Singing is one of the fundamental things that makes us human. Just like laughing or dancing, it’s best when shared with other people – it makes us feel good and is something that we can all access. There is also a growing body of scientific evidence that group singing has significant benefits for our physical and mental health. However, as adults, many of us stop singing, save only for special occasions.
Here Vocal Leader James Sills outlines eight ways you can master the act of transformative singing in your life.
1.Believe in yourself
Don’t listen to that voice in your head that says ‘you can’t sing’. It was probably planted there a long ago, possibly in your childhood through an ill-judged comment from a teacher, parent or friend. The truth is, we all have the ability to sing (unless you have amusia, a rare condition that means you cannot discriminate between different tones and therefore experience no pleasure from listening to music). Singing is essentially an extension of speech – as the Zimbabwean proverb states ‘if you can walk you can dance if you can talk you can sing’. Singing is something we can all access – you don’t need to have the training or to be able to read music. And you certainly don’t need permission from anybody else.
2.Find your people
There are a lot of different singing groups out there: not just church choirs and glee clubs! Think about the type of group you’d like to join. Do you want to join a group that sings a particular type of music, such as gospel, pop, classical or folk? Or perhaps a community choir, where the music is more varied? Singing groups are very sociable and are a great way of meeting new people, so what might your singing tribe look like? Choirs are springing up all over the place these days – in community centres, schools, workplaces and even pubs! Look out for one-off workshops in your area or at a festival – these are an excellent place to start.
3.Breathe & focus
Before you sing, take a few moments to focus on your breath. This will really help if you’re nervous about singing in public. It will also help you get ‘in the zone’ for singing. Breathe in through your nose for four counts, then breathe out to an ‘ssh’ sound for eight counts. Repeat this several times, making sure that you are always breathing out for longer than you are breathing in. Try to relax your shoulders as you exhale. Controlled breathing will help you relax and focus. It will also prepare you for singing, which is an aerobic exercise!
4.Listen & monitor
Be aware of what the other voices in the group are doing – how does your part relate to theirs? Are they singing the same thing as you or something different? Listen to your own voice too – do you need to adjust your volume or tone to blend with the rest of the group? Try and get an overall picture of the group sound, so you might want to stop and listen or make a recording on your phone.
5.Commit to the moment
Singing is an immersive experience. It allows you to step away from your everyday concerns for a while and enter a beautiful world of melody, harmony and rhythm. There’s a sense that when you sing in a group, you cease to be ‘I’ and become ‘we.’ So allow yourself to commit to this moment. Turn your phone off for a start. Open your ears and open your heart. This is your time.
6.Stop worrying, start singing
Singing in a group is not about individual voices – it is about the collective sound. It’s about being a team player and working together with others to create something beautiful. There might be times when your voice trembles, you forget the words or start singing a different part. But that’s normal – it’s part of the learning process. Of course, you’ll want to be the best you can but don’t let your quest for ‘perfection’ (whatever that may mean) get in the way.
7.Open your heart
Above all, singing is about expressing yourself. We sing at the big moments in life – births, deaths, weddings, celebrations. And whether we’re singing for joy, for sorrow or simply for fun, singing is always cathartic. Embrace the experience and sing from the heart. Tears may be shed, either by yourself or others. But that’s fine – singing is a very safe, natural and healthy way of releasing our emotions.
8.Feel the rush
Singing with other people definitely has that feel-good factor. It helps builds a positive community, it brings us into the moment, and it also encourages the release of happy hormones. These include endorphins, which elevate mood; dopamine which is the brains’ ‘reward’ hormone; and oxytocin, which makes us feel bonded to the people around us. At the same time, group singing reduces cortisol levels in the blood, thereby reducing feelings of stress and anxiety.
Vocal leader James Sills is on a mission to reconnect people with singing in their everyday lives through running choirs, workshops and giving talks on the power of singing. His book ‘Do Sing: Reclaim Your Voice & Find Your Singing Tribe’ will be released in September 2019 by the Do Book Company.