While singing in the shower maybe fun, there are real benefits in joining with others in song!

Recently I was privileged to hear neuroscientist Linda Maguire speak about the value of singing with others on the brain. Knowing that she has been a very successful opera singer who has now broadened her musical scope to focus on healing, made her comments very interesting indeed.

The health benefits of singing

As someone who has been singing for many years, I’m delighted to learn about those in neuroscience who are dedicated to doing more research on how singing with others improves mental health.

Last night at a symphony orchestra concert, the audience was invited to sing along with Christmas carols. About 2000 voices joined together and rocked the roof. It was truly elevating.

Here are some thoughts about key areas that have come to my mind on this topic today.

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1. Focus

When singing with others, there is no way to multitask and that is a good thing. The only thing to think about is what is going on right around you.

Breathing at the same time as others or staggering the breath so that a long phrase sounds effortless to the audience. In both cases, more oxygen is going to the lungs and all the organs including the brain. According to the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America the brain requires 20 % of the oxygen in the body. The deep/diaphragmatic breathing involved in singing brings in more oxygen.

Create the dynamics (softness or loudness) of the music for emotional effect. Everyone works together to do this and no one can stick out so careful attention is needed.

Feel the frequencies of the notes (melody notes and harmony). In western music whether the piece is in a major or minor key can make a difference to our mood.

Interpret the words of the song in order to sing with conviction and share those meanings with others.

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2. Emotional connection

Singing with others feels good! But there is much more going on behind that sense of well-being. The release of oxytocin which is a hormone that has been shown to reduce blood pressure and stress is happening.

In 2013 research studies in the UK found that people who sing in choirs reported more of a meaningful connection between themselves and others and, in fact, depression and mental distress were reduced even when followed up a year later.

New research in 2015 continues to support earlier research.

3. Memory

Memorizing music to sing with others exercises mental tasks including motivation and learning. Remembering pitch, rhythms, dynamics and words engages the brain in several ways.

Although scientists say that more understanding is needed to really understand auditory processing, singing with others can access deep memories.

In fact, people with dementia can be engaged through singing music that has been important in their lives.

It seems that by stimulating more of the brain through singing with others, folks can have more of a sense of mind control.

4. Creativity and excitement

Singing with others can be very exciting as things can happen that demand on the spot adjustments. This might be about rhythm that speeds up or slows down, pitch that goes down or up in error, or nervousness that impacts the memory.

On the up side, when things go well and the music comes alive together that is really exciting and that’s good for mental health.

So, keeping singing in the shower but get out and find a singing group to join. You will be surprised at how much fun you can have by doing this.

This is one of the very best times of year for singing and by singing with others you really can improve your mental health and bring even more joy into your life!

Connect with Expert Dorothy Rodwell.

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