Does your family allow singing at the table? When’s the last time you sang at a business meeting?
Growing up, we weren’t allowed to sing at the table—or hum or whistle, for that matter. It went against all rules of etiquette. I didn’t question it at the time, but I wonder now who decided that rule?
And while there’s growing research and trends showing the benefits of singing at work and in all of life, we still tend to relegate singing to the culturally accepted places and times.
It’s time to change that. I believe we can all benefit from more singing.
The Neuroscience of Singing
Science is starting to reveal enormous mental benefits from singing. Singing changes your brain by lowering stress, reducing anxiety, and elevating endorphins. Additional research shows that singing can also increase your immune response, improve sleeping, increase your pain tolerance, and help you feel more connected.
“The neuroscience of singing shows that when we sing, our neurotransmitters connect in new and different ways. It fires up the right temporal lobe of our brain, releasing endorphins that make us smarter, healthier, happier, and more creative. When we sing with other people, this effect is amplified.”—Cassandra Sheppard
Researchers for the Oxford Handbook of Music show that singing “requires the concerted effort of a vast network of brain regions.” Intentional training and development enhance these networks—improving performance, creativity, and happiness.
Singing is part of our lives.
Think about all the places in our lives where we sing. As a former worship pastor, I know that singing is a huge part of church gatherings, and the Bible clearly teaches us to sing all kinds of songs—songs of praise, thanksgiving, and lament. I wrote more about that on Day 56 of the Gratitude Challenge.
But singing isn’t just for church.
We sing at birthday parties, where it’s expected to be offkey and obnoxious. Most of us feel comfortable singing in the shower, in the car, and at concerts—as long as no one can hear us.
Singing the National Anthem at sporting events is commonplace. And we love to sing and shout for joy when our team wins. Queen’s song, “We Are the Champions,” will live on because we all love to be winners.
We expect singing at funerals. “Amazing Grace” may be the most popular song in human history just because of how many times it’s been sung at gravesides.
For certain types of work, singing is also very normal. Sailors sing sea chanties as has become popularized again by the recent movie, Fisherman’s Friends, and the current rage on TikTok where a man received a record deal. Slaves sang spirituals, soldiers chant while they run, and factory workers whistle while they work.
For most of us, the only songs we hear at work are the jingles written to promote our brand. Can you hear this song?
Ba da ba ba ba
I’m lovin’ it.
Why don’t more white-collar workers sing on the job?
I find it curious that singing is more commonplace in certain parts of society and in some cultures more than others. When I spent seven months in Kenya, the plantation workers there sang while they walked and played and when they gathered after work. But I don’t think I’ve ever been in a business meeting where we were encouraged to sing anything but “Happy Birthday.”
Why do you think that is?
At our annual conference, Social Media Marketing World, I decided to run an experiment in 2015 to see if marketers would want to sing in a choir. I was surprised to see that I would get up to 100 people signing up each year to sing. They told me that it gave them great joy to sing and use their musical gifts.
One of the reasons we don’t sing at work is because we think it’s inappropriate or unproductive. What if I told you singing could help release your best ideas, improve teamwork, and reduce turnover?
I tried an experiment recently. We’re trying to come up with some new ideas at work for a future product launch. So, to get my brain flowing, I decided to sit down at the piano and play and sing for a few minutes. I knew the research shows that music accesses parts of the brain we don’t normally use in everyday thought and conversation. I wanted to see what would happen.
After only 10 minutes of playing and singing, I pulled out some pen and paper and started looking at the data with fresh eyes. I filled 5 sheets of paper with ideas and thoughts in less than 20 minutes. I’m a creative person—some call me an idea factory— but even I was astonished at how many ideas I generated.
While my experience is anecdotal, Duncan Wardle, former Head of Innovation & Creativity at Disney, says
“When asked, the majority of people always tell me they get their best ideas in the shower. They will also tell you it’s the only place they ever sing. Coincidence? :)”—Duncan Wardle, Former Head of Innovation & Creativity, Disney
What inhibits us from singing?
Not only do we find singing inappropriate, but we also avoid singing because it makes us feel awkward. Maybe we don’t have a strong voice, we don’t know the song, or we find the song too difficult to sing.
I spent 20+ years serving churches as a worship leader. I’ve seen countless people, men, especially, fold their arms while we sang as if to say, “I dare you to make me sing.”
I’ve never tried leading a song at a company meeting, but I did invite engineers at Koch Industries to recite poetry one time, and it led to a breakthrough for some.
How might we encourage singing at work?
First, sing people’s praises. This might involve actual songs, but everybody loves to receive recognition and praise. Tell people often and loudly what you appreciate about them. If someone is celebrating a major milestone—like a 10- or 20-year anniversary—consider commissioning an original song for them. I’ve written some of these, and I know many songwriters who might relish the opportunity.
Second, allow people to sing at specified times or in dedicated places. And it’s not just for the highly musical types. If singing improves health and promotes creativity, then we should find ways to allow people to sing.
Third, consider forming a company choir. Companies like Google, Facebook, Boeing, and LinkedIn have started forming choirs due to the health, social, and mental benefits. Employees who have fun together tend to work better together, and it reduces employee burnout.
By all means, allow singing at the table.
Let’s get rid of the social stigma that singing shouldn’t be allowed at the table. Of course, there’s a time and place. Breaking out into “Let It Go” while someone is talking might be rude, but then again, it might be exactly what they needed to hear!
How about you?
How does your company encourage singing at work or in your free time?
Consider how you might introduce more singing into your life. What’s one way you can sing more in the next week? Document what you see changing in your mind and body as you do it for even 10 minutes per day.
Lord, I thank you for the joy of singing and that you designed the body to sing. When I don’t feel like singing, I pray you would cause songs to well up in my soul. Show me how to sing more songs of thanksgiving throughout the year. I praise you that you are worthy of more songs than I could ever sing. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.