The Relationship between Participation in Singing Programmes and Student Well-Being in a Christchurch Primary School

Funding year: 
2 years
Victoria University of Wellington
School sector
Project start date: 
January 2016
Project end date: 
March 2018
Principal investigator(s): 
Dr. Daphne Rickson
Research team members: 
Dr Robert Legg (Victoria University of Wellington), Dianna Reynolds (Waitakiri School)
Research partners: 
Victoria University of Wellington and Waitākiri School in Christchurch


Project description

We investigated the perceived relationship between singing programmes and well-being in a school community affected by the Christchurch earthquakes. Singing programmes were introduced specifically to enhance wellbeing, and wellbeing scores mostly remain high despite extremely challenging conditions. We have been able to articulate the factors that have enabled the singing programmes to be developed and sustained and to model the perceived relationship between classroom singing and well-being.


Singing is a highly motivating medium that can have a positive impact on well-being; and the evidence that well-being influences learning is uncontested. We aimed to learn how to maximise the use of singing for well-being, and to inform other schools about the ways singing can support well-being, especially during exceptionally difficult circumstances.

Why is this research important?

Other researchers have suggested group singing can lead to a general sense of well-being. Well-being is also positively associated with the potential to learn. Daily classroom singing can have a positive impact on learners’ readiness for, and ability to engage with classroom learning. Our articulation of the factors involved in the development and maintenance of singing programmes, especially during a particularly difficult period, and our model of the correlations between singing and well-being, will encourage other school communities to consider singing to increase resilience and counter stress.

What we did

We engaged in Action Research. Data were gathered from teachers’ journals; children’s artworks and videos; individual interviews and focus groups with teachers and children; and well-being surveys. We explored how the singing was facilitated, our use of repertoire, how singing for well-being might differ from music education, and whether music education could also have intrinsic benefits that link to well-being. Inductive thematic analysis was applied independently to each set of data, after each cycle of learning. Themes from each cycle were compared and contrasted to uncover central themes. We also compared and contrasted three models of wellbeing outlined in the literature to extract key indicators before engaging in deductive analysis to uncover the relationship between key indicators and our core themes.

Key findings

We found that group singing elicits positive emotions, engenders a strong sense of connectedness, supports engagement and achievement related behaviours, and can be energising. However, our findings also suggest that creative initiatives specifically introduced to address psycho-social well-being need to be targeted to the needs and resources of the community. Singing for well-being at our school is associated with high levels of student choice and is less structured than music education programmes, and its helpful impact appears to be associated with our need for a positive collective relational response to our shared experiences of stress.

Implications for practice

There is an urgent need for mental and emotional well-being support in New Zealand schools, especially for students with mental health issues (Boyd, Bonne & Berg, 2017). We have been able to develop and maintain daily singing programmes when conditions for well-being have been severely compromised and, given the encouraging reports from children, it seems likely that singing had a positive impact on well-being in our community; particularly in terms of affect, energy and connectedness. This success has a powerful message for wider education communities facing similar long-term challenges. Music making, which is not necessarily undertaken for the purpose of music education as it is traditionally understood, can be used to support and nurture the social, physical and mental well-being of learners who are vulnerable and at-risk. Further, the demonstration of important links between classroom singing and well-being and the relative ease with which singing can be facilitated, suggest all primary school teachers should have the resolution to ‘just do it’. Singing, as an activity that can occur naturally in the classroom as both curriculum and therapeutic practice, can be a pragmatic way to address well-being in schools.

Contact Details

Dr Daphne Rickson,
Senior Lecturer (Music Therapy),
New Zealand School of Music,
P.O. Box 600, Victoria University of Wellington,
Ph: 04 4635233 x35808


Journal Articles

Rickson, D., Reynolds, D., & Legg, R. (2018). Daily singing in a school severely affected by earthquakes: Potentially contributing to both well-being and music education agendas? New Zealand Journal of Teachers' Work

Rickson, D., Atkinson, D., Reynolds, D., & Legg, R. (2019). "Let the people sing!" Action research exploring teachers' musical confidence when engaging learners in 'singing for wellbeing'. Journal of Teachers Action Research, 6(1), 44-62., Accepted May 2018.

Rickson, D., Legg, R., & Reynolds, D. (2018). Daily singing in a school severely affected by earthquakes: Potentially contributing to both wellbeing and music education agendas? New Zealand Journal of Teachers' Work, 15(1), 63-84. doi:

Rickson, D., Reynolds, D., & Legg, R. (2018). Learners’ perceptions of daily singing in a school community severely affected by earthquakes: Links to subjective wellbeing. Journal of Applied Arts and Health, 9(3), 367-384. doi:

Conference Presentations

Rickson, D., Legg, R., & Reynolds, D. (2016). Singing for Well-being in a New Zealand School. Paper presented at the 38th Conference of the Australia and New Zealand Association for Research in Music Education (ANZARME), The University of Auckland. 22-25 September 2016.

Rickson, D., Legg, R., & Reynolds, D. (2018). Singing for wellbeing: Action research with a New Zealand primary school community severely affected by earthquake. Paper presented at the British Association for Music Therapy conference, ‘Music, Diversity and Wholeness’ London. 15-18 February, 2018.

Rickson, D., Legg, R., Reynolds, D., & Atkinson, J. (2017). Teachers’ experiences of singing for wellbeing: A case study. Paper presented at the Music Therapy New Zealand Symposium: Finding your voice, Wellington, NZ. 12-13 August, 2017.

Rickson, D., Legg, R., & Reynolds, D. (2017). Singing for wellbeing in a New Zealand school severely affected by earthquakes. Paper presented at the 15th World Congress of Music Therapy: Moving forward with music therapy, inspiring the next generation, Tsukuba, Japan. July, 2017.

Rickson, D., Legg, R., & Reynolds, D. (2016). Singing for well-being: an exploration of the relationship between participation in singing programmes and learner well-being in a Christchurch primary school. Poster presented at the Victoria University of Wellington: Wellbeing Week; Music for Health & Wellbeing. May, 2016.


Lecture organised by Associate Professor Hiroko Kimura, Kumamoto University, Kumamoto City, Japan, March 2018.
Hauora in Schools, Monthly Features: Our published report will be linked to

Student Presentation to Student Health Leadership Forum 2018, initiated by Canterbury DHB Hauora in Schools, facilitated in 2018 by students at Wharenui School.