Why is emotion so important in singing

Singing is medicine

Those who sing regularly stay healthy longer Singing is one of the oldest forms of human expression. The effects of making music with one's own voice on body, mind and soul have only recently been of interest to scientists. What they bring to light inevitably leads to the conclusion: Regular singing is so healthy that it should actually be prescribed by a doctor. Read why singing is so meaningful and pleasurable - and sing! By Karin Kirschbichler

Mondays, after the choir rehearsal in a club in Vienna: There is a lively confusion, here and there someone is humming a melody. The 20 enthusiastic choir singers raised their voices for two hours. All 20 are over 50 - and look so fresh and happy that it's a joy. The oldest in the choir is 82! You can't tell by looking at her: “Singing keeps me going,” she laughs. "Since I've been singing, I've been much more balanced, more in tune with myself," says another. “When I sing, the zippers that aging come with are blown away,” says a third happily. “After my wife died,” says one of the few gentlemen in the room, “I was often very alone. Then I joined this choir. Loneliness and sadness have become foreign words to me, singing together is really good for me! ”And the choir singers unanimously confess:“ Singing is just fun! ”Joy is the most visible side effect of singing. But singing can do a lot more: Singing is medicine - with many desirable and no undesirable side effects. It has been used in therapeutic and clinical areas for a number of years. Just think of Alzheimer's patients who suddenly regain access to memories they thought were lost through a song they knew. Or stroke patients who find their way back to speaking through singing. What very few people are aware of: Singing is preventive medicine, it helps to keep body, mind and soul healthy.

Regular singing

  • supports breathing
  • stimulates intestinal activity
  • gets the circulation going
  • increases oxygen saturation in the blood
  • stimulates the self-healing powers
  • ensures balance
  • drives away anger and symptoms of stress
  • keeps the memory in good shape
  • promotes the ability to concentrate
  • makes you more sociable and self-confident

That is remarkable. How does it work? Basically you just have to say A and B, namely breathing and balance.

Singing is breathing
To be more precise: Singing is designed breathing, says Univ. Prof. Dr. Gertraud Berka-Schmid (see interview). Singing increases the time it takes to exhale (so that the note can be held) and varies the time it takes to inhale (depending on whether a fast or slow piece is being sung). Anyone who sings automatically uses healthy stomach and flank or deep breathing instead of chest or high breathing. And there is a lot going on: When you breathe deeply, the diaphragm lowers, which in turn pushes down all the abdominal viscera that lie underneath. This is "inner intestinal massage", it helps the intestine with the digestive work. When you exhale “deeply”, on the other hand, the diaphragm and thus everything that lies beneath it in the abdomen moves up again. And this “suction” relieves the heart, because it does not have to manage the venous return flow of blood from “remote” regions of the body on its own. Deep breathing also means that the lower parts of the lungs, the bases of the lungs, are well ventilated. With deep breathing, the oxygen saturation is increased, the circulation gets going - and this has consequences for health: the metabolism slips, organs and brain are better supplied with blood, the memory works, the ability to concentrate increases.

Singing is balance
Singing brings us back into rhythm, brings the vegetative nervous system into balance, which is out of balance with many people in our time. The vegetative part is that part of the nervous system that is not subject to our will, that is responsible for "autonomous" processes in the body such as breathing, heart and digestive activities. The two opponents, the sympathetic and the parasympathetic, are at work here: The sympathetic is involved in activity, performance and stress, which means: increasing breathing and heart rate, increasing blood pressure - the symptoms of modern performance society. The opponent, the parasympathetic nervous system, provides calming and relaxation - which is far too seldom used for many people who are constantly under pressure. The consequences of the imbalance between activity and relaxation, between increased sympathetic activity and reduced parasympathetic nervous system, are well known: sleep disorders, cardiovascular diseases, burn-out, etc. When singing, breathing deeply, one automatically activates many parasympathetic nerve components, the otherwise stressed sympathetic nervous system has a break - the Balance is restored. And an organism that is in balance is more likely to defend itself against diseases, the self-healing powers function better.

Singing is expression
Singing also creates balance on an emotional level. The (in) sum of impressions that we take in from the outside must also be removed again. The consequences of overstimulation, also a problem of modern times, are well known: Humans can no longer cope with them, closes themselves off, withdraws, becomes dull, falls silent or increases their aggression. The many impressions recorded on a daily basis can be expressed again through the voice and especially through the singing voice. Singing can be seen as a way of getting rid of feelings that cannot (or cannot) be put into words. Just think of lamentations and funeral chants. This ensures mental equilibrium, with all the positive consequences for mental health.

Singing is vitality
Singing creates the connection and vitalization of the pelvic area through deep breathing. That is the reason why singing is so animated, so happy, so pleasurable. And the best thing is: All of this works automatically when you sing! The right breathing, the liberating balance and all the positive side effects come by themselves. Of course, professional guidance can help with breathing, for example, to improve the results and thus also to increase the effect, but: The “health-stimulating” effects of singing will definitely occur, regardless of whether you are alone in the shower or in pairs singing a song in canon or with several singing colleagues in a choir. And it doesn't matter whether you sing wrongly. The main thing is to do it.

It doesn't take much to be happy:
The canon as a school of partnership
Singing canon is much more than just a sound experience. When singing canon, you can also learn partnership. While in most polyphonic vocal pieces one voice takes the lead and the others act as “accompaniment”, the canon is polyphony with equal rights: everyone sings the same melody with their own voice. At first it may be annoying when the other kicks in. But over time you learn to hold your own voice, to perceive yourself as well as the other, who also stays with his voice - and in the end you are happy to have created something together as equal partners.


Man is music
Univ. Prof. Dr. Gertraud Berka-Schmid * on the body as an instrument and the voice as a means of expression

MEDICINE popular:
Prof. Berka-Schmid, you say that people are music. What is that supposed to mean?

Univ. Prof. Dr. Gertraud Berka-Schmid:
You can also describe people differently than as body-mind-soul being, which of course they are. Namely as a sound-rhythm-melody-colored light being. Why? We have developed in the musical structures that have long existed in nature: that was sound, rhythm, melody - the foundations for music. All of this was - in addition to the colored light - already there in nature. And humans cannot be anything other than a compressed image of nature with which they interact. So man is music. Sometimes you can hear that too. When you put your ear to your chest, you can hear the dancing heart. There is rhythm, there is sound, but also a bit of melody, you just have to listen to it. But we can also make inaudible functions in the body audible with what is known as sonification. We are just not used to it because the diagnostic techniques used, such as EKG and others, are geared towards making the processes in the organism visible, not audible.

And how does the human musical being "make music"?
With the body as its most original, very own instrument and the voice as the audible result of this instrument. And so he interacts with his environment. We are communicative relational beings, that's just how it is. We have to express the overabundance of impressions and feelings in order to keep ourselves in balance. And the designed breath, the voice, the speaking and singing voice, combined with the gestures, are the ultimate means of expression. I can get rid of so much while singing, so much anger, so much unpleasant and pent-up things. E-motio means moving out. Every emotion is coded in a specific breathing pattern. Those who are excited breathe differently from those who are sad. And with this it becomes clear why it is so important that we use our voice, because speaking and especially singing is designed, mostly also prolonged exhalation. Unspeakable feelings and emotions also move out of us.

What do you say to all those people who believe that they are not “musical”, cannot sing?
It is very terrible when someone is told at some point: You better not sing, you can't! These people are deprived of the opportunity to become a person via “per-sonar”, “sounding through”. You cut off their access to the joy of their own sound experience and thus of their own vitality. The prohibition of singing reduces part of the human ability to express themselves. However, this changes one's own self-esteem and self-image or does not allow its necessary development to be complete. To be able to raise one's own voice, to be heard, to be perceived, to be recognized, to be accepted through one's own sound is for us communicative relationships of existential importance. People who have been told that they cannot sing should know that it is primarily not about singing, but about an adequate use of the body as an instrument, about the sound experience that is so beneficial and healing. And everyone can sound. Living, speaking and singing are designed breathing. We all do this, but very often insufficiently to maintain vitality and health. Hum or rhythmic speaking also brings sound experiences that can lead to singing. The systems are there, we just have to develop them and do something with them. You can do that at any age. There should be a choir in every old people's home, but also in every school and kindergarten as well as in rehabilitation facilities.

Does it make a difference to the health benefits whether you sing alone or together?
Singing is definitely good. Even alone in the shower or on sound carriers. When singing in a community, however, something very important is added to the refinement of self-perception: the perception of others, the dialogue with the other. Just think of singing folk songs when a second or third voice is added. Suddenly there is so much attention, sensory qualities are claimed, one learns to hear, to listen, to perceive the other, to come into contact with the other. Designing together, creating a product and having fun - this is so important for older people in particular. Singing is something purposeless, but incredibly meaningful and pleasurable. People who sing regularly are often much healthier for much longer. And one more thing: Singing is an active and passive event at the same time. Whoever sings actively sets his vocal cords vibrating and is stimulated again by these vibrations in his physical and mental being. All the resonance spaces of the body that fill with sounds, but also vibrate the bones - and you can feel that when you put your hand on your chest, for example. That is, I put myself in vibration. And that also means: I am elated. And then take a look at the state in which people come out of a choir rehearsal: totally exhilarated.

To person
Univ. Prof. Dr. Gertraud Berka-Schmid studied medicine and singing, is a general practitioner, psychotherapist and specialist in psychiatry and neurology, teaches singing, functional relaxation, body experience (the path to psychosomatics through body experience. The body as an instrument) at the University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna and, among many other activities, heads the platform for interdisciplinary research at the Vienna Institute for Music and Movement Education and Music Therapy. Her main research interests: music medicine, chronomedicine, chronopedagogy, rhythm research in cooperation with the Medical University of Vienna as well as with other university and educational institutions.

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