WHY SINGING MAKES YOU FEEL SO GOOD?
To answer the question, we need to understand what sound is. Sound is vibration; everything in creation is in a state of vibration, from the smallest atom to the largest star system.
When an object vibrates, it creates a sound – this sound is called its resonant frequency.
When an opera singer matches the resonant frequency of a glass, it shatters. Luckily our bodies are less brittle and enjoy the vibration of external sounds as long as they are harmonious.
When we feel unwell or unhappy, we say we feel “out of tune” or “out of harmony”. Our body is like an instrument that can be tuned up. We can tune ourselves up or allow others to sing to us.
What actually happens to our bodies when we sing?
The note we sing will vibrate all the cells in our body. Research has shown that singing the musical scale regularly can actually destroy harmful cells in our body. Healthy cells seem to thrive with harmonious sound.
Certain types of music can have a negative effect on our muscles and our cells. In an experiment when heavy rock music was played to adults through headphones all their muscles tested weak.
Another effect of singing is produced by the combination of notes we choose to sing. If we sing two different notes, one after the other, we create a musical interval. Each musical interval will have a different effect on our body, our emotions, and our mind. This explains why we choose different types of music at different times.
Generally, simple intervals like the third and the fifth are uplifting and sound pleasing to the ear. Minor intervals can induce tension or feelings of sadness. Some intervals are discordant and can help us to get in touch with darker emotions.
In an experiment, two people sang the octave into an oscilloscope (an instrument which measures sound waves). On the screen of the oscilloscope appeared the symbol of infinity, the figure eight. Is it a coincidence that the Latin word for eight is “octave”?
When we study musical intervals further, we discover that each interval produces a mathematical ratio. For example, the octave produced the 2:1 ratio, the fifth produces the 3:2 ratio
When we study nature, we find these simple mathematical ratios cropping up everywhere. They are found in the structure of the atom, in crystals, leaves, petals, shells, in the proportions of the human body, and in the orbits of the planets around the sun.
Architects used these ratios when building the great cathedrals and ancient sacred buildings. Goethe described architecture as “frozen music”.
Singing any note produces harmonics. Within one note are many notes all related to the fundamental note through exact mathematical ratios.
Most of the time we are unaware of the existence of harmonics. When we are in a room with good acoustics like a church or a bathroom, we are suddenly aware of a richer sound. The richer sound is produced by the harmonics that are accentuated by certain acoustic spaces.
The ancient people used this knowledge when they constructed sacred sites like Stonehenge, Newgrange or the King’s Chamber in the Great Pyramid.
When we hear music rich in harmonics, like Gregorian Chant, Indian classical music or “acappella” singing it induces an altered state of consciousness. It changes our brain patterns so that we feel more relaxed, more connected with the music.
Ancient cultures understood the power of harmonics. Stringed instruments are particularly rich in harmonics. David played the harp to heal King Saul’s depression, Orpheus played the lyre, another stringed instrument in Ancient Greek mythology. In India, Saraswati, the Goddess of wisdom and music, is seen playing the Veena, a stringed instrument.
When we sing simple vowel sounds in a resonant place like a church, it is possible to hear the harmonics or overtones produced above the note we are actually singing. When groups of people tone together, it produces a tremendous feeling of connectedness.
Singing very simple chants has another effect. After a period of chanting the mind becomes relaxed and clearer. This effect is used in most spiritual traditions. In India this practice is called ‘mantra’ or ‘kirtan’.
Over time music became more complex in Western society. The singer and musician have to stay more concentrated in their left brain function. Consequently we have lost much of the healing power of sound in our modern music.
When the mind repeats the same phrase over and over again, we relax and find ecstatic states of joy and inner peace. This is particularly the case when we sing or chant with great devotion.