Singing Is Good For the Brain

By Rosemary Kelly
Special to the Palisades News

As we go through life, we should have “a song in our heart” and “sing, sing, sing” on a daily basis. That was the message delivered by Andy Tubman, a music therapist who specializes in music, technology and the brain.

He spoke at the Palisades Senior Alliance meeting on July 24 in the Palisades Library community room.

“We need to expand our neurons,” said Tubman, who has been a music therapist for more than 15 years. He explained how researchers have discovered that articulated speaking and singing provide huge benefits for the brain.

He started by having the audience do SingFit, a therapeutic singing program that uses patented technology to create scaleable singing and cognitive programming used in caregiving and at-home settings.

Everyone stood and heartily sang Fats Domino’s “Blueberry Hill,” while moving one’s arms left to right, to help get in the right mood for his lecture. Tubman has a catalogue of more than 400 songs and takes his classes to senior-care centers.

Singing, Tubman said, is a super food for the brain. Who knew? He said it helps people become energized, happier and connected.

In 2011, he co-founded Musical Health Technologies (and its singing program SingFit), which has now partnered with the Advanced Medical Technology Initiative of the Department of Defense, the Veterans Administration, Tufts University and Glasgow Caledonian University to advance the research and efficacy of singing and cognitive function.

He said that neurologists are now realizing that singing lights up the brain and that we should use it rather than lose it. Brain workouts stimulate endorphins, and singing on a regular basis is a great coping mechanism for stress.

Singing releases oxytocin, a powerful hormone that is also stimulated by eating chocolate, having sex or petting an animal. Singing also helps stave off respiratory problems caused by lung deterioration.

“Music therapy is also used for people who have dementia,” Tubman said, stressing that it is not a cure for dementia. He shared a video of Olivia, an opera singer who had forgotten how to sing. After several sessions of music therapy, she was able to stand and sing again.

Music therapy started during World War I and continued during World War II. It was used mostly in hospitals in Europe, where singing is practiced much more than in America.

“America never got the memo to sing!” Tubman said.

Studies have been done by neurologists, who cite former Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords as a prime example. She was given music therapy as she recovered from her gunshot wound. Doctors started her on “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” and at the end of her therapy, she was singing a Tom Petty song.

“Movement along with singing is important,” said Tubman, who suggested creating one’s own movement, as in dancing, and try to spend at least 25 minutes a day singing songs. Make a list of songs that you like from any genre, and download them from Pandora or Spotify.

Tubman stressed that adults should learn the words, and not just sing the chorus. He said it increases one’s brainpower and gets neurons growing again.

He recommended having one or more sessions with a well-trained music therapist, and suggested trying the new innovative music therapy called Remo, which uses hand drums. Participants sit in a circle and soon learn the power of drumming and rhythm.

The Palisades Music Group, located in the 881 Alma Real building, will soon have its own Remo circle for seniors.

Tubman’s talk ended with everyone singing “New York, New York” and leg kicking, though not quite the Rockettes. The audience left feeling a little more light- hearted. And people appreciated his advice: start singing and keep singing to stave off those old-age blues and feed your brain!

Tubman also founded Integrative Music Therapy Services, which provides therapists for children and youth with developmental delays, while also specializing in drug and alcohol rehabilitation in teens and adults. He is the author of Sensory Parenting, aimed at expectant parents and their newborns.

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