An unexpected brain benefit to singing out loud



A few years ago, I learned how to scuba dive.


it was pretty scary at first.  Especially because I’ve had a few humbling (what I consider life-threatening) experiences with the ocean.



our first scuba lesson wasn’t in the water.  


it was about breathing.


the key to having an incredible experience as you scuba dive is to be in complete control of your breath.


as you inhale, your body fills up with oxygen, so it expands in volume, and you start to float up.


as you exhale, your body releases air, so you start to sink.


The first time we went under water, I was bobbing up and down.  I tried to control my breath, but it seemed like I was exhaling too fast (sinking), or inhaling too much and bobbing up quickly.  I felt sooo frustrated.


Our instructor must have noticed this because in the second lesson, she gave us a trick to give us way more control over our breathing.


She told us to sing.


She suggested the alphabet song because it’s easy to remember so we’d be able to think about it quickly when needed.


I tried this the next time we went under the water.


It worked like magic.


I felt in total control of my breathing.  I glided in the water soooo smoothly.  No more bobbing up and down.


Singing forces us to add a rhythm to our breathing – even if we don’t realize we’re doing it.
It constricts our throat muscles and diaphragm to allow only a certain amount of air out at once.


Because singing controls your breath, it also stops your fight/flight system from being activated.   Humming works great for this too!


You can’t be in fight or flight and breathe slowly and controlled at the same time.  Your central nervous system won’t allow this.


So music is great for our breathing – do the lyrics and mood of the music matter?


Many researchers would say yes.


Kids will choose happy-sounding singing or talking over neutral or sad-sounding speech. (check out this book – some research on how music affects children and people with autism)


Neuroscience researcher and musician Daniel Levitin, of the University of Montreal adds that you can deliberately use music to alter your mood.   For example:  choose soothing music after an argument, or ‘harder’ music if you need to feel motivated and strong.


Try singing or humming today – see how you feel before, during and after.


I used to listen to a lot of sad music (as in, music about loneliness or people ‘not understanding me’).


I think I would choose music to “match” my mood.


Not that there’s anything wrong with that  – but now I prefer choosing music depending on the way I want to feel –  I like feeling more in control of that.


Teachers and parents:  do you ever play music for your students or kids – if so, please let me know in the comments below what music you use and what seems to work well.  I’d love to share that as examples!


And here’s a Tuesday quote for you:

 “You can’t help respecting anybody who can spell TUESDAY, even if he doesn’t spell it right; but spelling isn’t everything. There are days when spelling Tuesday simply doesn’t count.” – Winnie the Pooh


Share this page!