Sunday, January 31, 2010

Does Singing Promote Well-Being?

Does Singing Promote Well-Being?: An Empirical Study of Professional and Amateur Singers during a Singing Lesson. Conducted by Chrisina Grape, Maria Sandgren, Lars-Olof Hannson, Mats Ericson and Töres Theorell. Integrative physiological & Behaviour Science, January-March 2003, Vol.38, No.1, 65-74.

Précis: The psychological and physiological effects of singing lessons were examined comparing non-professional and professional levels of singing experiences. Participants consisted of 8 amateur singers (6 female, 2 male, age 28-53 yrs.) and 8 professional singers (4 females, 4 males, age 26-49 yrs.). The main emphasis of results indicated significant differences between professionals and non-professionals with regard to physiological and emotional states.

Conceptual framework: This study sought to assess the possible benefits of singing on well-being during a singing lesson. More specifically, measures were taken of the cardio-vascular and endocrinological-biological effects experienced by the participants during and after singing lessons.

Method and Design: This study implemented both quantitative and qualitative methods to elicit data. Continuous ECG was recorded and computerized spectral analysis was performed. Serum concentrations of TNF-alpha, prolactin, cortisol, and oxytocin were measured before and 30 minutes after a singing lesson. Five visual analogue scales (VAS, sad-joyful, anxious-calm worried-elated, listless-energetic, and tense-relaxed) were scored before and after the lesson. In addition a semi-structured interview was performed.

Findings: More cardio-physiological fitness was found in professional singers.

· Serum concentration of TNF-alpha increased in professionals after a singing lesson and decreased in amateurs

· Serum concentrations of prolactin and cortisol increased after the lesson in the groups of men and decreased in the women

· Amateurs reported feelings of joy and elation after the lesson

· Both groups reported feeling more energetic and relaxed after the lesson

· Interviews showed professionals were achievement oriented, with a focus on technique, vocal apparatus, and body during the lesson

· Amateurs used the singing lesson as a means of developing the constructs; self-actualization, self-expression , and as a way to release emotional tension

Conclusions: The professionals were more physiologically fit for singing, but did not experience the same well-being as amateurs do. Amateurs reported more experiences of well-being, were more enthusiastic, and increased sensations of joy after the lessons.

Review/Reflections: As someone who is very interested in the psychological aspects associated with performance this study was of particular interest to me as a doctoral student, performer and teacher. My intended area of research is an examination of the habits and processes elite Canadian Opera Singers utilize to maintain performance excellence. At first discovery this research was important to my review of current literature in my field. This study was first introduced to me as part of the research presented in Maria Sandgren’s doctoral dissertation, Becoming and Being an Opera Singer; involving the factors and processes associated with the artistic profession and development of opera singers. Due to the nature of the presentation of her thesis, specificity of Method/Design and subsequent findings were not provided. Due to my interest in this area I sought out the publication of this research study in its entirety. Immediate concerns regarding Method and Design are present. Why would you seek to find these answers through a quantitative study? Is this the most appropriate design when intending to elicit measures of feelings? Sample sizes were incredibly small. The range in age was considerable amongst participants, and the decision to compare professionals to amateurs is also in question when dealing with issues of relevance. Although statistical tests were performed, the author’s themselves warn of “the risk that mass significance may arise (p.72)”. Ironically,sweeping conclusions are made from the findings in this study which are not only evidence of negligent research practices, the conclusions are not grounded within the results provided. Also of great concern is the lack of definition of key constructs used in this study. What is the working definition of well-being? How can this be quantitatively measured? Most troubling is the conclusion that professional singers do not experience well-being or joy after a singing lesson (p.73). How can this conclusion be made without consideration of the constructs goals, motivation, expectation, various processes and expectations of learning, and sociological considerations? From a performer and/or teacher perspective this research study was not useful for me. This study served to most inform my process of learning as a student researcher. In sum, this research study and the three other studies I reviewed by Maria Sandgren reinforced the importance of selecting the most appropriate methods of design in my own research, consideration of the potential relevance of the research question to the body of work already in existence in the area of study at large, the risks involved when the research topic in too broad and furthermore the complications that arise when the main researchers are not experts in the area of study being examined; namely the experience of music making.

1 comment:

  1. I think you point to the biggest concern - the construct definitions. Well-being is a very broad and awkward concept. A problem of expectation arises when a title is broader than the study design. The title implies an examination of "singing" on well-being -- as perhaps singing recreationally in a choir, or during religious meetings, or a party or pub. In this case they are not looking at "singing" as such. Singing is really very different from a singing lesson. Since we assume experiences are socially situated, the context for singing is a major variable.

    Another is the concept of well-being as you correctly identify. Certainly the variable measure may be tangible indicators of physiological states than can influence perceived well-being but in themselves do not constitute well-being.

    The question however is a good one and certainly worth contemplating.