The Healing Power of Music (updated)

The Healing Power of Music (updated)

Marion M. Gough

Updated Mar 31, 2006


When music "speaks" our emotions "listen." We have bypassed the intellect and thus have a greater unique power to heal. In this article, we will explore what the characteristics of music are that can provide this power to heal. The effects of the elements of music upon our brain will be addressed. Our reactions to music can vary because of our different emotional makeup and cultural backgrounds. The effects of choice of music upon healing; and techniques to empower healee and healer will be discussed.

The entire universe is vibration; those vibrations that we `hear’ are sounds. "Every sound has a physical effect upon your body. Sound is very important. It's the physical part of the spiritual" (Goldner, 1999). During any day there are many sounds, but all sounds, of course, are not music.

Noise and Music

There are three types of typical noise. All three types of noise can be translated into musical tones. What is created is stochastically composed fractal music based on the different types of noises. The first type is white noise, considered the most restful - such as waterfalls, the ocean, or other nature sounds. However, white noise when written in musical notation using a random process in the computer is perceived as being too random. The third type of noise is Brownian motion or a random walk. Brownian music is perceived to be too correlated.

The most interesting type of noise is the second or intermediate type of noise. This type of noise has remained a mystery after more than 60 years of investigation. It is called 1/f noise where f stands for the frequency of vibration, and represents a very easily found fluctuation in nature. For example, it is found in many physical systems like vacuum tubes and semiconducting devices; in all time standards from the most accurate atomic clocks and quartz oscillators to the ancient hour-glass; in ocean flows and the changes in yearly flood levels of the river Nile as recorded by the ancient Egyptians; and in the small voltages measurable across nerve membranes.

One of the most exciting discoveries was that music has about the same mix of randomness and predictability as 1/f noise. If a musical score is taken and lines drawn between successive notes of the melody, a graph appears that is very similar to that produced by 1/f noise. When 1/f noise is converted into music it turned out to be the most pleasing and closest type of noise to actual music. In fact it was found that all the music we are used to hearing falls into a "1/f" pattern. There is little to distinguish the measurements on widely different types of music from each other or the "1/f" noise. The pitch fluctuations of the Ba-Benzele Pygmies, traditional music of Japan, classical ragas of India, folk songs of old Russia, medieval music up to 1300, Beethoven's 3rd symphony, Debussy's piano works, Richard Strauss' ein Heidenlebe, to the Beatles and American blues, are all amazingly similar in their correlations to 1/f noise. (Peitgen and Saupe, 1988, pp. 40-43)

Music and Mathematics

The foundation of modern science is mathematics. Yet we do not know why mathematics can map the physical world so accurately. Interestingly, there is a common link between music and mathematics that goes back to the time of Pythagoras. Also, Joseph Fourier showed that all sounds, vocal and instrumental, simple and complex, can be described in mathematical terms (Kline, 1952).

Many mathematicians are also great musicians, such as Ramanujan of India. A possible reason why mathematics and music have such power is that pure mathematics, “sacred” music and other “secular” music with spiritual effects are all intuited from the Absolute, the Generative Ground, the Source. This is what both great mathematicians and musicians are tapping into. (Gough, W.C. & Shacklett, Subtle Energies, 1993, pp. 68-70).

Ramanujan, never trained and with limited education, is recognized today as one of the greatest mathematicians. He discovered formulas and theories with not a hint of where they came from. (Peterson 1990). Mozart was a musician who could “intuit” his music, writing a whole symphony in just a few days. (Jourdain 1997). Paul Hindemith, a German musician, calls a composer a “seer,” someone who may see the whole composition at once, just as we can clearly see an entire landscape when it is illuminated by a flash of lightning (Hindemith, 1952).

Music is the mind’s direct connection to the vibrations of the Source, since the whole universe is made up of vibrations. This is why music has the power to heal. “The way music heals is that it brings the body and its cells into coherence. Music sets up a resonance between the parts of the body and the whole universe” (Brown, 2000).

Sound, Color and Symbols

Sound, color, and symbols, though usually considered different, are all the same at the absolute. Our brain sorts them out for our benefit. But there is a group of people who don’t sort or separate sounds from colors and symbols or patterns so easily. They experience the phenomenon known as synesthesia, seeing colors when music is played, and hearing music when seeing colors or a beautiful painting! Taste also produces colors and sounds for some people.

For example, French composer Oliver Messiaen attributes his success to synesthesia, saying, “Whenever I hear music or read music, I see colors…the piece I composed about Bryce Canyon is red and orange…the color of the cliffs.” Alexander Scriabin, the Russian composer, wrote a piece called Mysterium in which he wanted to combine an orchestra, dance, light, and scents. He also cataloged his color-note associations, saying that C sharp was violet, while the note E was “pearly white.” David Hockney, British painter, says his sets for the New York Opera were inspired by synesthesia. “When it came time to paint the tree for Ravel, I put on the tree music from the opera, and it had a certain weight and color…” (Lemley, 1999).

Elements of Music

Just as mathematics has been powerful in mapping the physical world, so music maps the inner world of mind and soul. As was stated, not all sound is music. To be called music, sound has to have these four elements: (1) rhythm, (2) melody, (3) harmony and (4) tone color (timbre). These could be divided into ten or more other elements or dimensions, but for clarity these basic elements will be discussed.

RHYTHM is the first of the musical elements. Music probably started with the beating of a drum. Some very old cultures have a music of rhythm alone. Rhythm has such a powerful and direct effect upon us that its primal origins are felt. There is a close relationship between physical work patterns, bodily movements and basic rhythms. Rhythm expresses physical motion (Copland, 1952, pp.34-35).

MELODY, the second element, is a variety of musical tones in succession. It may be long and flowing, with low and high points of interest, and of satisfying proportions. But most important, its expressive quality arouses an emotional response within the listener. (Copland, 1952, pp.50-51). Melody expresses mental and heart motion.

HARMONY is the third element and evolved gradually, coming in around the 9th century. When several musical tones or notes are played together, they are called chords. Playing several musical tones together can create harmony. Harmony is the study of chords and their relationship to one another. It is one of the most amazing inventions of man. The history of harmonic development shows a continually changing picture. Daring new harmonies and techniques came in during the “harmonic revolution” of the first part of the 20th century, but our ears are gradually enabled to assimilate chords of greater complexity and dissonance (Copland, 1952, pp.62, 71-77).

TONE COLOR (TIMBRE), the fourth element, is the quality of sound of certain instruments or the voice—the difference between a clarinet and cello or soprano and bass. For example, if a screen were put over the stage, it would be easy to recognize the difference between the string section and the wind section of an orchestra, or between a xylophone and a gong in a Gamelan orchestra of Indonesian music. These examples make it quite clear that recognizing tone color is an innate sense most people are born with. Today there are huge resources and unlimited possibilities for variations in tone color because of newly invented instruments, electronic instruments, and computers (Copland, 1952, pp.78-79).

These elements—rhythm, melody, harmony and tone color—are mixed together to create the many facets or dimensions of different kinds of music. Some of that music will be healing music.

Music's Psychological Effects

An experiment conducted by The Institute of HeartMath is illustrated by Figure 4: Music’s Effects on Psychological States. It shows clearly how different types of music affect a person’s body and psychological/emotional states. Two groups participated, an adult group and a teenage group. The four types of music used were classical, New Age, designer music (music written specifically to bring up and enhance positive emotional states), and grunge rock.

Listed at the bottom of Figure 4 are the positive qualities of caring, mental clarity, relaxation and vigor. Then the last four qualities are negative: hostility, fatigue, sadness and tension. The numbers on the abscissa show the percent of change the music has on the emotions.

It can be clearly seen that grunge rock increases the negative qualities of hostility and tension by almost sixty percent, whereas with classical and New Age music those feelings are shown below the zero percent line, i.e. are reduced. Designer music clearly shows the highest readings for the states of caring, mental clarity, relaxation, and vigor; New Age is also almost up to the 20 percent line in relaxation and leads to a decrease in tension. Classical also produces relaxation and is used in hospitals (McCraty, R., 1998, pp.75-81).

This study shows how music—and designer music in particular—can reduce stress, fatigue, and negativity. Since there is a connection between attitudes, emotions and health, these results indicate that music can be an inexpensive, easy and enjoyable way of facilitating stress reduction (McCraty, R., 1998, p.84).

Music's Physiological Effects

Music affects not only the psychological state, but also the autonomic nervous system (ANS) and the immune system. It’s known that negative states such as grief or anger can suppress the immune system. The Institute of HeartMath did another experiment on these effects of music on immunity. They measured levels of IgA using saliva samples. Saliva was used as a diagnostic fluid (McCraty, 1996). IgA is defined as an indicator for the strength of the immune system (Malamud, 1993).

Figure 5, Music’s Effect on S-IgA , shows the IgA concentration and the percentage of change in the bottom row of numbers. The three types of music used were rock, designer (using Heart Zones CD), and New Age. Then the bottom two lines of the graph show the Heart Lock-in and the Heart Lock-in combined with the Heart Zones CD. It’s clear that using the Heart Lock-in technique of focusing one’s thoughts on appreciation and love with the Heart Zones Designer music gives the highest concentration of IgA. In fact, IgA increases 50 to 55 percent. This shows how sincere, positive thoughts and intentions combine with music to create a significant healing effect.

Music has effects on our body chemistry. The proteins in our bodies are the information substances. Within the proteins are peptides; they are the messenger molecules, or “molecules of emotion.” The receptors are the cell’s receivers.

Cells are biochemical factories that produce behavioral chemicals. Those chemicals can produce peaceful, restful, calm behavior or angry, destructive behavior (Pert, 1997). For instance, after a summer Rave concert using heavy metal music, police had to be called when most of the audience began destroying stores in the local Sunnyvale, CA shopping mall. (San Jose Mercury News, 2000).

Music changes the peptides that change emotions and thus the immune system. Another study by HeartMath Institute has shown if grunge rock music is played, cortisol and adrenalin are produced. These are stress hormones for the immune system. Conversely, if a person listens to designer music (in this case the CD Speed of Balance was used) for one month, DHEA will go up 100%. DHEA is a hormone necessary for the proper functioning of the immune system (McCraty, 1998, p.76).

Path of Music in the Body

Figure 6 shows the vagus nerve and its connection to the internal organs. Sound/music enters the eighth and tenth cranial nerves. These carry sound impulses through the ear to the brain. Motor and sensory impulses are then sent along the vagus nerve to the throat, larynx, heart and diaphragm. The vagus nerve and the emotional responses to the limbic system (part of the brain) are the link between the ear, the brain, and the autonomic nervous system (ANS). This may be an important factor in how and why music works in treating physical and emotional disorders (Goldberg Group, 1997). This illustrates how the body signals its organs—by the fast process of electrical signaling.

Enhancing the Healing Pattern of Music

For the person being healed

Music can be enhanced for the person being healed in the following ways:

(1) The person needing to be healed can use the power of their own inner music, i.e., their own natural voice, in toning, singing, and chanting. The human voice is the most expressive instrument, surpassing any one of the instruments in the orchestra. The voice is the physical aspect of spirit. The story of the melancholy monks illustrates the power of chanting. Because a group of monks had become listless, fatigued, and mildly depressed, Dr. Alfred Tomatis was summoned to their Benedictine monastery in France. (Tomatis is a French physician who has had a revolutionary impact on the understanding of the ear, listening, and music.) The monks’ physical symptoms had no clear cause, but Tomatis felt the symptoms resulted from eliminating Gregorian chant from the daily routine. He believed the chanting had slowed down breathing, lowered blood pressure, and upped the monks’ mood and productivity. Therefore, Tomatis returned the monks to several hours a day of chanting. The effect was dramatic. Within six months, they were again vigorous and healthy. (Campbell 1997). Using one’s voice in chanting or singing sacred music is a way to be in touch with the Source, the Absolute, or God.

(2) The whole body can be used by the person being healed. Exercise or dance movements can be done with music. I improvised graceful modern dance movements to the harp music of Georgia Kelly. This was done to help myself heal from the disease of hyperthyroidism. When my thyroid problem was healed in February, 1999, friends commented that my voice had changed and that it had more energy in it.

(3) Adding frequencies back into the body or voice is a new technique. Sherry Edwards, Mona Oyos, and others have done experiments based on the theory that your body will absorb the frequencies it needs. They do spectral analysis on a person’s voice to determine which frequencies that person might need. By using certain specific musical tones, you can replace the missing frequencies in your voice!

(4) Besides use of the voice and body, there are group effects that can enhance the healing power of music for the person being healed. Groups have non-local linkages. For example, a jazz combo playing together—they know if they do it right; they’ve done something well, and it’s exciting. The Grateful Dead created an environment where a broad range of emotions could be expressed. When they played, the transformational power of the music was felt. As Mickey Hart, the famous leader and drummer of the band said, “You get in touch with something else” (Hart, 1999). What they are in touch with is the Absolute—they’ve all got the same goal, they’re not thinking. They are just getting it together as a unit, and it’s very exhilarating.

For a healer:

A healer can enhance the healing power of music. Evoking a person’s cellular memory should be considered when choosing the music to be played. This is also discussed in a paper given by me at the 12th International Conference on Shamanism and Alternative Medicine; it concerns a music class for older adults at DeAnza College, using popular songs from the 30s, 40s and 50s (Gough, M. M., 1995).

For example, if I played “The Anniversary Waltz,” “Amazing Grace,” or “When You Walk Through a Storm,” for a group of older adults, at least a few of those people would have had a very moving experience with those songs. They are would have deep emotional reactions to the music because of their cellular memories. The melodies would bring back vivid images of meaning to them. As William Gough has discussed, this is “qualia” or subjective experience, which they are tapping into (Gough, W., 2000 28-29).


In conclusion, music is a “carrier wave” for healing thoughts, emotions, and intentions. It’s important that the healer thinks no negative thoughts but instead has a positive attitude with the intention to heal (Weir, 1985).

Just playing the right music will be healing, but as shown in Figure 5, if you add positive thoughts, emotions and intentions, the healing process will have an even greater possibility of success.

About the author

Marion Gough is an Officer, Secretary, and on the Board of Directors for the Foundation for Mind-Being Research. She is a member of the California Teacher’s Association and has recently retired as a music teacher at the DeAnza College. She is a pianist and a piano teacher and continues to pursue research into music therapy, sound and healing. She writes, “As a teacher, you often cannot see the effects of your work—like so many of life's best things, they are invisible.”


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Copyright © 2003, Foundation for Mind-Being Research, Inc, All Rights Reserved
This paper was previously published in the Proceedings of the 17th International Conference on the Study of Shamanism and Alternative Modes of Healing, Santa Sabina Center, San Rafael, CA. Sept. 2-4, 2000. Republished with the kind permission of Dr. Ruth-Inge Heinze, Conference Coordinator and Editor, University of California, Berkeley, CA: and the Independent Scholars of Asia, Inc."

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