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Thread: When Choirs Sing, Many Hearts Beat As One

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    Senior Member Lunasong's Avatar
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    Default When Choirs Sing, Many Hearts Beat As One

    When Choirs Sing, Many Hearts Beat As One


    Lifting voices together in praise can be a transcendent experience, unifying a church congregation in a way that is somehow both fervent and soothing. But is there actually a physical basis for those feelings?

    To find this out, researchers of the Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden studied the heart rates of high school choir members as they joined their voices. Their findings, published this week in Frontiers in Neuroscience, confirm that choir music has calming effects on the heart — especially when sung in unison.

    Using pulse monitors attached to the singers' ears, the researchers measured the changes in the choir members' heart rates as they navigated the intricate harmonies of a Swedish hymn. When the choir began to sing, their heart rates slowed down.

    "When you sing the phrases, it is a form of guided breathing," says musicologist Bjorn Vickhoff of the Sahlgrenska Academy who led the project. "You exhale on the phrases and breathe in between the phrases. When you exhale, the heart slows down."

    But what really struck him was that it took almost no time at all for the singers' heart rates to become synchronized. The readout from the pulse monitors starts as a jumble of jagged lines, but quickly becomes a series of uniform peaks. The heart rates fall into a shared rhythm guided by the song's tempo.

    "The members of the choir are synchronizing externally with the melody and the rhythm, and now we see it has an internal counterpart," Vickhoff says.

    This is just one little study, and these findings might not apply to other singers. But all religions and cultures have some ritual of song, and it's tempting to ask what this could mean about shared musical experience and communal spirituality.

    "It's a beautiful way to feel. You are not alone but with others who feel the same way," Vickhoff says.

    He plans to continue exploring the physical and neurological responses of our body to music on a long-term project he calls Body Score. As an instructor, he wonders how this knowledge might be used to create more cohesive group dynamic in a classroom setting or in the workplace.

    "When I was young, every day started with a teacher sitting down at an old organ to sing a hymn," Vickhoff says. "Wasn't that a good idea — to get the class to think, 'We are one, and we are going to work together today.' "
    "To be a musician is a curse. To NOT be one is even worse." Jack Daney

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    Senior Member Bix's Avatar
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    If the choir are good, practice together, stay together this research doesn't surprise me. Singing pieces with a choir is like being on the same emotional journey together. Choirs don't work when members are competing and not working together.

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    Senior Member Lunasong's Avatar
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    The graph referenced in the article.

    I can't read this other than it shows a definite reduction in variability at a specific point, including a tendency for the result lines to follow similar contours. If you look closely at the start of the chart, it appears the red and blue line are already somewhat coordinating their contours.

    That green guy is really benefiting from a dose of "music therapy."

    I have no idea how long a choir has to sing together achieve this (both in terms of how long the choir's been singing together and how long in this instance), how many samples were involved (3 is a low sample number) or why this graph is printed on staff paper.

    Link to original publication and abstract:

    Choir singing is known to promote wellbeing. One reason for this may be that singing demands a slower than normal respiration, which may in turn affect heart activity. Coupling of heart rate variability (HRV) to respiration is called Respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA). This coupling has a subjective as well as a biologically soothing effect, and it is beneficial for cardiovascular function. RSA is seen to be more marked during slow-paced breathing and at lower respiration rates (0.1 Hz and below). In this study, we investigate how singing, which is a form of guided breathing, affects HRV and RSA. The study comprises a group of healthy 18 year olds of mixed gender. The subjects are asked to; (1) hum a single tone and breathe whenever they need to; (2) sing a hymn with free, unguided breathing; and (3) sing a slow mantra and breathe solely between phrases. Heart rate (HR) is measured continuously during the study. The study design makes it possible to compare above three levels of song structure. In a separate case study, we examine five individuals performing singing tasks (1–3). We collect data with more advanced equipment, simultaneously recording HR, respiration, skin conductance and finger temperature. We show how song structure, respiration and HR are connected. Unison singing of regular song structures makes the hearts of the singers accelerate and decelerate simultaneously. Implications concerning the effect on wellbeing and health are discussed as well as the question how this inner entrainment may affect perception and behavior.
    Last edited by Lunasong; Jul-14-2013 at 17:39.
    "To be a musician is a curse. To NOT be one is even worse." Jack Daney

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