People often ask me which instrument I play when I first explain my interest in music cognition. Some may see my response, my voice, as a non-answer, but I believe singing or your voice is just a valid an instrument as a violin, piano, or oboe. There is still so much I need to learn about using my instrument, but I am convinced as I continue to read research from Daniel Levitin and, more recently, Cassandra Sheppard and Sophia Efthimiou, that it is a valid instrument for study and for teaching the benefits of music cognition.
Last year, researcher Cassandra Sheppard shared her thoughts and results from a study on singing: Singing for others creates a calm positive energy that seems to make negativity not so present. Singing in a group creates a bond, can synchronize heartbeats, and can harness the strength of the group rather than the weakness of individuals.
Sophia Efthimiou, a singer and music instructor, explains in her TED Talk, “Singing Ourselves Home” that our voice is the only instrument “that’s inside the body”. In one way, using our voice is unique, but in another, it’s an instrument that everyone can use if they engage in the activity. Efthimiou explains that there are very few speaking individuals that have a legitimate inability to sing – you can’t call yourself tone deaf if you are able recognize a song!
So the voice is an instrument, though, it doesn’t fall into any one category of instruments. At the same time, the voice requires many of the same skills that other instruments do. Efthimiou explains,
“When we sing, we are consciously controlling our breath and our larynx to create and sustain certain pitches, and we blend that with rhythm and poetry to create songs.“
Similar to Efthimiou’s statement that singing is unique as a corporal instrument, singing is also unique as one of the oldest forms of music. In Levitin’s book, This is Your Brain on Music, published in 2007, he writes,
“In our hunter-gatherer or forager days, we had to band together in order to protect ourselves from predators or enemy tribes and one of the evolutionary forces behind that was singing together around a campfire. And people who sing together experience a release of the chemical oxytocin; and oxytocin causes feelings of trust to be increased and causes you to feel more socially bonded to the people you’re around.“
I do have a goal of learning a SECOND instrument in 2018, but I’m finally feeling satisfied that I do already “play” one instrument.