When singers start learning about how to be better singers, there is a huge focus on achieving proper technique. In the beginning, all the advice you hear is about how to breathe and how to stand, how to warm up, and how to work a microphone. Singing is a complex physical act, but it also requires huge amounts of mental focus. In fact, your mentality when approaching singing has a direct impact on what you’ll sound like.
Let’s unpack just a few of the various mental dimensions of singing.
Singing releases oxytocin and endorphins.
Just like exercising, singing releases endorphins. Which, by no coincidence, rhymes with dolphins. And next to corgis, dolphins are the happiest creatures on the planet. So it makes perfect sense that these little feel good hormones trigger happiness in your brain. Science!
Really though, endorphins exist to inhibit pain signals in the brain, and can produce a feeling of euphoria.
Oxytocin, produced in the hypothalamus, also triggers feelings of happiness, but to different effect. It’s referred to as the “love drug,” because it activates feelings of trust. It’s the hormone that gives you the sensation of bonding with somebody. It’s well recorded that both these hormones surge when you’re singing. You don’t even have to be considered a “good singer” to reap the benefits!
So science says singing actually makes you feel better. But you already knew that, right…
Singing forms beautiful social bonds.
Singing is usually a very social activity. Sure, you probably sing a lot by yourself as well — in the shower or on your way to work — but a lot of singing takes place in front of an audience, with a band or group of singers, driving with friends, or out at karaoke!
Choral singing — singing with a group of other vocalists and little to no instrumentation — has become a popular and sought after leisure activity, in large part because of its social, feel-good aspect. You already know that oxytocin is the hormone that tickles our grey matter when we feel like we’re bonding with someone. Amplify that sensation by 50-100 people and you have a situation that approaches a something of a spiritual experience!
Any performing singer who enjoys being on stage is likely to tell you that they feel a special bond with their audience. Beyond just being enthusiastic about their fans — that bond they feel is actually based in brain chemistry! You’re putting yourself out there, exposing your vulnerability, and at the same time, oxytocin is pushing you to trust and love your audience and the people you’re performing with. It’s all starting to make sense, now!
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When you’re singing, you’re (mostly) happily distracted…
The act of singing takes a ton of mental focus. Whether you realize it or not, when you sing, even if just to yourself while you’re doing something else, your brain becomes mindlessly focused on that one particular task at hand. It’s hard to feel overwhelmed by all the stressors in life when you simply distract yourself with singing. Anxieties melt away, the world is simply the music, and you play your part as narrator.
You can also become happily distracted in a much more concrete fashion. Say you have joined a choral group, and you’re all there at tonight’s rehearsal to learn a new piece of music. Your mind will be fully encompassed in learning that new song. There simply isn’t enough time or room to worry about anything except completing the task of learning.
And we all recognize that learning something new brings about it’s own kind of joy!
… But the moment you doubt yourself, you sabotage yourself.
If you’ve ever started learning a new, challenging piece, then you know the frustration that can follow. It might have a really high note that you have to physically and mentally psych yourself up for. When you believe that you can hit that note, you hit that note. No problem!
But the second you approach it with doubt, you fall short — your voice breaks, or you tense up, or your come in a little too flat.
What you sing is a direct reflection of how you’re feeling. Of course, there is a lot to be said of muscle memory. But sometimes it’s just not possible to get into a song when you’re not feeling it.
Mind over matter: The importance of a pre-show ritual.
The way you mentally approach your singing will have direct effect on your performance. Ritual becomes important in times like this. Do you usually warm up before a show? Do it. Do you like a nice long hot bubble bath with a glass of rosé before your sessions? Go for it! Humans are naturally superstitious; use that fact to trick your brain into a great performance. If something has worked for you before, you may find yourself reassured by practicing it before a nerve-wracking performance.
Having a ritual not only makes your life easier, but it does a lot of good for your mental health. Taking some time for yourself before a strenuous singing activity will do your voice, and your soul, a lot of good.