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COVID-19 & Singing – An Update Based on Current Research


There are currently research teams across the world working on identifying how COVID-19 spreads and how to best protect the population from contracting the virus. Two ongoing studies are particularly focusing on music-making, which is what we will reference in this summary article. Before continuing, a few important considerations:

  • The author of this article is a professional musician, not a scientist. However, all information posted here has been carefully researched to the best of his ability.
  • Because of the nature this virus and of risk-assessment in general, every situation is unique and you and your team of decision-makers must try to make the best decision for your community. What is the best decision for a group in Atlanta may not be the best decision for someone in Dallas. Think for yourselves and do your own research.



There have been two recent studies specific to music-making and COVID-19 that are being posted on social media, advertised by sponsoring organizations, and being mentioned by media outlets. One is based out of Ludwig-Maximilians-University of Munich and the other based out of the University of Colorado. Below are summaries of those study results and the highlights that stood out to me. Finally, we’ll offer recommendations for moving forward as it concerns congregational singing.


Ludwig-Maximilians-University of Munich Study

Article Link*,aerosolebeimsingen100.html

*The article and the quotes from it found below were originally in German and translated to English via the automatic Google Translate function via the Chrome browser.

Lead Researcher – Prof. Matthias Echternach of Ludwig-Maximilians-University of Munich

Important Quotes/Hightlights:

  • “As far as the widths forward [of the aerosols], it was the case that the sung text had the largest width. Interestingly, here it is so that loud and quiet didn’t make that big a difference, loud only went on marginally – and that makes sense. Because singers still have to convey the text very well when they sing softly. That means that they showed a lot of text accuracy and the width of the radiation to the front probably has a lot to do with the consonant abundance.”
  • “Here we had an average value of around one meter. But you have to say in the risk assessment that there were also singers who got over it up to a meter and a half. This means that the classic distance, as we know it from everyday life, is too small towards the front when singing. This is the first main finding. The second is the spread to the side. Here we were able to demonstrate significantly smaller distances.”
  • “What we have examined needs to be narrowed down briefly. We have not investigated how much aerosol is formed or how it can accumulate in the room over the long term, other working groups do that. Instead, we examined the process of how the aerosol behaves when it is ejected from the mouth into the room. This means that the advice we give can only relate to this impulse. If we think about distance rules now, we can say: two to two and a half meters to the front should very likely be sufficient, to the side one and a half meters should be enough – provided the aerosols are repeatedly removed! And this removal is not a problem in the fresh air. But it could be a problem indoors. If you could get a continuous ventilation, then you could probably orientate yourself on the normal rehearsal times. If this cannot be guaranteed, I have to have regular intermittent ventilation, preferably after ten minutes.”


Our Summary

  • This study is not peer-reviewed yet nor has its results been duplicated by other studies. It, therefore, cannot be deemed as scientifically reliable. It can inform our decision-making but should not be upheld as scientifically “true” until it meets more rigorous standards.
  • There were singers whose projection of droplets exceeded 6 feet, which is the current standard recommendations for social distancing. This study is recommending 12 feet.
  • Singing loudly or softly didn’t make a significant difference in droplet projection
  • They did not study aerosol dispersion or used masked/unmasked variants in this study.



Study Link –

Lead Researchers – Dr. Shelly Miller of the University of Colorado and Dr. Jelena Srebric of the University of Maryland

Important Quotes/Highlights:

  • “These preliminary results are from our few weeks of exploratory testing. They will be further defined as the study continues. We are providing these preliminary results to assist in the safe return to classrooms. (Normally we do not release data until they have been quality assessed and peer reviewed).”
  • “This study did not use a live virus or infected participants and therefore cannot be used to determine specific infection rates.”
  • Mask Graphic from study PDF:



  • After talking about efficiency/effectiveness of masks in keeping people safe, they say:
  • “These numerical findings need to be compared to actual experimental data as numerical simulations cannot replace experiments when studying new transport phenomena, especially the ones that threaten human life.”
  • “Performing arts activities have been found to create aerosol that is less than coughing, but more than talking. The following considerations are effective for music, speech, theatre and debate activities.”
  • Airflow matters significantly in aerosol build-up


Our Summary

  • This study is not complete.
  • This study is not peer-reviewed yet nor has its results been duplicated by other studies. It, therefore, cannot be deemed as scientifically reliable. It can inform our decision-making but should not be upheld as scientifically “true” until it meets more rigorous standards.
  • Singing and playing wind instruments is seems to be riskier than speech, however it is not as risky as coughing.
  • Masks make a difference, but masks must be fitted and worn properly.



As of today, we continue to err on the side of caution, not because we are fearful but because we are faithful. We believe that the health and lives of congregations across the U.S. are more important than any single act of music-making. God calls us to love and care for our neighbors. There will be a time we can sing together in our churches again, but the two studies referenced above do not provide scientific evidence that it is safe for a congregation to do so right now. They should give us hope, but they should not give us permission. The scientists leading the studies have said as much. So please reference these studies and continue to look for updates. But do not be fooled or allow yourselves to read those studies as scientific proof that there are risk-free ways of singing together.


For more resources and updates concerning COVID-19 and Singing, please go to:


Blogger Brian Hehn is the Director of

The Center for Congregational Song.



Last Sunday at my little congregation in Baltimore, the pastor decided that for the passing of the peace we would encourage people to say “peace be with you,” bow, wave, jazz hands…anything but touch. We made it clear that this was not out of panic, but out of thoughtful precaution. Although not hugging and shaking everyone’s hand at this small family-like church felt very strange, I think it was the right decision. Meanwhile, I’ve heard from many of you, especially in places like Washington state, where church services are being altogether canceled or substituted for online/streaming options with only the worship leadership team meeting in the same room. So what is the role of congregational song in all of this? Can singing together help? Is singing together even possible when we aren’t physically in the same place?

With the absence of human touch, it is easy to feel disconnected and unloved. For those congregations that are still meeting but are taking steps like not touching during the passing of the peace, we need to step up our congregational song game. One simple but powerful way to increase our personal connections through song is to ask people to look at each other while singing. Choose a song they know well (particularly something cyclical that they don’t have to look at a page to see lots of words) and after a few repetitions invite them to sing to each other. Looking each other in the eye while singing can be an extremely personal and moving experience.


Singing at Home

For those who are moving to an online/streaming option where most of your congregation will be worshiping from home, singing together becomes very difficult. But this can be an opportunity to reestablish the tradition of family hymn-singing in the home. Singing hymns with the family at home is an old devotional tradition that has largely be lost in America today. What if we took this opportunity to reclaim that tradition? Here are a few guidelines and ideas that might help re-establish this powerful singing tradition:

  • Tell people ahead of time that during the stream services they will be invited to sing with whoever they are with, whether it’s just themselves, their spouse and family, or their nursing home friends.
  • Set expectations. Things like:
    • We hope you will sing, even if you’re by yourself. While we can’t hear each other, God will hear our voices raising together.
    • It won’t sound like it normally does when we’re all together and that’s okay!
    • God commands us to sing unto the Lord and doesn’t mind if your voice is a little shaky or off-pitch. God delights in your voice because God gave it to you and only you.
    • Singing is an ancient Christian tradition. No virus or any other global crisis can keep God’s people from raising our voices in praise. By singing from home, we are engaging in an act of resistance, telling the world that no matter it throws at us we will be faithful to the God who casts out fear.
  • Have a hymnal or song-book team prepared to deliver books to your congregation. Let your people know that if they don’t have a hymnal at home or a song-book of some kind that they can contact the church office and someone will deliver it to their home. This is a great opportunity for your choir or praise team to serve. Also have a downloadable resource available if possible.
  • Have the music or lyrics prepared on your live-stream platform. Remember that people will have less support than they normally do for the congregational singing parts of your service. Providing them with more resources (like notation) than normal is important to set them up for success.
  • Choose songs that works well a cappella. This is where the great hymns of the past often excel. Simple melodies without big leaps, smaller melodic ranges, and less syncopation are all things that help make something more accessible to singers at home.
  • Choose songs that people know well. This is not a good time to choose new songs or try to teach. There’s enough uncertainty going around. Give people something to hold on to that is familiar and comforting. This is a time to lean on whatever songs and hymns that your people know and know well.
  • Finally, and this is important, have your leadership stop singing. Seriously. If a soloist is singing on the screen, people will be much more likely to just listen to it like a solo than to sing themselves. I challenge you to just play the accompaniment and not sing along, like a karaoke track. This will feel awkward to you in leadership. That’s ok…it’s not about you. It might work like this:
    • Friends, we’re now going to sing “it is well with my soul.” I’ll sing the stanza 1, but then we invite you at home to sing the remaining stanzas at home.
    • Sing stanza 1 with refrain.
    • Play stanzas 2-4 and only sing on the refrain. Have the music or “stanza 2” or something like that displayed on the screen so that people know where they are. Include the melody strongly on an instrument like the organ, flute, or other obbligato instrument.
  • Finally, follow-up with your people. Did they sing? What was their experience? How could it be improved. Make this a community effort to worship together while in diaspora. Let them know you’re there to support their song even when you’re not in the same room.


Singing for Others

There are times in our lives when we can’t do certain things. When we’re babies, our parents have to do pretty much everything for us. Until we get our driver’s license, we have to get driven around to our various events. When we’re young professionals we often need colleagues help to train us and teach us new procedures. When we’re older we often need help moving while downsizing, driving to doctor appointments, and so on. And then there are times when it is difficult to pray, such as when we’re grieving. The Apostle Paul reminds us that when we struggle to pray the Spirit prays for us. Likewise, when our congregation members find it difficult to sing, we can sing for them. This may be one of those times when your staff, worship team, and/or choir needs to step up their own singing game to sing for the congregation. While we must be careful that this doesn’t become a permanent replacement, it is good for us to take up the role of singing to the Lord on behalf of the congregation. This may be a time when more solos, choir anthems, and other “special music” is used instead of congregational song. Don’t apologize or lament this, name it. Take it up as a part of your mission for the church and handle it with respect, always ready to hand it back to the congregation when you are able to gather again.


Helpful Resources

Most popular hymns of all time as listed by

A Capella Sunday resources

Hymns in Times of Crisis – Free Download

Live-Streaming Copyright Guidelines


Prayer & Action

Every year the world seems to be in a new crisis: war/conflict, stock market crash, terrorist attack, or a global virus. It is in these situations where people are fearful or panicked that the church must step in to say “be not afraid.” We must be the voice of reason and peace. We must be the ones to say that violence is not acceptable, money is not God, and panicking out of fear is deadly. God has given us tools for dealing with idols and fear…things like preaching the gospel, prayer, and song. So tell people about Jesus, pray for peace and wholeness for this world, and sing with people.

The church must also help spread truth, not fiction. God has given us other tools and knowledge on how to live through global pandemics…things like hand sanitizer, common-sense health precautions, and global health experts to advise us. Use hand sanitizer, don’t go out when you’re sick, and listen to those knowledgeable about science and healthcare. In a time of fear and anxiety, let’s set the example on how to fact-check and spread thoughtfulness.

CDC Updates on COVID-19 (Corona Virus)
Johns Hopkins Article on COVID-19 (Corona Virus)

If you have other helpful ideas, resources, or thoughts, please use the comment section below to share.


Author Brian Hehn is the Director of The Center for Congregational Song.