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Singing for Health and Personal Development

Singing and learning how to sing is good for you - singing coaching tips - for singing teambuilding and workplace wellbeing

Singing produces benefits and results that might surprise you.

For thousands of years, in all cultures, in all parts of the world, people have been singing.

Singing is in our genes and in human nature. The urge to sing - and to hear others sing - is in all of us.

Singing - like laughter, play, sunshine, countryside and exercise - helps underpin and maintain our well-being and happiness.

Singing is therefore fundamentally enriching.

This introductory singing article - particularly the idea that singing can be a very effective group development activity in the workplace, is provided in collaboration with singing coach Sally Garozzo, whose contribution of the technical content is gratefully acknowledged.

N.B. As ever, when planning workplace group development and teambuilding activities please consider the needs of your staff, and wider issues of support and commitment from senior management. See the guidance for teambuilding planning .

N.B.2. Spelling note - Certain words may be spelled differently in UK-English and US-English, for example organisation/organization, and behaviour/behavior. This website is based in the UK and so spellings may be according to UK preferences/searches. If you use these materials in your own learning and development activities please feel free to adapt the content and spellings for your local audience.

singing - index

Introduction - Social, psychological, evolutionary aspects of singing

Benefits of singing - why singing is good for you - physically , mentally , emotionally , spiritually - theory/background

Obstacles and resistance to singing - reasons for obstacles, and solutions to overcome them

Learning to sing and singing team activities - how and why singing is a great group and team development activity

Acknowledgements - Sally Garozzo biography, workplace group singing, and contact details.

singing - introduction

Human beings have enjoyed and used singing in various ways for a very long time.

Our ancient ancestors started to sing - to make musical noises with their voices - soon after developing vocal chords, probably even before humans could actually speak.

Across the globe, across all societies and religions and ethnic groups, singing has been a significant feature of human behaviour throughout time.

We know with some certainty, from observing the behaviours of many isolated ancient tribes discovered in recent times, and from the histories of other very ancient cultures, that singing - along with cooking, eating, dancing, etc - has been a crucial activity in bonding and maintaining groups of people - and in teaching, customs, worship and simple partying and socialising.

Our minds and bodies are consequently (evolutionists assert) genetically 'hard-wired' for producing singing noises, just as we are genetically programmed to listen and respond to the singing of others, in many different situations and styles.

Nevertheless there is a wide belief that only a few people can sing, and that many people cannot sing at all.

You might be someone who says, "I cannot sing," or "I am tone deaf." You will certainly know a few people who have such a view about their own singing ability.

However singing, and the human tendency to react and connect to the singing of others, to varying degrees and in varying ways, is in each of us.

If you doubt this, consider that each of us almost without exception, happily sings along to a chorus of Happy Birthday, or sings their national anthem on occasions, or sings hymns in a church, or sings chants at a football game or other sports/stadium event. Consider also how nearly everyone (who 'cannot sing') instinctively sings along to the car radio when driving, or sing songs in the shower, or sings, or hums or whistles when working, especially a physical practical chore like DIY or mowing the lawn. Consider also how many of us sing songs and lullabies and nursery rhymes or ditties to babies and children. Consider how signing is used in such an unquestioning and natural way in the teaching of small children about alphabets and numbers, etc.

And then consider how we all - every one of us - sang when we were children - in school assemblies, in the playground, and in all manner of games.

Singing is everywhere and singing is in every one of us, to one degree or another.

We can all sing, but of course many of us do not. Many of us choose not to sing and convince ourselves that we cannot sing or should not sing.

Like lots of other natural human tendencies and behaviours (for example laughter, play, dance, creativity, innocence, and compassion) sometime between childhood and adulthood , singing for many people becomes a neglected behaviour and capability, instead regarded as specialised or peripheral or unnecessary to our lives, unless you happen to be 'a singer'.

At some time in our lives many of us stop singing. We may continue to sing a little in private, but not so many of us continue to sing publicly. We become self-conscious about it. Perhaps because we become too grown-up, or feel that singing is not an appropriate or acceptable behaviour. Crucially we lose confidence to sing and this increases our inhibited feelings further.

This article aims to restore the balance a little.

This article advocates that singing is accessible and enjoyable and very beneficial for us all - individually and socially in groups and teams - and that singing is something that we can all do successfully and enjoyably, one way or another.

benefits of singing - theory

Every person and every establishment on the planet can gain from the benefits of singing, whether the people concerned think they can sing or not. Here's why.

physical benefits of singing

Singing increases the amount of oxygen you take into the body as you take deep breaths. This produces a feeling of alertness as more oxygen gets to the brain. As you sing, you articulate and use facial expressions, so you improve muscle tone in the face, throat, neck and jaw, thereby promoting a youthful appearance.

Improving the muscle tone in the larynx, which singing does, also helps to calm snoring, which improves sleeping and counters insomnia , which in turn increases our well-being and health.

Singing also improves the muscle tone of your rib cage, and in your back and abdominals (belly and lower), because these muscles are involved in controlling the outflow of air and stabilizing the larynx as you sing.

Singing stimulates the thyroid gland, which helps to balance metabolism.

Singing also encourages you to strive to improve your health by enhancing your awareness of your body.

Perhaps the greatest physical benefit from singing, is that singing gives you a 'molecular massage'.

Singing shakes, vibrates and resonates your very core, promoting detoxification at a 'sub-atomic' level.

mental benefits of singing

As well as the fact that singing makes you feel good physically, learning to sing has great mental benefits too.

For example, learning to sing songs from beginning to end improves your reading skills and your motor skills, by developing the coordination between your brain and your body.

The process of singing and learning to sing, especially in a group, is highly motivational. Motivation is a complex matter. Singing, as you will see, effectively meets the criteria for successful motivation.

The process of learning a song is a fascinating task, with a distinct start and an end product. It's an artistic activity, but also a structured and disciplined one, especially when we sing with others. We are therefore exercising our structural capabilities without necessarily realizing this is happening - which is very helpful for people who might normally avoid or dislike a lot of discipline and method.

Singing helps to calm negative mental 'chatter' - the distracting unhelpful thoughts we can all have at times - because you are focused on the job of singing, and this stops us dwelling on life's issues and problems.

Singing is utterly absorbing and radically different from usual work-related tasks. Like physical exercise, singing requires a level of focus and bodily activity that shifts our minds away from our usual patterns of thinking, even away from quite pressurized and stressful attitudes.

Singing is without doubt a wonderful stress management aid.

Singing improves your ability to listen. Very many of us think that we listen, but actually we don't truly listen, because we are too busy thinking about our responses. The process of learning to sing and singing, especially with others, dramatically increases attentive listening, and generally all of our levels of listening too.

Singing also opens up the intricate and complex aural world. You will begin hearing things you never knew existed..

Significantly, learning to sing develops your ability to multi-task.

For example, singing a song successfully requires that you:

  • sing the correct word
  • at the correct pitch
  • at the correct time
  • with the right level of volume
  • and with the most appropriate voice quality.

Learning to sing stretches people, and will naturally and easily move you out of your comfort zone and daily routine, which is very good for all of us. Challenges, when we overcome them, and doing different things which stretch us, make us feel very good.

We feel great about ourselves when we achieve something. Achievement provides a huge boost to our self-esteem.

An additional and particularly powerful mental benefit from singing is that learning to sing a varied repertoire expands your mind into the world of poetry, and into poetic devices and the English language (and into whatever other language you are singing - which is a different and exciting area in its own right).

Learning and singing beautiful lyrics help expand your imagination and appreciation of the world around us. This happens especially when singing songs from other cultures, which increases our awareness of diversity, and connects us in a very real way to how others see and experience life.

emotional benefits of singing

Singing can open the hardest of hearts, and release firmly locked-in passions and feelings.

Sally Garozzo says that many people can't or won't sing because, "...their heart is blocked..."

In other words emotions and feelings are being repressed or locked in, for some reason. We can all develop these protections from time to time. We fear emotional threat or risk, and so we block or insulate our vulnerability. When this becomes embedded and habitual, we may become hard and cold in nature. We toughen up, but in doing so, we disconnect from some vital feelings and emotions. Our heart is blocked.

Learning to sing releases emotional blockages - sometimes blockages that we've had for years.

Singing can make you cry. Singing can ignite your passions. And singing can make you laugh.

And if you want more of the stuff that makes you feel good naturally - the good chemicals we produce in our bodies when we do good things - you will be encouraged to know that singing releases natural opiates, endorphins, creating a similar effect as when we exercise.

Separately, singing can help people come more easily to terms with grieving and loss, and can help you to accept certain very testing emotions, to sink into them and know that by surrendering to them, you can free yourself.

Singing is a real natural pain killer.

spiritual benefits of singing

Singing is actually a form of meditation.

When we sing, we shift focus and thinking away from our usual life happenings and concerns, towards something 'other-worldly'.

Singing is a way of bypassing your ego to acknowledge your soul.

Singing helps us to 'let go', just as in other forms of meditation.

Sally Garozzo says, "When you surrender to your voice within, you transcend your physical self."

A peculiar and powerful effect happens when you stop singing. There is a moment when you 'come back into your body'? Singing is a very spiritual activity. It touches and stimulates some very basic instincts - primeval feelings - the effects of singing are at a deeply unconscious level, which in normal day-to-day work-type activities are impossible to reach.

Singing is also wonderful for relationships and connecting people spiritually and naturally:

Singing brings people together. People 'feel the love ' that singing generates.

Singing unites factions, religions and races.

Singing creates positive energy and a happy mood and that's infectious and transparently good for everyone.

obstacles and resistance to singing - reasons and remedies

So why do people resist singing at work when it's so good for them?

It is tempting to say to hesitant singers, "Just open your mouth and let it out.." But people don't. Why is this?

When a typical group of people is confronted by a vocal coach with opportunity or encouragement to sing or to learn to sing, a common reaction is something like, "Oh, wow... if I open my mouth to sing, I usually clear the room."

Such responses often make light of what can be some very deep-rooted and stubborn resistance.

Why are we so judgmental about the sound of our own voice, and also mostly of people's voices too? Where does this level of scrutiny and judgment come from?

We certainly do not see it exhibited in lots of other (sometimes far more challenging) disciplines.

We never hesitate to give someone a lift to the airport or station, for fear that the passenger will criticize our car-driving skills.

We tend not to avoid making someone a cup of tea or a sandwich, for fear that our culinary expertise will not make the grade.

We would not normally refuse a request to look after a friend's children, out of worry that our childcare approach is woefully lacking.

Nor do we normally reject some very serious demands which can come our way in life, such as being a best man at a wedding, or being the executor of a will, or doing all sorts of voluntary work which can carry big responsibilities.

Of course with any new challenge, a lack of confidence and experience always tends to prompt a few feelings of fear and resistance, but something else seems to ratchet up the pressure and reluctance where singing is concerned.

Part of the explanation might be the style and attitudes of TV talent shows, which so many people are exposed to in extremely large measures, in which singers are judged very publicly and critically as either 'good' or 'bad'.

Singing is seen here not as the wonderfully enriching activity that it can be for everyone - which can liberate and foster or personal well-being - but as a matter of making 'the required standard' or not. The media - TV especially - suggests that singing is an all or nothing activity. Singing is presented as a supreme art form which only the most brilliant few have the right to practise within sound and sight of other human beings.

This impression is seriously compounded by the advancement of studio and sound production technology which tends to make artists sound impossibly perfect. We see the same effect with the 'airbrushing' and computer manipulation of (especially female) models in magazines and elsewhere in modern media. An unrealistic unreachable standard is created and offered to the audience - as if to say, "You are not good enough to do this, or be like this, or to look like this, or to sound like this... And this is the only standard that's acceptable..."

In this way media - particularly TV - attempts, and in many cases succeeds, to drive our aspirations upwards, and to instill a sense of inadequacy and imperfection in each of us, which of course creates a great big perceived need for all sorts of life-improving products and services.

Our attitudes to singing are perhaps affected quite strongly by this type of marketing.

A model of perfection is presented to us: "Being the best is all that matters. So don't bother if you are anything less than the best."

As a consequence many people have a false perception of what a beautiful voice is, and believe that there is no value in singing unless we can 'compete' at the apparent (highly produced and often digitally enhanced) standards of singing on TV.

We allow this perception to constrain us, or worse to stop us singing altogether.

Happily, despite this, thousands of us do actually sing - in choirs, in bands, at kara-oke and other situations. Many people sing regardless, and love it, and sound great, and feel great for doing it. They have discovered what everyone else can discover - that human beings all actually and naturally already know how to sing.

As already discussed - you used to sing, unrestrained and joyfully as a child. Singing is hard-wired into your brain circuitry.

All that prevents you is unrealistic artificial expectation and the daft notion that only perfection is acceptable.

When you switch your thinking about singing - that it is a pleasure in itself, and not a competition in which everyone loses except the very best - then you open yourself to marvellous new experiences, and the certainty of being able to sing - actually very acceptably - and then to learn how to sing even better.

We can all sing, but to sing very well - like doing anything well in life - we must learn and train and practise.

Someone said that "...Talent is the ability to put one's mind to one's practice and has nothing to do with being born with a gift..."

This is true.

People who can sing very well, do so because they have practised. When we practise - especially if we hear ourselves singing in a recording - we also become accustomed to our own voice, which for many people is an additional obstacle to overcome.

Initially we are simply not used to hearing the sound of our own voice. It sounds strange and for some reason makes us uncomfortable. But it's really just a case of becoming used to the way we sound. There's essentially nothing wrong with your voice, or anyone's voice for that matter. The more you sing, the more you feel comfortable and accepting about the way you sound. You realise that your voice, which other people hear, is perfectly okay. And it grows even better with practise.

In fact, far from being strange, the tone of your voice is your unique blueprint, just like your DNA. Your DNA isn't 'wrong' or 'unacceptable' - it just is what it is. Your voice is the same. Moreover, unlike DNA, with practice you can polish and refine your voice, just as you can improve any other capability you choose to pursue.

A particular obstacle to singing in groups is the general discomfort we feel in exposing our weaknesses, insecurities, mistakes, etc., to others.

Brick walls and segregated working routines have much to answer for. We tend to work behind or within barriers of one sort or another. We feel safe by not revealing our sensitivities and true selves to others.

Relationships among people at work are often tense. There might also be strong feelings such as conflict, dispute, resentment, stress, pressure, etc.

We live our lives so tightly coiled and afraid of 'getting it wrong' so that we never dare risk to 'get it wrong', even though in all sorts of activities 'getting it wrong' is exactly what we need to do to improve and enjoy ourselves.

When you learn to sing, there is no such thing as failure. There is feedback for sure, and there is improvement, but there is no failure, unless you choose to imagine it for yourself.

This powerful philosophy is not exclusive to singing - it's found in NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) , TA (transactional analysis) and in many other highly positive and effective personal development methodologies.

Modern life and work tend to make us behave in very unnatural and suppressed ways. We can become convinced that the most natural wonderful pleasures such as singing are not real or relevant to modern living, and that reality is what's offered on TV and what we read in the newspapers and glossy magazines, and by the millions of other artificial images and pressures forced onto us every day.

Singing helps us to discover that workplace stress, technology, consumerism, materialism and over-produced aspiration are not the real world that we can think them to be. The real world - the truly relevant, meaningful, fulfilling world - is a far more natural and far more accessible deeply satisfying set of experiences.

When we remove our barriers, and switch our perceptions in this way, we begin to rediscover 'playtime' as if we were children again, untainted by the distractions and pressures of modern life and work. If people lived, in sonorous singing communities, as all people once did, you would already be convinced of this view.

When you see people at their most uninhibited - perhaps at the next office Christmas party, or at a truly relaxed social gathering - it is clear that the human soul is desperate to drop the facades that we wear - habitually and unconsciously - in our daily lives, particularly in our working lives. Bringing singing into people's lives helps remove these facades and defences.

Singing truly can open windows in us all so that our authentic selves can shine through, which is obviously good for everyone, and so for work and life too.

learning to sing - singing development activities for groups and teams

Group singing offers lots of wonderful benefits and opportunities for team and group development.

Here are just a few examples.

Singing in groups...

  • breaks down barriers
  • embraces, encourages and enables diversity
  • promotes equality
  • develops harmonious relationships
  • fosters creativity
  • gets people thinking
  • builds cooperation and teamwork
  • improves personal confidence
  • brings people together, literally
  • enhances morale
  • promotes greater physical fitness, well-being and natural health
  • creates a huge sense of personal and group achievement
  • and ultimately improves productivity personally, collectively and therefore organisationally.

It is no coincidence that so often in work and organisations, and in all sorts of team projects, someone will say, "We need all to be singing from the same songsheet..."

Singing in groups is one of life's great natural team activities.

When people do it, they are tapping into some of their most basic human instincts and capabilities. That's one reason it works so irresistibly. We were all born to do it, just as our ancestors were thousands of years ago.

Singing is therefore a very good and effective way to build a strong team.

Singing is a great leveler, because in the process of learning, we laugh together and share the same experiences and feelings together.

When people overcome their fears of singing among their colleagues, everyone quickly realises - bosses and subordinates - how the process helps to deepen and improve working relationships.

The workplace is a community. All successful communities thrive on enhanced mutual awareness. The Johari Window is a good way to understand and explain this and why it is so. Particularly, when we know ourselves better, our relationships with others improve. We take much greater responsibility for the parts we can play.

Significantly, we also stop blaming others, or the company, or the boss. Instead, we take greater pride in doing things and resolving things and helping others to do the same.

When everyone in a community, workplace or otherwise, does this, you see dramatically good results.

Employers develop a stable and harmonious workforce by investing in the development of properly connected and mutually supportive workplace communities.

Healthy human relationships stem from encouraging people first to look within themselves - including facing their fears, and appreciating that fears can be overcome.

When an employer enables this process it is very powerful medicine indeed.

Staff will work for a wage. Staff willingly do much much more when an employer feeds and grows their soul.

While there are many ways employers can do this, singing is one of the most natural and exciting activities, and compared to sending staff on a long weekend into the local mountains or river rapids - singing in groups in the workplace is a remarkably cost effective and easy development activity to incorporate within normal working routines.

Singing interestingly also promotes a style for management, business and relationships, that is very fitting for modern times.

The world has changed in the past generation. Effective successful organisations are much more subtle and sensitive than ever before. Consumers, customers, staff and opinion-formers rightly demand greater understanding and empathy in their dealings with corporations and work. Singing promotes and increases these capabilities, in men especially, who might not always be naturally so inclined to such attitudes. The Benziger theory is helpful in appreciating these issues about brain-type and thinking/working styles.

Nowadays customers and staff want real honest grown-up relationships with real people who are confident and really know themselves and their values. Singing in groups is a really effective indirect activity for producing these effects, often quite unconsciously.

Group singing helps establishments and organisations shift from ego(separation)-based philosophies to more unifying ones. The modern world of work demands that workers, especially senior staff, become more giving and less grasping. In certain sectors - banking, insurance, energy, for example - this is an absolutely crucial consideration, whereby failure, and clinging to the wreckage of old-style disastrous behaviours could genuinely witness the disintegration of some vast business structures.

A final point about group singing...

Group singing can be indescribably uplifting. The sound of collective voices making wonderful sounds together - having created and practised when initially it seemed impossible - is quite unlike anything else, and participants feel the effects of this achievement in quite dramatic ways.

Group workplace singing is rightly regarded increasingly seriously as a viable and practical approach to attaining substantial development among workforces.

As ever, you will consider the needs and wishes of staff in planning and implementing workplace 'teambuilding' activities . Participants need to be agreeable and senior management needs to be committed, supportive, and ideally fully involved too.

sally garozzo - biography

Sally Garozzo is a passionate vocalist, recording artist, singing teacher and group leader in various learning and development situations. Sally has a richly varied background in personal development, including NLP, aromatherapy, reflexology, Chinese diagnosis, nutrition, reiki, and Integrative Quantum Medicine. Sally Garozzo can be regarded as a pioneer of the use of group singing for workplace and team development activities, and her help in producing this guide to workplace group singing is gratefully acknowledged. Sally's website contains her contact details.

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© Sally Garozzo and Alan Chapman 2011-16.