Jazz singer and London College of Creative Media (LCCM) vocal tutor Trudy Kerr extols the benefits of singing and shares her experiences of online teaching during Covid-19.
Singing is a form of mindfulness – when we sing, we are completely in the moment. So much is going on in our mind and body as we focus on the words, the way we sound and our breathing that we are distracted from any negative thoughts.
Learning songs, improving singing skills and singing within a group all help to build confidence and self-esteem. Research has shown that when we sing together, our heartbeats become synchronised and social bonds are formed. We may not be able to sing together face-to-face at the moment but singers all over the world are joining online groups. Even if online, singing together builds relationships and creates a strong sense of community – and this social and emotional support connects us.
Zoom choirs are everywhere and dedicated directors are working harder than ever to combat the problems of latency by recording each member individually, then piecing songs together to create spectacular performances – you only have to look on social media to see some of the amazing results. The beauty of singing online allows less confident people to sing along muted until they are ready to unmute, join in or even try a solo.
Body and soul
Singing alone or with others can bring many benefits, especially in these troubled times, and is a great way to train the mind and body. It’s an aerobic activity that boosts the health of the cardiovascular system, allowing us to take more air into our lungs which makes us more mentally alert.
When we sing, we use diaphragmatic breathing, increase our oxygen intake and lung capacity and learn to control this outflow of air. These breathing patterns slow our heart rate, lower blood pressure and can help people who suffer from anxiety or panic attacks.
During singing, endorphins and oxytocin are released by the brain. Endorphins give singers a positive feeling and an energy boost, lowering stress levels. Oxytocin builds feelings of trust and bonding and studies show this can combat loneliness and depression.
Singing in uncertain times
As a professional singer and voice teacher, it’s hard to know what the future holds. I’m a jazz singer and have been performing for over forty years and teaching for the last twenty. Covid-19 has been redefining on a personal level as well as professionally.
It’s now been six months since my last performance and even though there are dates in the diary for the latter half of the year, who knows if they will take place? It’s hard to stay motivated to practise and be gig-ready. I talk to my colleagues and I’m not alone – our profession defines us.
Not being able to travel back home to Australia and perform has been disappointing. Instead, I have been keeping busy, getting to grips with the world of Zoom, teaching one-to-one voice students and running group singing classes online.
It’s working well but as internet connections are not always stable, it can be challenging to hear voices in detail. Therefore, I ask students to send recordings of their work-in-progress and this has been useful for them to reflect on what they’re doing. We often compare notes and I’m surprised at how we hear the results differently; the discussions on what we hear are fruitful and l believe are leading to more in-depth learning for myself and the students.
Online singing at LCCM
I’ve also been running an online singing group with LCCM students. During a recent survey, all participants reported an improvement in their confidence and wellbeing and said they look forward to the class each week. It’s encouraging to learn that an online singing class can make a difference in people’s lives.
Although we can’t sing together, we can still have fun by performing for each other, listening and analysing recordings and playing a variety of musical games. Successful activities have included singing and improvising over single chord vamps, call-and-response games, lyric-writing and pitch-matching games to name just a few – anything that doesn’t rely on rhythm. Creativity is the name of the game and every week, we discover new ideas.
At a recent online forum, singing teachers were discussing what Covid-19 prevention measures were being put in place at their schools when face-to-face teaching resumes. Some say they will be wearing masks, some that both students and teachers will be wearing a visor, some will have a screen separating them from students and others will be distancing from them.
Teaching at LCCM resumes in the autumn; we’re unsure if it will be online, face-to-face or a mixture of both but I’m certainly looking forward to seeing my students again. We are living in uncertain times but as humans, we are adapting and reacting quickly to our new world.
About the author
Australian-born Trudy Kerr is a vocal tutor at the London College of Creative Media (LCCM).
Trudy moved to the UK in the early 90s to pursue a career in jazz. A renowned vocalist, she has recorded and performed with world-class musicians and has released 13 albums.