Updated: Nov 10
By Christie Cula-Reid RMT
Singing is accessible, personal and profound. It connects our inner sounds with the outside world and increases our ability to communicate our thoughts and emotions. Most of us are not great singers but we do all have a voice and to be able to share that with others is a deeply moving experience. In this blog we'll explore a resource that enables this connection with others in varying ways.
'You Can Sing' is a great song for developing exploration and building confidence around using the voice, particularly in relation to a music therapy setting with clients. As a Registered Music Therapist working within the disability space I use this song with a number of clients.
There are gaps for the client to respond with a short phrase that is offered first which clients can copy or create their own unique sound. The phrase is simple to learn and sing as the therapist, support person or leader engaging with the clients. It is short, contains repeated phrases, and clear instructions. There are opportunities to create different sounds, model, and hold space for as long as clients need in order to participate. This song is easy to use both in person and in a telehealth model of working.
Here are two snapshots of this song within music therapy for you:
Telehealth sessions with a Young Adult male with level 3 ASD. I will sing through the song once and then on the second time around invite him to respond. If there is a delay with response the support people working with him model the vocal phrase 'Woo' . As time has gone on the client is much more confident singing and often no longer needs prompting. He smiles and looks at the screen. We can sing this phrase through often 3-4 times. On occasion I will change the vocal phrase, melody or timing or the he may too and I can reflect the change back in my voice. The song is predictable yet quite flexible and provides a safe framework for the client to explore his voice, where he would not do so in his regular everyday life.
With an adult disability group of 7 clients and 4 staff. We sing the song through together first, then each person has a turn to sing/use their voice solo into a microphone. The microphone is very motivating for these clients. As we have become more comfortable one of the clients offered to be a helper and holds the microphone for each person while they sing. Their name is used and the group reflect back the clients solo line as a way of support - clapping and saying well done after each person's turn (this came about naturally from the group). Sometimes we take turns in a circle, other times the soloist will choose a friend to support them. Depending on group numbers I will shorten or lengthen the verse so the song appropriate for each person. Having the group sing the echo also helps them to feel connected to each other as we know how nerve wracking it can sometimes be to sing by ourselves. The mic is still held for someone who is non verbal, the helper may hold the mic, look at it and say "name is listening", this allows space for all to create sound.
So why do I use this song? Well we know using our voice activates the polyvagal nerve which can promote relaxation of the nervous system. The vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve in the body and it connects the gut, brain, lung and heart. It plays a critical role in 'rest and digestion'. Increasing the tone of the vagus nerve enables our body to relax faster after experiencing stress. The vagal nerve connects to your vocal chord so as you sing, hum or create sound using your voice stimulates the vagus nerve and increases heart rate variability and vagal tone. 'You Can Sing' actually encourages all of that to happen - Plus it's lots of fun!
The more we sing , the more we can promote reduction in our stress levels and an increase in our ability to communicate with others, building our self confidence and making lots of good endorphins on the way. So I'd encourage you all to sing, in whatever way you can!
Christie Cula-Reid has been working as a Registered Music Therapist for over 15 years. Christie works with clients across the lifespan specialising in work with children and adults with disabilities. She is also a vocalist and enjoys performing and helping others to find their voice. For SBMT Christie focuses on facilitating Telehealth sessions for both individuals and groups.