Exploring the Experience and Effects of Vocal Toning

J Music Ther. 2018 Jun 7;55(2):221-250. doi: 10.1093/jmt/thy003.


Background: Toning is a form of vocalizing that utilizes the natural voice to express sounds ranging from cries, grunts, and groans to open vowel sounds and humming on the full exhalation of the breath. Music therapists are increasingly utilizing toning in their clinical practice for a variety of therapeutic aims. Yet the effects of toning are not widely understood, with limited research to date.

Objective: To gather and analyze descriptive data to better understand the experience and effects of self-administered toning. Primary aims were to: 1) understand participants' experiences with toning, and any effects resulting from their experiences; 2) measure participants' emotional response to toning and singing; and 3) examine similarities and differences across the two datasets.

Methods: Participants were 20 adults, ages 20-40 years, who were non-musicians. We conducted semi-structured interviews and used qualitative content analysis to identify major themes and subcategories related to participants' toning experiences. Participants also completed a 48-item questionnaire on music and emotions. Results from the interview and questionnaire data were then compared and contrasted.

Results: Results indicate that shifts in attention, awareness, and consciousness frequently occurred when individuals engaged in toning. "Meditative," "calm," and "relaxed" were the three most common descriptors of toning. In contrast, singing evoked stronger emotions and associations than toning, with the three most common descriptors including "nostalgia," "tenderness," and "joyful activation." Findings also suggest that the physical experience with vibrations and the sound of one's own voice may be attributes of toning that likely contribute to its success in inducing altered states of awareness, attention, and consciousness.

Conclusions: This study significantly expands our understanding of the experience and effects of toning, and has direct implications for clinical practice, including the identification of effective strategies to successfully engage adults in toning.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Emotions
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Music / psychology
  • Music Therapy / methods*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Relaxation Therapy*
  • Respiration*
  • Singing*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Voice*