Yes, we can!

Professor Graham Welch outlines the impact that Sing Up is having on children's singing, and their social and emotional development

Yes, we can!

Professor Graham Welch outlines the impact that Sing Up is having on children’s singing, and their social and emotional development

Over the first two years of Sing Up, researchers from the Institute of Education in London have visited 155 schools across England to measure the impact of the programme. We have assessed the individual singing behaviour and development of 8,162 children, aged 7-10 years. We have also noted children’s attitudes to singing in different contexts (such as in school or outside) and also whether singing has any impact on their self-concept and sense of social inclusion. Key findings are as follows:

SINGING BEHAVIOURS

When we compare the results for children who have had experience of Sing Up with those who have not, it is clear that Sing Up is having a beneficial impact.

For example:

Although we expect average children’s singing competency to improve with age (that is, older children tend to be more advanced in their singing than younger children), those with Sing Up experience demonstrate significantly greater improvements.

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Furthermore, irrespective of social background and ethnicity, there are examples of measurable Sing Up-linked singing improvements for boys as well as girls.

CHILDREN’S ATTITUDES TO SINGING

A wide range of attitudinal data from participants’ questionnaire responses suggests that (a) girls consistently tend to have more positive attitudes towards singing than boys and (b) younger children tend to be more positive than their older peers.

This somewhat paradoxical finding – that as children get older, they get more competent at singing, but appear to like it less – relates to changes in their musical identity, which often becomes much more peer and popular music focused. Singing in school becomes a less ‘cool’ thing to do as children are increasingly influenced by popular music culture.

However, if children experience singing activities that have (a) positive, and expert, child (and/or adult) role models – such as in Sing Up’s Singing Playgrounds and Chorister Outreach Programmes – and (b) experience rich musical repertoire, including singing games and opportunities for performance, then older children (boys as well as girls) are likely to develop and sustain much more positive attitudes to singing and continue to be engaged and motivated to take part.

WIDER BENEFITS

With regard to possible wider benefits of singing, better singers tend to have a much more positive view of themselves – as singers and also in general – and a stronger sense of social inclusion. Unsurprisingly, better singers also have a stronger emotional and personal engagement with singing.

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This finding links with other recent research on the other-than-musical benefits of music education, including positive impacts on physical and psychological (mental) health and wellbeing (such as relieving anxiety, promoting relaxation, improved lung function, lowered heart rate and blood pressure), as well as on self, social development and social attachment.

Children’s singing is part of their identity, and how they see themselves in relation to the world around them. If their singing behaviours are promoted and advanced in a collective setting, such as demonstrated by Sing Up, where the educational experience is exciting, shared and effective, where peers and adults offer supportive models, then it is not surprising that both musical and other-than-musical benefits are evidenced. Sing Up is making a difference.

Professor Graham Welch is Chair of Music Education at the Institute of Education, University of London. He is also the incoming President of the International Society for Music Education (ISME),

Chair of the Society for Education, Music and Psychology Research (SEMPRE) and has a lifelong interest in children’s singing. More detailed information about the Sing Up research evaluation can be found here.

Singing and wellbeing

A range of academic literature has addressed the connections between singing and wellbeing, and suggests that regular singing can enhance mood, happiness and emotional wellbeing, and reduce stress.

Much of this research has been based on field studies, interviews and focus groups. Eg. a study from Beck, Cesario, Yousefi & Enamato in 2000 reported that 67% of semi-professional choral singers surveyed ‘agreed’ or ‘strongly agreed’ that ‘singing has contributed to my personal wellbeing’. Similarly, Cliff and Hancox (2001) found that 71% of those in a university choral society ‘agreed’ or ‘strongly agreed’ that singing was beneficial for their ‘mental wellbeing’.

In a more recent detailed study*, 600-plus choral singers across England were asked to complete a questionnaire measuring their physical, psychological, social and environmental wellbeing. Common themes were that singing ‘helps make me a happier person’, ‘gives a positive attitude to life’ and ‘lifts mood and helps to forget problems’.

Singing has also been shown to aid social development among children. For example, the Chorus Impact Study 2009, by Chorus America, found that parents of children in choirs are significantly more likely to report that their children have more advanced social skills than those who’ve never participated. The vast majority of parents say their child’s ability to manage his/her emotions and/or read the emotions of others improved after they became choral singers.

While most existing research has focused on adult singers, Professor Welch’s latest study highlights its relevance for children and young people.

*Cliff, Hancock, Morrison, Hess, Kreutz & Stewart, 2010.

KS1, KS2, In School, Become a Singing School, Committed to Learning, Progressive, Supportive, Inclusive, Developing Choirs/Groups, SEAL

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