The bonding power of song
CEO of Sing Up, Michelle James, discusses the benefits of singing in a group – and why you should join in March's Sing Up Day
Singing is a truly inclusive activity which can involve every child and help them feel part of a school community.
Indeed, some schools have singing activities firmly in the middle of their inclusion strategies and report real success with this approach. Whether inclusion is an issue for cultural reasons, for pupils who are struggling academically, or who don’t have English as their first language, or have social anxiety or special educational needs, group singing has repeatedly been reported by schools to be an effective strategy to overcome those barriers.
Since 2010, Sing Up has set aside a day each year to celebrate the power of song. The next Sing Up Day will be Wednesday 13 March 2019. We have commissioned a brand-new Sing Up Day anthem, with free resources and activity ideas, to help schools integrate the song into the school day and put singing at the heart of school life.
This year’s anthem, ‘One Moment, One People’, is a positive song about power of singing in a group, and how singing and working together helps us build connections to others. Children can find security in singing in groups, enabling them to make new friends, share thoughts, discover common ground and have fun together.
Why might this be the case? What is it about singing together that has this effect? There are a number of possible reasons.
Anthropological studies tell us that singing together in groups has been part of human behaviour for as long as humans have existed. It has always played an important role in group bonding and communicating, and used to mark significant moments and rituals, often with dancing. It is hard for scientists to pinpoint exactly what evolutionary purpose singing had in human development, but we do know is that it is universally present in every culture and tradition around the world. From singing happy birthday, to the tradition in ancient Greece of expressing grief through wailing or keening at a burial, singing and vocalising together plays an important role in uniting groups of people in significant moments.
Other research shows us some remarkable things. Research from the University of Gothenburg discovered that when people sing together in a choir, their heartbeats become synchronised.
“Singing regulates activity in the so-called vagus nerve, linked to our emotional life and our communication with others, and which, for example, affects our vocal timbre. Songs with long phrases achieve the same effect as breathing exercises in yoga. In other words, through song we can exercise a certain control over mental states,” explains Björn Vickhoff, the lead researcher in the study.
Meanwhile, research from the University of Oxford found that singing together was able to bond a group of people together more quickly than other activities – the so-called ‘ice-breaker effect’.
There are, it seems, neurochemical reasons for this. Singing together encourages the brain to release the bonding hormone oxytocin, while inhibiting the release of stress hormone, cortisol. This may be why many people who sing together regularly in choirs report that they simply feel better after singing. And Sing Up’s own research has shown that children’s sense of belonging and inclusion with their peers was positively correlated with their singing abilities in a group context.
The multiple health and wellbeing benefits of singing are increasingly recognised and better understood across arts and health sectors. The positive impact on mental wellbeing is particularly interesting and relevant to those of us working with children and young people.
If you start your singers off when they are young and before inhibitions set in, making regular group singing a normal part of school life will greatly enhance pupils’ experience of school and help them feel they belong in ways that no other activity does. As the lyrics in our Sing Up Day song for 2019 say, “the world keeps getting kinder singing out side by side”.
All Sing Up Day materials are free to download because we want the whole world to join in and feel the power of singing on Sing Up Day.
Head to our ‘Get involved’ page to sign up and add your singing event to our map. If you’re not a Sing Up Member, you can sign up for free as a Sing Up Friend and then download the Sing Up Day anthem. Make sure you follow us on Twitter and Facebook, so we can let you know when more resources are available.