Over the past ten years significant research on the physiological, neurological and emotional benefits of singing in general have been undertaken by major universities and research institutions. This research reveals that regular singing can help to elevate mood, increase immunity and provide a first rate cognitive workout among other benefits.
Current Cutting Edge Research on Music Making & Perception: Quantitive, Qualitative and Neuroimaging Studies
1. “The neurochemistry of music” (A meta study) Mona Lisa Chanda and Daniel J. Levitin, Department of Psychology, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, Trends in Cognitive Science, April 2013
This comprehensive review compiles and evaluates the evidence found in 200 studies on the benefits of music including singing and its capability to significantly improve psychological health and wellbeing through the engagement of neurochemical systems responsible for reward, motivation, pleasure, stress/arousal, immunity, and social affiliation.
Listening to preferred music stimulates the release of dopamine (the brain neurochemical responsible for pleasure and reward), reducing the use of opiate drugs in postoperative pain
Singing can increase levels of Immunoglobulin A and decrease levels of stress
Singing increases levels of oxytocin promoting social affiliation
Music is shown to modify and regulate automatic systems such as: heart rate, respiration rate, perspiration and other automatic systems
This paper evaluates existing research on the use of active music making (i.e. singing) as a therapeutic mechanism to ameliorate language deficits and overall brain functionality and plasticity in conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, Aphasia and Autism. Neuroimaging was used in these studies.
Engaging in singing helps regulate speech when stimulating musculature associated with respiration, phonation, articulation and resonance
Positive long-term cardiovascular and pulmonary changes take place, as singing requires repeated contractions of respiratory muscles
Singing or intoning spoken words has shown to improve expressive language in patients with speech deficit conditions such as non-fluent Aphasia
Repeated engagement of singing can influence centers in the brain responsible for emotional regulation including the mirror neuron system
3. “The creativity and aging study – The impact of professionally conducted cultural programs on older adults” The George Washington University (2006) in partnership with: Elders Share the Arts (ESTA), Brooklyn, New York; Center for Elders and Youth in the Arts (CEYA) Institute on Aging, San Francisco, California; The Levine School of Music, Washington, DC.
Update: A new five year study based on the findings of the George Washington project was funded by the U.S. Department of Aging and undertaken by the University of California at San Francisco in 2013. The project will examine whether singing in a community choir program is a cost-effective way to promote health and well-being among a large cohort of culturally diverse older adults.
Overall Health: Participating in the cultural program reported an increase in overall health, while those in the control group reported a decline
Doctor Visits: Those in the control group reported a greater increase in the number of doctor visits than those in the cultural program
Prescription Medication Usage: Those in the control group reported a greater increase in the number of prescription medications utilized than those in the cultural program
Over-The-Counter Medication Usage: Those in the control group reported a greater increase in the number of over-the-counter medications utilized than those in the cultural program
Number of Doctor Visits: Significant decrease in the number of doctor visits for the cultural program group
Depression: Over a two-year period, those in the cultural programs improved on the depression scale
A Selection of Cutting Edge Research on the Benefits of Singing for People with Dementia
1. “Investigating group singing activity with people with dementia and their caregivers”Davidson, J. W. and Fedele, J. (2011). University of Western Australia, Australia. Musicae Scientiae, 15(3), 402-422.
A study of a six-week singing program conducted with two groups of adults over 70 with mild to moderate dementia (29 individuals) and their caregivers (19 individuals) in Australia.
Persons with dementia engaged in reminiscent storytelling 60% of the time after attending the sessions
29% of participants experienced improved short-term memory after the sessions
Participants showed improved social interaction with the facilitator, caregivers, and other participants during the sessions
89% of participants appeared lucid during the session
2. “Familiar group singing: Addressing mood and social behaviour of residents with dementia displaying sundowning” Lesta, B. & Petocz, P. (2006). Carlingford Center for Aged Care and Hornsby Ku-ring-gai Care Association- Macquarie University, Sydney. Australian Journal of Music Therapy, Volume 17, 2006
Female residents diagnosed with mid-stage dementia that participated in thirty-minute groups consisting of singing of preferred songs experienced:
Significantly reduced negative sundowning behavior
Increased positive mood and wellbeing
Increased appropriate social behaviors
Improved overall quality of life
3. “Music therapy in moderate and severe dementia of Alzheimer’s type: A case-control study” Svansdottir, H.B. and Snaedal, J. (2006). Geriatrics Department, Landspitali University Hospital, Reykjavik, Iceland. – International Psychogeriatrics: 2006 International Psychogeriatric Association
Twenty-three subjects in a case-controlled study diagnosed with moderate to severe dementia that participated in a thirty-minute singing group consisting of singing of preferred songs experienced:
Significant improvements in sociability
Increased self-confidence and positive affect
Significant decrease in anxiety and perceived aggressiveness
Improved overall quality of life
Andy Tubman, MT-BC
Co-Founder and Chief Clinical Officer