The best ice breaker is something that may seem cheesy and embarrassing, but is actually quite effective: singing. According to a new study out of the University of Oxford, singing together in groups can help people bond more quickly than when sharing other activities, like creative writing or craft classes.

“Singing is found in all human societies and can be performed to some extent by the vast majority of people,” said senior author Dr. Eiluned Pearce, of the University of Oxford Department of Experimental Psychology, in a press release. “It’s been suggested that singing is one of the ways in which we build social cohesion when there isn’t enough time to establish one-to-one connections between everyone in a group. We wanted to explore whether there was something special about singing as a bonding behavior or whether any group activity would build bonds between members.”

Unlike arts and crafts, creative writing classes, sports, or board games, singing requires no external materials; it’s an activity that lies inherently within us. Everything we need to sing exists in our bodies and minds: our breath, vocal chords, and memories of melodies.

Over the course of seven months, the researchers divided participants into different groups that attended various courses — four involved singing, two were in crafts, and one was in creative writing. They measured the level of social bonding by giving the participants surveys in which they were asked how close they felt to their classmates. The results showed that over seven months, all of the classes instigated social bonding among classmates — but singing accomplished it the quickest.

“For every class, people felt closer to each other at the end of each two-hour session than they did at the start,” Pearce said in the press release. “At the end of seven months, all the classes were reporting similar levels of closeness. The difference between the singers and the non-singers appeared right at the start of the study… Singing broke the ice better than the other activities, getting the group together faster by giving a boost to how close classmates felt toward each other right at the start of the course.”

Past research has shown that music and singing can bond humans together, creating feelings of social inclusion and connectivity. Strong social networks can improve mental health and wellbeing. What's more, singing brings with it numerous health benefits, from stress relief and calmness among newborn preemies and mothers to protection against dementia and depression.

“Given that music-making is an important part of all human cultures throughout history we think it probably evolved to serve some purpose,” said Dr. Jacques Launay, an author of the study, in the press release. “Evidence suggests that the really special thing that music does for us is encourage social bonding between whole groups of people playing and dancing together.”

Source: Pearce E, Launay J, et al. Royal Society Open Science. 2015.