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The Benefits of Singing for Children

Authors:
  • University College London Institute of Education

Abstract

The physical benefits of singing relate to: (1) Respiratory and cardiac function Singing is aerobic in that it is a form of exercise that improves the efficiency of the body's cardiovascular system, with related benefits to overall health. Aerobic activity increases the oxygenation of the blood, which also improves overall alertness. (A study in October 2007, for example, suggested that breathing pure oxygen was more beneficial than caffeine for increasing driver alertness.) Even when seated, singing involves dynamic thoracic activity, with benefits to the underlying structure and function of the breathing mechanism. Major muscle groups are exercised in the upper body. Furthermore, aerobic activity is linked to longevity, stress reduction and general health maintenance across the lifespan. Improving airflow in the upper respiratory tract is likely to lessen opportunities for bacteria to flourish by keeping the airways open (e.g., to counter the symptoms of colds and flu). Overall, there are whole body physical benefits from singing. There are many different benefits that arise from engaging in singing activities. These apply to all ages, from childhood into adolescence, through into retirement age and beyond. With appropriately nurturing experiences, singing competency will develop (see p3 below). Almost without exception, everyone can sing competently and enjoy singing across the lifespan. Within the various research literatures, there are five main areas of reported benefit from singing, i.e., benefits that are physical, psychological, social, musical and educational. The physical, psychological, social, musical and educational benefits of singing
The physical benefits of singing relate to:
(1) Respiratory and cardiac function Singing is aerobic in that it is a
form of exercise that improves the efficiency of the body’s cardiovascular
system, with related benefits to overall health. Aerobic activity increases
the oxygenation of the blood, which also improves overall alertness. (A
study in October 2007, for example, suggested that breathing pure oxygen
was more beneficial than caffeine for increasing driver alertness.) Even
when seated, singing involves dynamic thoracic activity, with benefits to
the underlying structure and function of the breathing mechanism. Major
muscle groups are exercised in the upper body. Furthermore, aerobic
activity is linked to longevity, stress reduction and general health
maintenance across the lifespan. Improving airflow in the upper
respiratory tract is likely to lessen opportunities for bacteria to flourish by
keeping the airways open (e.g., to counter the symptoms of colds and
flu). Overall, there are whole body physical benefits from singing.
There are many different benefits that arise from engaging in
singing activities. These apply to all ages, from childhood into
adolescence, through into retirement age and beyond. With
appropriately nurturing experiences, singing competency will
develop (see p3 below). Almost without exception, everyone
can sing competently and enjoy singing across the lifespan.
Within the various research literatures, there are five main
areas of reported benefit from singing, i.e., benefits that are
physical, psychological, social, musical and educational.
The physical, psychological,
social, musical and educational
benefits of singing
The Benefits of
Singing for Children
Professor Graham Welch, Institute of Education, University of London
g.welch@ioe.ac.uk
February 2012
Formative singing experiences in
childhood can be very important
because they often have long-term
impacts (positive and/or negative) on
developing musical identity and on how
‘musical’ we think we are. For example:
…Then in Grade 6 [age 11]…I stood up
to sing it and she told me to sit down,
that I couldn’t sing. Well, I was
devastated…I’m sure I wanted to cry. Of
course you came home, it was no good
of telling your parents at the time that
something like this had happened to
you…And she was such a powerful person
in the community...It stayed with me for
so long. It was so degrading at the time.
Even in high school, if there was
anything to do with music, I hated
music…I didn’t learn it. I couldn’t learn
it, as I thought… I’m sure that [incident]
affected it, in a lot of ways…maybe she
just didn’t have the knowledge and it
didn’t come to her‘I am doing
something that’s going to affect this
child for most of her life.’ That’s
probably the way it was.” (Laura, aged
43 cited by Knight, 2010)
singing experience: an example
2
1
(2) The development of fine and gross motor
control in the vocal system The more that the vocal
system is used appropriately, such as in healthy
singing, the more that the underlying anatomy and
physiology realise their potential in terms of growth
and motor coordination. This is very important in
childhood and into adolescence because it is a time
when the underlying basis for lifelong vocal identity
and effective communication are established.
(3) Neurological functioning Singing behaviour is
multi-sited neurologically, networked across many
different brain areas. These include the development
and interaction between parts of the brain dedicated
to aspects of music (such as pitch, rhythm, timbre),
language (lyrics), fine motor behaviour, visual
imagery and emotion. New research also suggested
that singing with someone else is not the same as
singing alone or with an instrument because it
involves neurological areas related to human social
interaction and coordination.
The psychological benefits of singing relate to:
(1) Intra-personal communication and the
development of individual identity, both in music
and through music Confident and healthy voice use
links to a positive self-concept and an ability to
communicate. Successful singing promotes self-
esteem, general confidence and also self-efficacy.
The voice is a key component of who we are; its use
reflects our mood and general psychological
wellbeing, communicated to ourselves as well as to
others.
(2) Singing is a cathartic activity Singing provides
an outlet for our feelings. Through its physical
activity and the related endocrine system triggering,
singing can allow us to feel better about ourselves
and about the world around us. From pre-birth, our
earliest auditory experiences are vocal (from first
hearing our mother’s voice inside the womb) and all
voice use, including singing, is interwoven with core
emotional states that are central to the human
condition, such as joy and sadness.
(3) Inter-personal communication Healthy singing
enables us to maximise our potential to communicate
with others. We learn to improve our underlying vocal
coordination, to increase vocal colour and impact
intentional variety into our vocal communication.
Indeed, for 25% of the working population, voice is a
critical tool-of-trade (e.g. teachers, lawyers, clergy,
telephone salespeople, actors, singers, and business
people). Singing exercises the basic voice mechanism
and improves its functional capability.
2
The social benefits relate to:
An enhanced sense of social inclusion
Successful singing ability is strongly correlated with a
positive sense of social inclusion, of a feeling of
belonging to our community. Singing with others
enhances the possibilities of empathic relationships
with those around us. Collective singing, such as in a
choir or small group, generates a positive group
identity, as well as physical and psychological
benefits.
The musical benefits relate to:
(1) The realisation of our musical potential
Singing activity fosters our intellectual engagement
with music. This includes an understanding of musical
structure, phrasing, the development of musical
memory (including repetition and variation) and tone
colouring, as well as other musical building blocks
(such as pitch, rhythm, loudness).
(2) The creation of an individual musical
repertoire (whether as a listener or performer or
both) There are concomitant social and personal
benefits through increasing the likelihood of empathic
understanding of others and ourselves by the kinds of
songs (music and text) that we experience, whether
alone or in groups.
The educational benefits relate to:
Increasing knowledge, understanding and skills
about the world around us, both in music and
through music Singing will likely make you more
competent in your own language, including an
improvement in reading skills. Reading lyrics and
reading music are processed in the same
neurocortical regions for symbol decoding.
Overall these combined benefits suggest that
singing is one of the most positive forms of human
activity, supporting physical, mental and social
health, as well as individual development in the same
areas.
Singing is important because it builds self-confidence,
promotes self-esteem, always engages the emotions,
promotes social inclusion, supports social skill
development, and enables young people of different
ages and abilities to come together successfully to
create something special in the arts.
3
Singing competency develops in a nurturing
environment: The evidence from Sing Up
Useful websites:
Sing Up http://www.singup.org/
International Music Education Research Centre http://www.imerc.org
National Center for Voice and Speech [USA] http://www.ncvs.org
Voice Care Network UK http://www.voicecare.org.uk
Chorus America http://www.chorusamerica.org/
Sydney De Haan Research Centre for Music, Arts and Health
http://www.canterbury.ac.uk/Research/Centres/SDHR/Home.aspx
Singing development in childhood
The above figure illustrates how singing competency (left-hand scale) develops with age
(horizontal scale) across childhood. During the first three years of the National Singing
programme Sing Up (2007-2010), a research team from the Institute of Education,
University of London assessed the individual singing abilities of n=9,979 children. Some
children were assessed more than once across several years, generating n=11,388 singing
assessments in total. Two singing development trend lines are evidenced in the figure:
The lower line (red) indicates that older children tend to be more skilled at singing
than younger children, i.e., it is normal for singing competency to develop with
age;
However, the upper line (blue) indicates that children with particular experience
of the Sing Up programme not only developed singing competency with age, but
that these children wereon average two years in advance developmentally in
their singing skills compared to their non-Sing Up peers.
The youngest children were up to three years in advance, suggesting that positive,
nurturing experience is likely to have an even greater impact if you provide
appropriate singing activities in the first years of schooling.
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4
1
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