sopranos and altos
Want to be happy? Join a choir (18/12/15)

Research shows that singing in big groups fast-tracks bonding and improves pain tolerance. "As long as I’m singing, it’s as if I’m inhabiting another reality. I become temporarily suspended in a world where everything bad is bearable, and everything good feels possible."
More Evidence of the Psychological Benefits of Choral Singing (9/3/16)

New research finds Choral Singing fulfills deep-seated needs of bonding with a group. See background research
Can singing in a choir make me healthier? (30/10/15)

BBC iWonder Guide - Singing in a choir is more than just a bit of fun. It's been scientifically proven that it is good for your health: from getting more oxygen into the blood, to increasing the flow of feelgood hormones and improving mental health.
Music 'releases mood-enhancing chemical in the brain' (9/1/11)

Music releases a chemical in the brain that has a key role in setting good moods, a study has suggested.

...it was the first time that the chemical - called dopamine - had been tested in response to music. Dopamine increases in response to other stimuli such as food and money. It is known to produce a feel-good state in response to certain tangible stimulants - from eating sweets to taking cocaine. Dopamine is also associated with less tangible stimuli - such as being in love.

Singing your heart out this Christmas is good for you (24/12/10)

Whether it's a candle-lit carol service or a rather more raucous evening of karaoke down the pub, many people will enjoy a good old singsong this Christmas.

But belting out "Hark! the herald angels sing" or your own unique interpretation of "I will survive" will not just lift the spirits - it's good for your physical health as well. It may not feel like it, but singing is a form of exercise, albeit rather gentle. Filing the lungs with air, increasing the heart rate and getting blood pumping round the body faster can all help our physical health.

Whitton Choral Society concert 11th December 2010 - the bass section in full flow

 

Snoring 'cured by singing exercise' (19/8/13)

A study carried out by the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital has proved that snoring can be reduced simply by singing.
Singing for mental health (22/7/10)

It's well known that community singing has positive benefits for health - including increased lung capacity, stress reduction and even boosting the immune system. Now the first study to find evidence that choral singing has sustained benefits for people with mental health problems has been published.

...as well as being fun, the social contact and structure provided by the regular rehearsals play a part in improving wellbeing.

Whitton Choral Society members Carol singing at Osterley Park 5th December 2010
Whitton Choral Society summer concert 3rd July 2010 a section of tenors and basses
How singing unlocks the brain (20/11/05)

...singing as an activity did seem to help people with dementia. People seem to enjoy doing something jointly with other people and there is a lot of evidence that being socially engaged is good for people with dementia.

...the part of the brain that worked with speech was different to the part that processed music, allowing those who had lost their speech to still enjoy their music. ...rhythm had also been shown to be beneficial, particularly for those with diseases like Parkinson's where movement was a problem.

Can you sing your way out of the festive blues? How therapists are using the power of song to cure depression (26/12/10)

...singing isn’t just a way to clear your throat in the morning or an amusing chance to murder Bonnie Tyler’s 'Total Eclipse Of The Heart' at a hen night. Increasingly, the power of singing is being used by therapists to boost confidence, process negative feelings and improve relationships.
The benefits of choral singing (17/4/09)
(BBC Radio 4 Today Programme audio recording)

Singing with a choir is an extremely healthy activity... [it provides] social development... a sense of belonging... [it has a] positive impact on the brain... [it is] an aerobic activity very good for the cardio-vascular system... [singing with a choir] does pretty much everything - [it is] complete health and social care.
Whitton Choral Society Concert 101211 altos and tenors
A study about the relationship between singing and health (17/6/09)

“When you're happy, you're probably healthier. And it's hard to be sad when you're singing.”
The power of singing (6/12/11)

“There is evidence that regular participation in group choral activity can significantly improve physical and mental health”

More detailed scientific studies
Mental muscle: six ways to boost your brain - Music is one of them! (4/10/10)

Learning to play an instrument brings about dramatic brain changes that not only improve musical skills but can also spill over into other cognitive abilities, including speech, language, memory, attention, IQ and even empathy.

...Musical training, especially at a young age, seems to significantly alter the structure of your brain. For instance, after 15 months of piano lessons young children had more highly developed auditory and motor areas than their untrained peers.

...Professional musicians have an increased volume of grey matter, which routes information around the brain, in areas that deal with motor control, audition and visuo-spatial processing. ...Musicians who started training before the age of 7 also have a thicker corpus callosum, the bundle of nerve fibres that shunts information between the two halves of the brain ....These structural changes have been shown to tally with the development of musical ability.

But can music reach outside of its own domain and improve other aspects of cognition? The tentative answer is yes. Musically trained people perform better on tests of auditory memory - the ability to remember lists of spoken words, for example - and auditory attention. Children with a musical training have larger vocabularies and higher reading ability than those who do not ...There is even some evidence that early musical training increases IQ.

...They found that professional pianists were much better than non-musicians at a standard test of spatial acuity - the ability to discriminate two closely separated points. Crucially, they also improved faster with practise ...This is evidence that the brains of trained musicians are more plastic, ... suggesting that learning an instrument may enhance your capacity to learn other skills.

This can even extend to languages. Trained musicians are better at discriminating pitch changes in made-up words similar to those found in Mandarin, a "tonal" language where such changes can alter the meaning of a word. This is evidence that they are better equipped to learn new languages... And that is not all. Music training has even been shown to enhance empathy because it fine-tunes your ability to recognise emotional nuances in speech.

...Much of this research has been done in children or professional musicians who started training very young. Developing brains are known to be more malleable than adult ones - for music, there seems to be a sensitive period at around 7. ..."Those who begin musical training earlier in life see greater enhancements, ...but all signs point toward musical training being powerful at any point in life."

The perceived benefits of singing (December 2001)

Two surveys showed that people feel they benefit socially, emotionally, physically and spiritually from choral singing, and they agreed that 'singing helps to make my mood more positive', 'singing is a moving experience for me sometimes', 'singing makes me feel a lot happier' and 'singing is good for my soul'.
Effects of group singing and performance for marginalized and middle-class singers (July 2005)

...group singing and performance, at the most amateur levels of musicality, yielded considerable emotional, social and cognitive benefits.

...the emotional effects of participation in group singing are similar regardless of training or socioeconomic status

Effects of Choir Singing or Listening on Secretory Immunoglobulin A, Cortisol, and Emotional State (November 2003)

...choir singing positively influences both emotional affect and immune competence.
Music structure determines heart rate variability of singers (July 2013)

Choir singing is known to promote wellbeing. One reason for this may be that singing demands a slower than normal respiration, which may in turn affect heart activity. Coupling of heart rate variability (HRV) to respiration is called Respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA). This coupling has a subjective as well as a biologically soothing effect, and it is beneficial for cardiovascular function.
Whitton Choral Society summer concert 3rd July 2010
All photos on this page are with thanks to David Edwards and family