There has been a fair amount of research in recent years into the benefits of singing. These encompass the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. For example, singing increases the amount of oxygen that you absorb into the body increasing alertness. It stimulates the thyroid gland thus helping to balance your metabolism. It improves motor skills by developing the co-ordination between brain and body. Additionally, singing is a great stress management tool and helps boost the immune system, as well as stimulating the release of endorphins thus improving our sense of well being and making us smarter, healthier, happier and more creative.
The mental benefits of singing are, again, numerous. Significantly, it develops one’s ability to multi-task. For example, singing requires you to sing the correct word, at the correct pitch, at the correct time, at the right volume level and with the most appropriate voice quality. Indeed, singing and music in general uses multiple areas of the brain. For those who have suffered some brain damage, perhaps as a result of dementia or a stroke, singing has particular benefits in that it helps our neurotransmitters connect in new and different ways thus ‘re-wiring’ our brains to regain lost function or access lost memories.
On a spiritual level, singing is uplifting and actually a form of meditation. Furthermore, it has been found that singing in groups seems to amplify many or all of the benefits.
It is true that there is a song for every mood. It is said that singing can open the heart and help release emotional blockages but are there some songs that are better to sing than others. This is something that concerns me in my work with the elderly and those with dementia, aphasia or learning difficulties. Whilst these groups still have the capacity to learn new songs in varying degrees, it is easier to concentrate on those that they remember from earlier life experiences or at least can be stimulated to remember.
It is thought that our greatest ‘personal song bank’ is generated between the ages of 11 and 27 and, in particular, during the secondary school years between 12 and 18. Hence, the following table gives a clue when choosing songs for particular age groups.
Year of Birth Song Era In Particular
1943 1954 to 1970 1955 to 1961
1938 1948 to 1965 1949 to 1956
1933 1943 to 1960 1944 to 1951
1928 1938 to 1955 1930 to 1946
1923 1933 to 1950 1934 to 1939
However, this gives a clue and is not definitive. For example, the period from 1955 to the early 1960’s was particularly vibrant with the birth of rock and roll, increased awareness and reference to pop charts and improving economic prosperity. Also, certain wartime songs and traditional songs made a big impact on individuals as did a particular liking for a specific genre such as jazz, country & western or songs from musicals. Another factor relates to the songs that were popular with our parents or our children and when working with a large group, each song choice will not stimulate memories and emotional or physical reaction in everyone. It’s about generating the maximum benefit for the group as a whole.
When working with the elderly and those with dementia in particular there is a danger in becoming patronising and assuming that one needs to stick to songs from the first half or the 20th Century or even to nursery songs like ‘Old Macdonald’ when, in fact, the era of Elvis or even the Beatles is having an ever increasing impact.
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