About this series
Dr Steven Berryman, Curriculum Lead for the Music Teachers Association (MTA), has launched a collective blogging project working with the editors of the British Journal of Music Education (BJME), Martin Fautley and Ally Daubney.
Martin, Ally and Steven have curated a selection of articles from the Journal highlighting some of the key debates in Music Education in the classroom.
Teachers have an article to read each week, and can submit a response by the end of the week. Responses are gathered together to form one blog post shared on MUSIC:ED.
An investigation of singing, health and well-being as a group process
Our second collective blogging project continues with responses from teachers reflecting on the article by Liz Mellor – ‘An investigation of singing, health and well-being as a group process’ (2013).
- You can read the article here whilst it is open access: An investigation of singing, health and well-being as a group process | British Journal of Music Education | Cambridge Core and an extract is below.
- Thank you to all the teachers who have contributed this week. We hope you enjoy reading their reflections.
The aim of this paper is to explore perceptions of singing as a group process deriving from two research studies:
- Study 1: CETL (Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning): C4C (Collaboration for Creativity) Research Project called Singing, Health and Well-being; and
- Study 2: iSING.
The studies consider singing in relation to health and well-being, personal ‘stories’ of singing which acknowledge the self in the process of research, and the effective use of presence in training using a lens developed from Gestalt psychotherapy.
The research questions are:
- (a) What is the relationship between singing, health and well-being in group process?
- (b) How might this be researched?
- (c) What are the implications for pedagogic practice in music education?
- Teacher of Music, Cumnor House School for Boys. Doctoral research student with Professor Graham Welch at UCL Institute of Education – @LucyAPoole
I first read Mellor’s 2013 article when writing my dissertation for my MA in 2019. I was researching the primary to secondary school transfer and the effects this has on continuity and participation in singing.
I carried out a questionnaire with all pupils in Year 7 at a state secondary school for boys. Then I used the quantitative results to help choose three groups to study more closely through qualitative interviews. The school has a good reputation for music and singing, classes regularly sing in lessons and there are several well-established choirs throughout the school.
I was particularly interested in experiences of informal singing outside of school. Those who engaged in informal singing in social situations outside of school were more able to observe and identify wider benefits. Interviewees mentioned that singing made the day seem better and drew people closer together. This was supported by the questionnaire, which suggested that singing with friends and family helped throughout life.
Implication for schools
The questionnaire raised links between informal singing with friends and valuing singing within school. It may be possible to work on providing opportunities for more informal, pupil-led singing to develop by offering space and time somewhere in school or nearby for this to take place. Also, there may be some vocal groups and organisations locally who could share what their choirs do with others in the school. This may be groups of a similar age or choirs made of adults to show the boys that singing can continue throughout life (barbershop choirs or church choirs, for instance). Perhaps the school may even be able to offer a choir combining pupils and the wider school community: parents, staff and ex-pupils could be invited back to perform in a particular project to encourage an ongoing collaborative singing identity.
Possibility for further research
Given how important experiences of singing with friends and family are for these pupils, it would be interesting to perform a cross-cultural study to learn more about this. On holiday in Botswana, I found the natural and relaxed manner of the singing by staff in camps intriguing. I asked some where they had learnt to sing, how they moved from part to part as they grew older and so on. The resounding response was ‘we learn it first at home. We are always singing in our families and so it goes on’.
- Teacher of Music, Edinburgh Academy Junior School – @VFleischfresser
This article resonates greatly with me. In 2009, I was the founding conductor of a societal choir at the University of Edinburgh, set up specifically with the core aim of improving the health and well-being of young women through group singing. The two young women behind the formation sought to create a musical environment with the focus firmly placed on a pressure-free, fun-filled, social choir where young women could come and sing without fear of personal or musical judgement. The successes and otherwise of this choir in meeting its core aims can be found throughout this article.
First, the members are placed at the centre of everything, from repertoire selection, to social functions, to concert venues and themes, etc. This is where the vertical relationship between conductor and choir members discussed becomes so vital. If the five categories of construct are to be meaningfully fulfilled for each individual member, and the collective whole, then this vertical relationship must be a fluid and shared one.
Second, the success is also founded in a large amount of time being invested in the horizontal relationship – peer interactions in the choral community – also discussed. Great time and emphasis are placed on the beginning of each rehearsal where warmups are used to forge, foster, and build upon the peer relationships, both personal and musical, which are so vital to the health and well-being outcomes of any ensemble. When the right balance is struck, the number of members in the choir grows exponentially, with the reasons being given matching exactly with those of the elicited constructs outlined. Also of note is a period of two years where a university student became the conductor. The second study is of great relevance here, as during this period the membership of the choir dropped from 100+ to a mere 30 students. On reflection, the student leader imposed a significantly unbalanced vertical relationship onto the choir, thus greatly impacting the horizontal relationship of the members, leading to the aims of the choir quickly inverting with quite devastating consequences. On my return the balance was redressed and overtime the choir returned to its healthy self.
The experiences and lessons learned from forming, maintaining, and growing this choir have permeated every aspect of my wider teaching and conducting. Whenever something is working, or not, I look to the vertical and horizontal relationships discussed, as it is through the fostering of relationships in and through music that the real benefits of group singing (or any music-making for that matter) are fully realised.
- Director of Music – @House_dg
So pleased to read this article. A brilliant investigation into an area which has fascinated me for as long as I can remember.
As a pianist and organist, all my ensemble experiences through my own schooling, university and in my teaching career have had singing at their core: from one-to-a-part madrigal groups to chamber choirs and large choruses of 150 singers.
The exhilaration experienced when in the very middle of the music and by producing the sound from within is unlike anything else and completely magical. It has been a privilege to enable students over many years to experience the same, and I have regularly received comments from both the students and their parents about the way in which singing has been a positive influence in their lives, the musical benefits combining with the feeling of well-being in a winning combination.
In a recent curriculum planning meeting with a group of music teachers, we debated what should be taught first at the beginning of Year 7. Some advocated for a unit focused on rhythm, suggesting that it makes logical sense for this to come before the introduction of pitch. Others promoted singing, with less logic but instead citing their experience of the magic that can happen when children start secondary school singing. Soon everyone had an opinion, an anecdote or an experience to share. Our children must sing!
- ‘If I sing with year 7s early on, they will always sing when I ask them to. If I don’t, they won’t.’
- ‘Our children sing frequently in primary school, have had a powerful musical experience singing a Year 6 Leavers Song, already understand how singing moves them and are eager to continue experiencing it.
- ‘When we sing with the whole of year 7 the whole community is drawn together. Staff members pop in, parents want to come to watch and older year groups can’t help but enjoy listening.’
- ‘I find that children I don’t yet know, excel when they sing. They have a chance to prove themselves to staff and to peers as positive and valuable contributors before any other labels have been attached to them.’
- ‘Our children enjoy being a part of a body making a brilliant sound. Their perception of their year group, their class, their peers, shifts towards something positive and whatever else we have tried, nothing but singing has quite the same effect.’