As we are officially in the throes of ‘Blue Monday’, I thought that it was timely to do a blog post about something uplifting – music. How poignant then that as well as being a ‘National Day’ based around the post-Christmas depressive state of the nation, ‘Blue Monday’ is also of course an iconic song by the mega-band New Order. I digress slightly, but I am reminded of meeting the late Tony Wilson, about 16 years ago and being struck by how down to earth this legend behind Factory Records was. The truth is I didn’t actually know who he was at the time, and he was very humble when I asked him what he did…(oops).
And so now to look at the positive effects of music. Recent research shows that listening to music improves our mental well-being and boosts our physical health in surprising and astonishing ways. There are so many facets to this amazing medium that I am going to be writing a two-part blog - covering the benefits of music and exercise, and the mood enhancing qualities of music and singing. For anyone who followed my blogs from my Andes trip, they will have noticed how large a part music played in the trip. From the singing at night after a days cycling, to the ‘song of the day’ that was planted in my head and kept me going. Music has of course been shown to increase performance in exercise too, and that is an area I will cover in the second part of this blog.
For today though, I am going to look at the mood enhancing benefits of music, and in particular singing. Research proves that when you listen to music you like, your brain releases dopamine, a “feel-good” neurotransmitter. Listening to music you enjoy also decreases levels of the stress hormone cortisol in your body, which counteracts the effects of chronic stress. This is an important finding since stress causes 60% of all illnesses and disease. Further studies show that playing various percussion instruments and singing, boost our immune systems even more than if we passively listen. Adults who learn to play instruments or sing, can see improvements in their hand-eye co-ordination, memory for sounds, and fine hearing skills, such as the ability to track different voices in a noisy room. Anyone who plays music regularly has a quicker and sharper brain response to sound and music. This is a transferable skill that goes beyond musical tone. In some cases it can allow musicians to respond quicker to subtle changes in emotions when they are expressed through any sound. This may mean that some musicians are sharper at detecting emotional upset in their friends or family, although this idea has yet to be proven beyond doubt.
I also come to this from a personal perspective. Just over two years ago I spent a year researching activities for the new part of my events business, nnoodl. As the business idea was that people give themselves over to surprise experiences, I decided I needed to embrace the concept myself. This involved pulling together a series of activities, which I catalogued in a box with a number and colour and then left it in the hands of friends to call the activity I would do that week. From my blog posts, you will see that I undertook things ranging from a seafood foraging/cookery class; paddle boarding, and graffiti spray painting to name a few. But one of the experiences which I most feared was when I pulled out the ‘singing lesson’ card. I think many people found this surprising, as I have played guitar on and off since I was a teenager, so surely that goes hand in hand with singing? Well sadly not classical or flamenco guitar playing. I also have a bit of a dread around public speaking, and try to avoid this when possible. So when I chose my singing teacher, Matt Thompson, I had to act quickly and book a lesson for the next day before I lost my nerve!
I have to say, though, my trepidation was completely unfounded and it is one of the best things I have ever done.
At this stage, as is my want, I felt I should include a musical interlude, and so decided to include the first song I sang at my lessons. No, of course I’m not going to include my version, but the original of ‘More than Words’ by Extreme…
I left that first lesson on a complete high, and have continued to embrace singing, now also being part of Matt Thompson’s choir. This brings me nicely on to the subject of singing in a group and the positivity that singing with a group of people brings. Over to Matt to tell us more about it....
“Many of us already know that singing either individually or as part of a group makes us feel elated and uplifted, but what’s really going on when we sing?
Singing generates vibrations which reverberate through the body transforming both our physical and mental state. When we sing endorphins are released giving us pleasure, joy and a sense of euphoria. As Denise has said, studies suggest it can lessen the feelings of depression and anxiety. The good news is you don’t even have to be a good singer to benefit from these positive effects. Singing also plays a fundamental part in social bonding. Research found that it can unite people more effectively than any other activity.
I run a beginners pop/rock choir and group workshops for beginners to advanced level. I’m always blown away by how much my members/students enjoy these sessions and leave feeling energised and empowered. We start each session with a vocal warm-up then get straight to the fun part, learning songs, generally consisting of two or three part harmonies and perfecting them over several weeks. It’s so rewarding when it all comes together. Singing is a fun way to learn and develop a new skill with other like-minded people. There’s nothing quite like de-stressing after a busy week forgetting everything else that’s going on in our busy lives and concentrating solely on the voice.
For me, it’s a real joy arranging popular songs into 3 part harmonies, and then taking it to the choir to learn. After a little trial and error, members become comfortable with their parts and then the magic happens.
One particular song I really enjoyed working on in one of my vocal workshops was Andra Day’s, Rise Up. This song is about overcoming the moments in life that seem impossible. It was a perfect choice to inspire and motivate my students and the feedback was amazing too.
For those of you who are thinking about joining a choir you shouldn’t think twice. It’s not as scary as you think and it’s so much fun. Experience the benefits of group singing. You’ll wonder why you didn’t try this years ago!”
So if that has left you feeling inspired to embrace some positivity, you can find out more about Matt’s 121 singing lessons, workshops and choir at http://www.singtheeasyway.com, or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/singtheeasyway
And if you’re looking to embrace a surprise challenge in 2018, why not sign up for a nnoodl adventure at www.nnoodl.co.uk Denise’s full blog post about her first singing lesson is here
So let’s leave this ‘Blue Monday’with that uplifting song suggestion from Matt…
Denise Yeats is an events director, communications consultant, endurance athlete and avid adventurer.