People are often sending me articles explaining the research that is being done about the amazing and positive effects that singing has on the brain and your well being in general. Exactly! I don’t need a study or research to tell me what I’ve witnessed first hand after teaching singers and directing vocal groups for over 35 years, and also from what I’ve experienced myself as a performer on the stage. Let’s face it – singing is a natural high.
Maybe you’re already a singer or perhaps you’re somebody who just loves to belt out your favorite song in the car while you’re driving. Singing has no age limitations and it’s never too late or too early to start. You don’t need to sing in tune or be in full opera mode because there’s little difference in the enjoyment of the professional singer or the most amateur singer – at any level you can reap the same rewards. But there’s more..
Some people have never had the pleasure of singing with others. Maybe it’s because there are so many ways to become a “instant star” these days, like American Idol, The Voice and America’s Got Talent, along with the ability to make recordings on a smart phone in your own living room and be seen by thousands on YouTube. Though the odds are slim of your being plucked out of the masses, these are all great opportunities. However, I still believe that singing with others is a very special interaction that you have to actually experience to fully understand. (Warning: once you do, you’ll be hooked.) Think about it this way: when you sing you become a vibrating column of air – like a clarinet or flute. That’s pretty thrilling. And then when you sing with others, you are all vibrating together as a group at the same frequency. How cool is that?! Why wouldn’t you want to sing with other people?
Singing in a group can also enhance your life in many ways:
- It can help you find your voice in other areas of your life.
- You can learn to interact with people as you are in the moment (not just from a job title or financial status).
- You have an instant network of people who understand the power of singing.
- When voices come together in song and harmony, you experience being part of something greater than yourself.
- It opens your heart through the emotions and the story expressed in the lyrics.
- It keeps your brain active as you play with and recognize musical patterns.
- By harmonizing in song, you create harmony in your world.
Whatever worries I may have had or aches I might have been feeling, they all seem to disappear as I get completely absorbed in the music. Singing is also energizing and it generally takes me awhile to calm down enough to go to sleep after I’ve directed a choral rehearsal or given a concert myself. So why does this happen? Here are some physical and chemical reasons that explain why singing makes you feel so incredibly good:
1. Singing causes your body to release oxytocin, a hormone that alleviates anxiety and stress, enhances feelings of trust and empathy, and plays a role in the ability to create and maintain relationships. As a result, being involved with others through singing can give you a sense of connectedness. It can also enable you to become more mindful as you focus on the melody and the emotions that you feel as you sing, similar to the state you might get into when you practice yoga.
2. Singing releases endorphins. These are naturally-occurring opiates in your brain and the same ones that can make you feel euphoric during exercise.
3. We also have something called neurotransmitters in our brains and one of these chemical messengers is serotonin. It gets released when you’re singing and is also associated with feelings of euphoria and contentment.
4. Singing can decrease levels of the stress hormone cortisol, lower your heart rate, and therefore help you feel relaxed.
5. There’s a small organ in the inner ear called the sacculus which only responds to the kind of low tones and high intensity sounds found in singing. Because the sacculus is connected to the part of the brain that registers pleasure, singing delivers enjoyment.
6. People love singing for much the same reason they’re drawn to sex, drugs, gambling and delicious food: when you sing your brain releases dopamine which is a chemical that’s part of both motivation and addiction. As you follow the song and anticipate what’s going to come next and whether it will confirm or surprise you, that’s when you experience pleasure. You can even get chills and this is because your blood flows to parts of the brain that are releasing dopamine.
7. Singing requires you to use more air so you can keep your vocal cords vibrating while also keeping your neck, throat and jaw muscles relaxed. To breathe more deeply, you have to activate the diaphragm, a thin flexible muscle that sits below your ribcage in the middle of your torso. This will enable you to use the full capacity of your lungs and help to free up your ribcage and surrounding muscles, resulting in the ability to breathe more easily. Some people can get a little lightheaded when they begin to take in more air because they are so used to shallow breathing most of the time. This will stop happening as you begin breathing deeply more regularly. All this input of oxygen is just plain good for you.
There you have it. Like I said, singing is a natural high. (Plus it’s free and totally legal.) So, find a group where you feel comfortable singing, or work with a vocal coach who helps you feel safe to grow as a singer at whatever pace works for you, or simply sing around the house. You can sing for your own satisfaction, develop your vocal skills and go a very long way or join a singing group in your area. Be brave – open your mouth and give it a try. Start small or dive right in and go big. It doesn’t matter. Just sing.