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Singing for mental health and wellbeing: What do we need from leaders?

Updated: Feb 24, 2020

Over the past few months, we have been hosting a series of focus groups exploring singing for mental health and wellbeing, bringing together experts from across the field with experience running and managing these singing sessions. We started looking at these singing sessions and getting a clear idea of what makes them different from 'regular' singing sessions. You can read up on that discussion on our blog. Following on from that, we started to explore what is needed from the leaders to deliver positive singing sessions for mental health and wellbeing.

Through the conversation and thinking about their own experiences, the group decided that the characteristics, knowledge and expertise could be organised into broader personal and professional domains, ultimately thinking about what a singing leader needs to DO, KNOW and BE to deliver a positive experience when leading singing for mental health and wellbeing. We eventually organised the groups' ideas into the following and realised subsequently that they could be presented as a Leadership Schema (see the figure below).


Practice Music Leadership Skills and Knowledge

Learn repertoire thoroughly

Prepare and be flexible

Have wide and varied repertoire

Use ice-breakers appropriately

Deliver appropriately paced and pitched workshops

Teach and lead groups effectively


Appropriate Mental Health Awareness

Awareness of mental health conditions

Know clients’ triggers

Have techniques and tools to deal with specific behaviours

Observe (read the room)

Understand the context/environment/people

Trauma and mental health informed

The 'DO' and 'KNOW' parts of the schema are pretty self-explanatory. The group had a lengthy discussion about the innate and learned leadership qualities that make up what has been grouped under 'BE'. When working in singing for mental health and wellbeing, given the context, the participants' needs and the purpose of the activity, there was a feeling that there really are special personal attributes that will make a leader more likely to flourish leading singing for mental health and wellbeing. It is of course important for all leaders to have some of these skills to varying degrees, but the context of the work makes some of them more critical.


Authentic & Self-Aware


Genuine interest and drive

Be real/authentic

Emotional intelligence/perceptive

Be you! (Leave your baggage)



Do normalise the group singing experience

Just sing – singing not just being ‘done’ to the group

Innate Qualities

Be warm and funny

Sensitive – awareness of non-verbal communication

Demeanour – body language

Be unshockable/unphasable

Have an understanding and recognition of resilience

Know yourself

Learned Qualities

Respond sensitively to clients’ needs

Be able to respond appropriately and sensitively (empathy)

Be encouraging

Be Resilient

Be Flexible (musically and personally)

Be adaptable

Be patient

Being part of a team

Team player

Organisational support for leader

Change of face

Knowing ‘Team Teach’ 

Knowing your own levels and limits

Needs to be supported (self-care)

Taking it further

Thinking about the way the identified domains – DO, KNOW and BE – could potentially be presented, the figure above was developed. Depending on the participants’ needs and the context of the singing activity, the leader’s use of their knowledge, skills and interpersonal qualities would fluctuate between the domains themselves using their expertise to guide their practice. In other words, each leader would recognise the needs of their audience and then weight their skills appropriately towards those needs. 

We could also potentially plot different contexts against the domains to help determine and recruit leaders to deliver singing for mental health and wellbeing. The group felt that this schema could be a useful and flexible tool for those commissioning singing for mental health and wellbeing and also those wanting to work in the area. Could this schema potentially help to provide a framework for recruitment or maybe help vocal leaders think about the gaps in their own knowledge and skills?

Questions to think about

Is this a useful tool to have? How could you use it? Do any of the circles take precedence over the others? What do you think could go in the centre of all three circles?

What are your thoughts? We're keen to continue developing the conversation and would love to hear what you think. Please join in and add your comments or get in touch.



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