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Singing and Health: A Systematic Mapping and Review of Non-Clinical Research

Key Message

Group singing can be a powerful and moving experience and could contribute to quality of life, wellbeing and even health.

Source

Clift, Stephen et al. (2008). Singing and Health: A Systematic Mapping and Review of Non-Clinical Research. Canterbury, United: Kingdom: Sidney De Haan Research Centre for Arts and Health.

Purpose

Music is one of the defining features of our human nature, and singing is a form of musical participation and expression open to everyone. It is therefore of interest to consider the available evidence on individuals experiences when they sing, and whether singing is beneficial for wellbeing and health.
The aims of this study are: to systematically identify existing published research on singing, wellbeing and health; to map this research in terms of the forms of singing investigated, designs and methods employed and participants involved: to critically appraise this body of research, and where possible synthesise findings to draw general conclusions about the possible benefits of singing for health. The hypothesis underpinning this review is that singing, and particularly group singing, has a positive impact on personal wellbeing and physical health.

Ten bibliographic databases were systematically searched in February 2007 using carefully selected search terms linked to the general themes of ‘health’, ‘music therapy’ and ‘singing.’ Abstracts were screened independently by two researchers and papers categorised by content according to an agreed scheme.
Twenty non-clinical papers of relevance to the review were identified and hard copies obtained. The references cited in these papers were checked for additional sources of interest, and authors were contacted for information on further studies they had published served to identify an additional 14 sources. Professional contacts, physical searching of conference proceedings and general web searches served to add a further 20 sources. In total, therefore, 54 non-clinical reports were identified of potential relevance to the review. The earliest paper identified was published in 1960, with most studies appearing from the late 1990s onwards.
All papers were read independently by two members of the project team using specially devised data extraction and quality screen instruments. Differences of opinion were resolved through discussion. At this stage, a total of 19 studies were excluded for a number of reasons including lack of research data or very limited attention to either singing or health, and duplication of data reported more fully in other sources – leaving 35 papers with a central focus on possible connections between singing, wellbeing and health. The papers identified are highly variable in content, design and quality, but all were included in the review given the relatively recent and under-developed nature of this field of work.

Evidence

Findings from the qualitative and survey studies served to identify recurrent themes regarding the perceived or reported benefits of singing:

  • Physical relaxation and release of physical tension
  • Emotional release and reduction of feelings of stress
  • A sense of happiness, positive mood, joy, elation and feeling high
  • A sense of greater personal, emotional and physical wellbeing
  • An increased sense of arousal and energy
  • Stimulation of cognitive capacities – attention, concentration, memory, learning
  • A sense of being absorbed in an activity which draws on multiple capacities of the body and the mind
  • A sense of collective bonding through coordinated activity following the same pulse
  • The potential for personal contact with others who are like-minded and the development of personal supportive friendships and constructive collaborative relationships
  • A sense of contributing to a product which is greater than the sum of its parts
  • A sense of personal transcendence beyond mundane and everyday realities, being put in touch with a sense of beauty and somethingmbeyond words, which is moving or ‘good for the soul’
  • An increased sense of self-confidence and self-esteem
  • A sense of therapeutic benefit in relation to long-standing psychological and social problems (e.g. depression, a history of abuse, problems with drugs and alcohol, social disadvantage)
  • A sense of contributing to the wider community through public performance
  • A sense of exercising systems of the body through the physical exertion involved in singing – especially the lungs
  • A sense of disciplining the skeletal-muscular system through the adoption of good posture
  • Being engaged in a valued, meaningful, worthwhile activity that gives a sense of purpose and motivation

Benefit Statements / Outcomes

Leadership Provided By:

  • Leisure Information Network (LIN)
  • Alberta Recreation and Parks Association

On Behalf Of:

  • Canadian Parks and Recreation Association (CPRAA)

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