One time, I was teaching a Jazz Vocal class at a high school and we were in a circle, practicing improvisation. This is always the most terrifying for students. You want me to make up a melody, make up nonsense words and sing it, on the spot, in front of other people? Nope. I get it. But I do this exercise, partly, to get students out of their comfort zones and, partly, to help them get creative and overcome that fear.
This day, I had one student who was particularly scared. First, she complained about the assignment. Then she refused to do it, which included a lot of dirty looks of frustration. She was stuck, because she wanted a good grade, but she didn’t want to do the assignment. Soon, the tears came and that’s when we stepped outside for a breather. I asked her, “How can I help?” “You can’t- I hate this class. I didn’t even sign up for it. I can’t sing, and I hate singing.” Well, what do you say to that? I took a breath, thinking about our predicament. Then I gently said, “Well, the deadline to drop the class is over, so that’s not an option. So we’ve got to figure out how to get you to pass this class, and for me to give you a fair grade you earned. You don’t have to love it. You don’t have to be the best singer. You just have to do the assignments the best you can and you’ll learn what you need to and pass the class. I know it’s scary, but you heard your classmates. No one has done this before. You’re no worse off than them and, once you do it, you’re done. Ten seconds and it’s over. Can you do that?” She looked irritated but resigned. “Yes.” We went back in the classroom and she did the assignment.
Interestingly, she had a beautiful voice. It was fresh and unique sounding, and she had great ideas. She took classes with me through her senior year and was one of our featured soloists many times. Over the years, I saw her become more confident, more creative. She started writing her own songs, learning other instruments. I knew that it was fear speaking that day, not her, and it was such a joy to see her overcome that voice of fear.
Of course, not all students will find that they secretly have a naturally beautiful voice and great musical ideas. However, in my ten years of teaching music, I have met only one student who was tone deaf and even he was still capable of improving tone and vocal technique. So it’s fairly safe to assume that you CAN sing and, probably, better than you think you can. But why bother, if it’s not a natural gift or passion, right? Well, did you know that singing has been proven to improve physical and emotional health and also increases intellectual abilities?
According to Science Daily, studies have found that singing reduces the stress hormone, cortisol, increases proteins of the immune system to fight disease, lowers inflammation, releases endorphins and increases seratonin and dopamine for greater happiness! The German Ministry for Youth also found that singing improves connections between the left and right brain, creating a positive influence on learning potential and ensemble singing improves confidence and social skills.
Think about your favorite song, or how you feel when you hear the theme to your favorite tv show. Think about your favorite movie, weddings, funerals, church meetings, parties- what would they be like, without music? Music has the power to move things around inside us, to help us cope, to help us celebrate, to help us work through our emotions. It is not a luxury, it is a necessity. So, whatever your skill level, whatever your experience, if you are seeking greater intelligence, health and happiness, sing a song!