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Hymn Singing Synchronizes Hearts

A Swedish research team has discovered that singing hymns unifies a congregation in a soothing way. Researchers of the Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden studied the heart rates of a high school choir as they sang a hymn and learned that choir music has a calming effect on the heart.

The researchers measured the changes in the choir member’s heart rates as they navigated the harmonies of the hymn. As the choir sings the phrases together they exhale together. They inhale together in between phrases as well. Hymn singing is a form of “guided breathing” which slows the heart rate down.

Another striking feature of hymn singing is that “it took almost no time at all for the singers’ heart rates to become synchronized.” Using pulse monitors attached to the ear of each singer, the researchers compared heart rhythms. “The readout from the pulse monitors starts as a jumble of jagged lines, but quickly becomes a series of uniform peaks. The heart rates fall into a shared rhythm guided by the song’s tempo.”

“The members of the choir are synchronizing externally with the melody and the rhythm, and now we see it has an internal counterpart,” the lead researcher, Bjorn Vickhoff says.

“[Sacred] song has wonderful power. It has power to subdue rude and uncultivated natures; power to quicken thought and to awaken sympathy, to promote harmony of action, and to banish the gloom and foreboding that destroy courage and weaken effort.” The Voice in Speech and Song, page 407

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