Singing is Great For Your Mental Health, Even if You Can’t Carry a Tune

Black woman singing with friends

Klaus Vedfelt / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • Singing out loud can help with everything from coping with grief to anxiety.
  • If you're nervous to sing in front of people, try doing it in the car or shower.
  • You can also hum along to a melody or create your own sounds to go along with it.

Have you ever been driving down the road when a fantastic song comes on, and you can’t help but sing along to it at the top of your lungs? For about four minutes, all troubles seem to evaporate, and you feel free—joyous even. There’s something about singing that creates a release unlike any other, lightening the load you carry while making you feel deeply connected to the world and others in it.

Yet, it can be intimidating for anyone who doesn’t consider themselves excellent singers (read: most people) to sing, especially when other people are around. While this hesitation is natural, it can stand in the way of expressing yourself in a way that has proven benefits for your mental health.

“Singing songs that match your mood or express how you want to feel, rather than simply listening, allows you to more deeply tap into and move through various emotions,” says Lisa Townsend, MT-BC, a music therapist. “Singing is a whole-body experience, creating opportunities for intentional, deep breaths and triggering the release of endorphins and dopamine, giving you opportunities for increased awareness in your body and mind.” 

Alison Hughey, MT-BC, a music therapist

It can take time to get more confident with singing. You don’t have to be a ‘good’ singer to get the many health benefits of singing.

— Alison Hughey, MT-BC, a music therapist

Researchers have found evidence that music and singing can improve aspects of well-being, such as coping with grief and anxiety. Take a 2019 study from BMJ Supportive & Palliative Care looking at people who had lost a loved one in the past five years but had not recently taken medication for anxiety or depression or started psychological therapy.

Half of the participants took part in a choir meeting for 90 minutes weekly to sing and socialize for 12 weeks. At 24 weeks out from the study’s start, the choir group experienced more stable depression symptoms and overall well-being, as well as better self-esteem and self-efficacy.

“Whether you are alone or in a group, singing has been shown to reduce stress and lower cortisol levels,” says Alison Hughey, MT-BC, a music therapist and founder of Carolina Music Therapy.

Singing may restore certain cognitive functions. A 2021 study by the University of Helsinki, published in PLOS One, found that adults over 60 who participated in a choir had higher verbal functioning than those who refrained. However, the research did not show an increase in any other cognitive domain.

How To Start Singing Comfortably 

Even if there are clear benefits, the idea of singing in a place someone may hear you can feel quite vulnerable. Townsend stresses the importance of remembering that signing doesn’t have to be performative and is, instead, a way to express yourself. “The goal isn’t to sound like someone else, it’s to sound like you! Singing should feel good,” she adds. “I encourage people to approach it from a place of playfulness and curiosity.”

Your ability to stay in the right key has no impact on singing’s positive mental health effect. “It can take time to get more confident with singing. You don’t have to be a ‘good’ singer to get the many health benefits of singing,” says Hughey. “If you’re nervous, start with a sigh. Take a deep breath and sigh out loud as you exhale. When you’re ready, hum any note when you exhale. You can also turn up your tunes and sing along.”

Hughey suggests getting in the habit of singing by pairing it with a habit or activity you’re used to doing. This may mean signing along to a favorite song while getting dressed or on your way to work. 

Lisa Townsend, MT-BC, a music therapist

Singing songs that match your mood or express how you want to feel, rather than simply listening, allows you to more deeply tap into and move through various emotions.

— Lisa Townsend, MT-BC, a music therapist

Cars and showers are wonderful places to get comfortable singing without worrying about being overheard.

It may seem obvious but sing songs you like. You’re not in chorus rehearsing a part. Choose pieces you enjoy, and maybe that remind you of something happy to get an extra dopamine boost, says Hughey.

You may also want to use music as a way to explore your own feelings by removing the lyrics.  “Humming is a great place to start—it's easy on the vocal cords, creates wonderful vibrations in your body, and can feel like a nice long exhale,” says Townsend. “You can also pull up an instrumental or karaoke track of your favorite song and sing along with nonsense words, such as ‘la,’ ‘dee,’ or ‘doo.’”

What This Means For You

Singing is one of many options to try that may benefit your mental health. If you find it's not helpful or enjoyable then it may not be a fit, and some other expression may have more of an impact. Experimenting with everything from meditation to long walks can help you determine what habits are most beneficial to you personally.

2 Sources
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  1. Fancourt D, Finn S, Warran K, Wiseman T. Group singing in bereavement: effects on mental health, self-efficacy, self-esteem and well-being. BMJ Supportive & Palliative Care. Published online June 26, 2019. doi:10.1136/bmjspcare-2018-001642

  2. Pentikäinen E, Pitkäniemi A, Siponkoski S-T, et al. Beneficial effects of choir singing on cognition and well-being of older adults: Evidence from a cross-sectional study. Zamarian L, ed. PLOS ONE. 2021;16(2). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0245666