PHYSICAL & EMOTIONAL BENEFITS OF SINGING
A study published in Australia in 2008 identified that generally, choral singers felt happier with their lives than the rest of the public – they attributed this to the “deep breathing” they were undertaking in order to sing.
As a professional singer, singing teacher, vocal and peformance coach and choral director, I’ve taught countless individuals, including individuals from both classical and contemporary choirs), as well as observing those in the choir that I run; ninety-nine percent weren’t breathing either deeply or correctly when they came to me! Having said this, even attempting to breathe deeply will promote a good mood, help your circulation, tone your diaphragm, abdominal and intercostal muscles, and, if singing in my choir is anything to go by, provide enormous fun as well (although I admit that my own choir members seem to find me a constant source of amusement as well!).
The breathing required for singing is not to be mistaken for the breathing promoted in exercise classes though. By training your singing voice properly, you are developing muscles (and sophisticated control of them) from the diaphragm, the lungs, the vocal cords, the tongue, jaw etc.
Singing properly also provides you with an aerobic workout (students are regularly amazed at how physically demanding it is to learn to sing properly), so you get more oxygen into your bloodstream for better circulation, lots of endorphins are released which raise mood, reduce stress – and pain. You are also, of course, attempting to create beautiful sounds in time to music, as well as expressing the meaning and emotion of the lyrics that you’re singing (so it’s emotionally cathartic too). Add to this the sheer joy of singing in close harmony (which can literally raise the hairs on the back of your own neck as well as those people listening to you) and singing is a pretty special activity!
There is now strong evidence to support the fact that singing can boost the immune system, improve the speech of people with Autism, help patients with Asthma and Parkinson’s disease and improve the memories of patients with dementia – even NICE (National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence) has got on the bandwagon supporting the “music for memory” programme for dementia patients, which is apparently as effective as medication!
My own experience of singing has inevitably been quite intense. I’ve noticed its effect on myself, other professional singers, individual students of mine as well as those in the choir that I run. Singing isn’t so much what I do for a living, it’s who I am (I think this is something that can be said about artists from any discipline) and I basically don’t feel right physically or emotionally without expressing myself in this way.
What this means exactly is hard to quantify, but when I spent thirteen years of my life not working as a singer (when my daughter was little), I felt less confident, less fulfilled. During this thirteen years hiatus I did, however, undertake a formal classical training. This was an extraordinary experience and transformed my experience of singing, tempered my instrument and developed it way beyond what I had been doing previously; it literally took years and required physical and emotional stamina and determination.
Up until my classical training, I had worked as a contemporary singer/songwriter and was unprepared for the almost transcendental experiences I had when singing opera. Don’t get me wrong, I have wonderful experiences all the time singing contemporary music, but it’s different with classical music – more intense, generally more difficult, so it requires great focus. It’s also important to understand that the singing voice is a living instrument residing in your own body.
When I began teaching singing in 1999, I was amazed at how many people came to their first lesson saying that they wanted to “find their voice”. Over the years I have continued to hear this mantra repeated time and again and have realised that to many people, even if they haven’t got a great voice, finding what they have got is very important to them – it’s as much about being able to sing without fear as discovering the voice itself and I have come to the conclusion that for many people it’s about reuniting themselves with something they feel they’ve lost or can’t quite touch. My belief, therefore, is that it’s ultimately about being able to express ourselves freely without fear.
So, if you feel like this – start singing! There are literally loads of singing groups around these days. If you’d prefer to sing on your own or in a band, just do it – or sing in the shower, even if your family tell you to shut up – if it gives you joy, do it!