I know lots about singing but very little about neuroscience so I started researching the web and found a site entitled ‘Neuroscience for Kids’. As I couldn’t find a kid to explain it to me, I had to come up with a layman’s interpretation of my own. This is the simplest explanation that I can comprehend. We talk about our brains being ‘wired’ so imagine that the wire is cut into thousands of pieces. The way that our ‘messages’ travel from one piece to another is by way of chemicals called neurotransmitters. What has that to do with singing? Well research shows that singing stimulates the production of these chemicals, both those connected to emotional and physical functions resulting in a host of benefits associated with singing such as improving maths and literacy, thyroid balance, multi tasking and general wellbeing.
I suppose that research into the benefits of music, and singing in particular, is more appealing to scientists than research into other types of alternative therapy. They can observe what is going on in the physical body rather than struggling with the notions of energy channels or meridians of Chinese medicine or the ‘water memory’ or ‘energised water’ of homeopathy, for example. It is far more difficult to be dismissive or to talk of placebo effects when they can observe what is going on in the brain. Not that the workings of the brain are fully understood but neuroscientists can tell us that neurotransmitters are being stimulated my music and it is having observable consequences directly linked to that stimulation.
The nice thing about all that is that it adds credibility and real substance to the claims and observations that music therapists make. Singing is not only a joyful past time but it is good for you, not only mentally but physically.
If the scientists amongst you will forgive me for minimising their work, I suppose one can sum up their offering by saying:
“The neuroscience of singing shows that when we sing, our neurotransmitters connect in new and different ways. It fires up the right temporal lobe of our brain, releasing endorphins that make us smarter, healthier, happier and more creative. When we sing with other people this effect is amplified.”
Of course, when I take a singing session, for example with a group of stroke survivors, I don’t usually start by saying, “Hello, I’m here to stimulate your neurotransmitters!” I do try to be entertaining but more importantly, I try to involve them and get them to overcome the inhibitions they may have about their vocal prowess, or their struggle to make certain sounds or their difficulty with timing and rhythm. I get them to have fun whilst reaping the benefits that the scientists confirm are actually real and not imaginary or fanciful assertions.