Making sense of group singing

Camlin, D. A. (2018) Making sense of group singing. In: Northumberland Tyne and Wear NHS Trust Research and Development Conference, May 2018, Newcastle. (Unpublished)


There are now widely-assumed benefits of group singing, which are being extolled informally across popular media outlets (Burkeman 2015; Eno 2008) and are of increasing interest in academic and health communities. Group singing has become popular as an informal complementary treatment for various conditions, including recovery of mental health (Clift & Morrison 2011; Livesey et al. 2012). Choir singers synchronise their heartrate variability (HRV) (Vickhoff et al. 2013), and recent studies suggest group singing can produce significant increases in cytokines alongside reductions in cortisol, beta-endorphin and oxytocin levels (Fancourt et al. 2016). However, while we know that group singing is good for us (or at least is good for the people it’s good for) because of its measurable effects, the question of why it may be good for us is complex. Group singing is thrilling for some, relaxing for others, and terrifying for many. The quality of music produced, the social relationships involved, the material being sung, the way group singing activities are led, the experience of the leader (and the participants); all of these factors may contribute to the singing ‘effect’. How can we therefore understand the complex mechanism at work during group singing, in order to administer it most effectively for the benefit not just of patients, but for the public at large? A working hypothesis is that at least some of the benefit of group singing is to be found in the sympathetic attunement to other human neurobiology necessary to be able to sing well together (Camlin 2015; Camlin 2018; Camlin & Willingham, 2018). Synchronising respiratory function and collectively entraining to an external pulse / pitch as well as to the contributions of others as part of a ‘simultaneous dialogue’ (Barenboim 2009, p.20) may lead to individuals ‘feeling felt’ (Siegel 2011, p.27), and part of something greater than their individual contribution, not just at a musical level, but as an audible expression of our collective humanity. Prezi available at:

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