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Take two songs twice a day – could singing soon be on doctor’s orders?

Published: 12 June 2023

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The International Centre for Community Music at York St John University (ICCM) has been awarded a two-year grant of £30,000 from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) to research the effects of singing on health and wellbeing. 

Working in partnership with the Singing for Health Network and the Royal College of Music, the International Centre for Community Music (ICCM) will collaborate with researchers looking at the effect that singing has on health and wellbeing. The research will focus on the impact that musicians and health professionals have providing singing for health groups in communities and health and social care settings.  

Singing for health is increasingly popular for a range of long-term health challenges. This often includes people for whom medical treatment options are limited, for instance dementia, chronic respiratory illness, Parkinson’s, and those suffering from mental illness.  The research aims to inform the practice of these singing groups, and demonstrate their real benefits to health and wellbeing. 

The ICCM provides a global forum through which community music research, teaching, scholarship, professional practice and pedagogy can be nurtured and developed. Launched in 2015, the ICCM is led by Professor Lee Higgins, a leading specialist in community music.  

Professor Stephen Clift, Visiting Professor at the International Centre for Community Music at York St John University, is leading the project. He said:  

“Research into singing and health has grown substantially since 2000. Studies and systematic reviews support the value of group singing for physical, mental and social wellbeing but further larger-scale and better controlled studies are needed. This is important to further evidence the potential contribution of singing to social prescribing schemes supported by the NHS across the UK.” 

Emily Foulkes from Singing for Health Network said:  

“This project aligns perfectly with the vision of the Singing for Health Network to bridge research and practice and support the singing for health movement. The bringing together of a range of perspectives will help us to collectively shape the future of both the research and practice of singing for health, hopefully with much closer synergy and collaboration.” 

Dr Dave Camlin from the Royal College of Music added:  

“This research network is a great opportunity to draw together much of the rich knowledge into the health and wellbeing effects of group singing which has been developed over recent years. It also provides an exciting opportunity to begin to shape agendas for future research and highlight the potential of group singing as a valuable human resource, not just for addressing some of the challenges we currently face, but for collectively imagining more healthy and sustainable ways of being in the world.” 

The ICCM research, starting in June 2023, will address the following questions.  

  1. What is the current state of knowledge on the relationships between singing and health and wellbeing? 
  2. What theoretical perspectives help to understanding how singing impacts on health? 
  3. What are the priorities for future research in the field? 
  4. What guidance does research evidence provide to musicians and health professionals in the effective and cost-effective delivery of singing for health opportunities in communities and the NHS? 

The research will also benefit practitioners in existing networks of singing group leaders and community musicians, for example Live Music Now, Making Music, Natural Voice Network, Sound Sense. Practitioners working with the framework of social prescribing schemes, national charities who promote singing for health, and other networks for researchers and practitioners in the wider field of arts, health and wellbeing will also gain knowledge from the outputs of the research. 

The Singing for Health Network is a membership network for practitioners, researchers and healthcare professionals who are interested or involved in singing for health. The Royal College of Music is one of the world’s most renowned conservatoires, training musicians from all over the world for international careers as performers, conductors and composers. 

Visit the ICCM project website for more information on the research.  

Image shows: Anella - Singing for Lung Health group in Cornwall performing for the first time at an event organised by St Austell Healthcare Social Prescribing and local businesses.

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