Blog post

It’s official: singing makes us feel better

By Dr Yoon Irons - 19 April 2021

The Covid-19 pandemic has kept us apart from our friends and family, but many people have found comfort in unusual places. One of them is singing together. Dr Yoon Irons, Research Fellow at the University of Derby, explores why singing has helped some many people and what benefits it can offer.

I have long been an advocate for the health benefits of singing together, and we have seen more and more of the evidence for this since lockdown began. Last March, there were media reports from Italy and Spain where people stood on their balconies to sing, in the hope of connecting with others while staying home.

Celebrities made their popular songs into Covid-19 songs containing important health messages. For example, Neil Diamond sang his ‘Sweet Caroline’ with the handwashing message from his home. Popular tunes, such as ‘Do Re Mi’ from the musical, ‘The Sound of Music’, were turned into Covid-19 songs to tell the story about what was happening.

Using social media platform, ordinary people are singing to express the experience of being isolated. We witnessed many virtual choirs around the world, like the ‘Isolation Choir’, singing What a Wonderful World’ at their homes to connect with each other, to share their experiences, feelings and longings.

Remembering why singing makes us feel good

Through these challenging times, we have developed a new appreciation for singing as a social, shared activity that is good for physical and mental wellbeing. We remembered that singing could motivate, help us learn, encourage us to achieve, develop our resilience and strengthen our defiance. We recalled that we could sing of danger, sadness and of love, to strengthen and confirm our identity or love of our nation. We rediscovered that singing is part of what it is to be human.

“We are ‘hard-wired’ to sing.” This is the cornerstone of my new book, fittingly titled, Singing. The book, co-authored with Professor Grenville Hancox, bridges the gap between research and practice, academic and everyday life contexts and provides an overview of current research on the benefits of singing for both mental and physical health.

What are the benefits of singing?

Studies have shown that group singing can reduce pain in people living with long-term health conditions and group singing can have a range of psycho-social benefits for people living with chronic pain.

Singing also seems to be a complex exercise which could maintain and/or improve lung health. And regular singing exercise could offer benefits for a range of health issues, such as sleep apnoea, pelvic floor malfunction, burnout, bereavement, and postnatal depression.

We explored three case studies in our new book, which illustrate the power of singing. One included an interview with the team behind ‘Singing Medicine’ which has brought singing to children at Birmingham Children’s Hospital since 2004.

‘Singing Medicine’ strongly believes in the benefits of singing as part of a holistic approach to children’s development, given the distressing circumstances that sick children and their family face in hospitals. When children are desperately ill, we can witness how singing has profound and significant impacts on children, their family and health care professionals. Singing can divert young patients away from the moments of pain and agony; singing creates a different reality, where there is no pain, no isolation, and no loneliness. Young people feel comforted and assured by caring through singing.

Additionally, the book discusses the potential barriers for singing and useful strategies needed to overcome them. Barriers include personal belief, physical limitations, social perceptions, educational system and government policies.

We are all singers

Singing has developed a reputation that it somehow ‘belongs’ to those who ‘can’ sing, but I want to encourage everyone to sing. Everyone is a singer and singing is our birth right. I would urge policy makers to reduce inequalities of accessing music education, so that everyone can have the opportunity to learn to sing and enjoy singing.

To find out more about promoting the general health and wellbeing benefits of singing or practical advice on facilitating community singing groups, visit the this webpage about my book.

For now, I’ll leave you with the lyrics to ‘Thank You for the Music’ by ABBA from 1977:

 

Thank you for the music, the songs I'm singing

Thanks for all the joy they're bringing

Who can live without it, I ask in all honesty

What would life be?

Without a song or a dance what are we?

So I say thank you for the music

For giving it to me

 

For further information contact the Corporate Communications team at pressoffice@derby.ac.uk or call 01332 593953.

About the author

Yoon Irons

Dr Yoon Irons
Post-Doctoral Research Fellow

Yoon Irons is a research fellow in the field of Arts in Health and Wellbeing at the University of Derby's Health and Social Care Research Centre.

Email
y.irons@derby.ac.uk
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