September 05th 2005 - We find common elements in the music of many cultures, such as the 5 note pentatonic scale, that point to something that crosses boundaries of culture and language, and separations of countless years. This ‘something’ is the innate commonality of sound and music’s universal effectiveness upon us. Sound and music have been used since time began to lull babies to sleep, to relax and heal the body, to aid in prayer and meditation and bring humanity through a dynamic range of emotions.
Sound and music are an integral part of our self; science shows us that it is more basic to our nature then we could have imagined. Our body uses sound as a communication system, carrying emotions and vital controls throughout the body. Through the conscious use of music and sound we can uncover our conflicts and resolve them, and come into deeper contact with our emotions. We can choose different instruments to direct the sound to specific parts of the body or to enter into altered states of consciousness where we transcend time and space. Much has been written about the marvelous and sublime experiences we can have with music, but how are these marvels actually created inside of us?
Science now knows that specific regulatory processes which take place in the body are controlled by sound. Ligands, often known as transmitters, and receptors, which are the sensing molecules on the surface of the cells, regulate digestion, stimulate growth, activate emotional responses, and key the endorphin response and hormonal activities. The traditional model is that the ligand is the key and the receptor is the keyhole into which only that shaped key will fit. The insertion of the key into the lock is started by sound, more specifically, sound wave patterns known as solitons, which start a resonant vibration in the ligand and receptor allowing the key to unlock the cell. In her book Molecules of Emotion, Head of medical research at Georgetown University, Candice Pert says, “Ligand and receptor striking the same note…. opening the doorway to the cell”.
James Oschman, biophysicist and author of Energy Medicine, speaks about crystalline structures in the body which generate the solitons mentioned above. Sounds travel in the body through the connective tissue, the largest organ in the body. This tissue forms a continuous network that reaches all parts of the body and into the cells, surrounding each muscle fiber, blood vessel and organ. Usually the connective tissue is flexible and sound can travel through it freely, but many times based on early trauma or unresolved emotion there is tensing in the body, creating spaces which get filled in by connective tissue. When the tissue fills in a space it becomes thicker and unable to hold the same amount of water. This causes it to dry out and become inflexible so when sound arrives there the area is unable to vibrate freely. These blockages not only impair the fluidity of our emotions and expression, but also affect other systems in the body, creating imbalances on mental and physical levels from depression to cancer.
With these observations as to how sound affects us at a profound level we begin to see how powerful the tools of music and sound truly are. Sounds which enter the body are of a much higher volume and energy level than those produced internally and therefore are much more effective at putting the hardened tissue back into uninhibited movement which will start to bring back the moisture and soften it again. Before we pursue this further, let us briefly examine types of sound.
There are basically 3 different kinds of sounds within our audible range; each tends to create a different kind of movement in the system. They are known as linear, non-linear and pure sounds. Linear sounds are produced by the voice and most orchestral instruments- strings, woodwinds, brass, etc... ‘Linear’ refers to the regular and predictable order of the different frequencies or harmonics that are contained in these sounds. Linear sounds tend to create harmony, balance and coherence in the body. Non- linear sounds are produced by drums, most percussion instruments, Tibetan and crystal bowls and the Australian Aboriginal instrument, the didgeridoo. ‘Non-linear’ refers to the unpredictable or chaotic pattern of the harmonics or frequencies that are contained in these sounds. The effect on us is to activate or break up tension. Pure sounds are produced by tuning forks, tone generators and some chimes. These sounds consist of a single frequency and are as nearly as possible free of harmonics. They can be used in precise patterns to create relaxation or release. There are instruments which produce both linear and non-linear sound. The piano, for example, depending of how it is played, can create different kinds of effects for the listener.
Regardless of the type of sound, generally those sounds with higher frequencies tend to resonate in the upper part of the body and lower frequencies tend to resonate in the lower part of the body.
With this understanding of how sound affects us, let return to music. From the musical thrills typical of listening to classical music to the tunes played by Pythagoras on his lyre to calm an arsonist we have example after example of music bringing forth emotional feelings. The well-known opening bars to Beethoven’s fifth symphony, sometimes described as ‘fate knocking at the door’, often produces a feeling of activation and power. The simple melodies of Gregorian Chant normally create feelings of spiritual connection with God and aid in meditation and prayer. Contemporary music falls well outside of classical music expectations and can therefore help to broaden our mental horizons.
By listening to different types of music in a conscious way we can experience a whole range of emotions. To do this we must first put aside our musical expectations, these expectations will cause us to judge a particular music as good or bad and prevent us from truly experiencing the communication of the music. An interesting exercise to experience the overall focus or communication of a composer or artist is to listen to the complete works or songs over a period of a week or month or longer, depending on how many there are. For example, listening to the 9 symphonies of Beethoven provides a journey through a wide range of emotions, light to dark, whereas the music of the Beetles will activate a smaller range of feelings and emotions perhaps to a greater depth.
We have described here common reactions or feelings which are evoked by these different genres of music, but why sometimes do we experience reactions that are so far removed from the typical reactions mentioned above? Each of us will experience a piece of music differently depending sometimes on our cultural background or past musical experiences but what causes extreme rejection or discomfort while listening to certain types of music or instruments? If we return to the blockages in the connective tissue, as music begins to touch them often the unresolved emotion that was stored there at the time of the tension will start to come out again. Especially if the volume is too loud, these feelings can be overwhelming and cause us to totally reject that piece, instrument or an entire genre of music. This does not mean that the music is bad for us or that there is anything wrong with it. It simply means that it is touching something. Over the last 25 years in our work with sound and music we have seen this phenomena repeated again and again.
One man here in Spain, for example, couldn’t listen to Gregorian Chant. He got very nervous every time his wife put it on. His initial reaction was, “That’s bad for me.” When we explained the fact that the music was activating a sensitive point for him emotionally, he began to be interested in what he would feel if he listened more consciously. He listened as in the exercise mentioned in the box and very soon remembered a time from his childhood where he was obligated to sit and study for long hours. He lived next to a monastery where monks were singing Gregorian Chant so he heard the chanting at the same time. He unconsciously associated the singing with the unpleasantness of sitting for long hours over his books. When he made the connection to the memory, his experience to the chanting changed completely and he was able and eager to listen, gaining great pleasure from the simplicity of the chant and the feeling of peace he now felt. Through the conscious use of music he was able to begin to use it full potential to create an effect in his life. With the high levels of stress people experience in modern time music can have a more vital role than ever before.
In these pages we have explored how sound is used by the body to activate both biological and emotional reactions. We have begun to understand how great a tool music can be in our lives particularly when we use it consciously. But we have only scratched the surface of its uses.
In closing, music and sound are all around and within us. They are wonderful and unique tools to come into deeper contact with ourselves. Whether used to accompany dances, to heal, to relax, to pass the time, to take our imagination to a far away place, to help us work, to entertain us, music touches so many moments in our lives. Sound and music are both guides to and methods for enhancing our lives. We can begin this enhancement simply by truly listening and feeling. In the modern age of continual stress and change, we as a society need now more than ever the age old magic and power of music.
Box # 1
There are basically 3 different kinds of audible sounds- pure, linear and non-linear.
The following is a general guide to where these sounds resonate in the body:
Pure Sound (precise patterns to create relaxation or release) = Nucleus (Nervous system)
Non- Linear Sounds (activate or break up tension) = primarily pelvis and legs - higher tuned bowls can resonate higher
Linear Sounds (create harmony, balance and coherence in the body) = whole body - within linear sounds different tone colors or timbres resonate at different depths of the body:
Core to midway = brass instruments
Midway to surface = strings, woodwinds
Surface = piano and other keyboards
Note: In order to prevent overdose of the breaking effects of non-linear sounds produced by Tibetan and crystal bowls, didgeridu, drums and gongs it is important to integrate the movement through the use of linear or pure sounds such as the voice, flutes or tuning forks, etc.
The Conscious Use of Music- Listening Exercise (Time: +/- 15 minutes)
Sometimes we feel great rejection for certain types of music or instruments. These are usually caused by blockages in the connective tissue which do not allow sound waves to flow through us. This exercise can help to begin to clear those blockages and reestablish a natural movement.
Posture: Sit straight but relaxed in a comfortable chair with your eyes closed. Have your feet on the floor with pillows or cushions. It is better not to lie down or cross you arms or legs.
1. Start by listening for 5 minutes to your favorite music at whatever volume you like.
2. Next, put on at a low volume the music you have had a strong reaction to. While you listen, breathe deeply and be open to the movement and feelings created by the music. Put aside your musical expectations and any judgment you might have about the music. Listen for about 5 minutes, if you can, and allow the music to flow through you. If the uncomfortable sensations become too strong, simply stop listening and go on to step 3.
Variation: for rejection to strongly rhythmic music such as rock, put the music on at a low volume and stand about 3 ½ meters away from the speakers. Allow the music to enter your system and slowly walk closer to the speakers letting your body move or sway spontaneously. After a minute or so, back away until your body stops the spontaneous movement. Then move forward again, then back. Continue until 5 minut
es have elapsed. Proceed to step 3.
3. Play again your favorite music at whatever volume you wish until you feel centered again.
Afterwards, briefly make a note of any physical sensations, feelings, memories, thoughts, images or emotions you experienced. This will help to complete the listening exercise for you.
Note: Repeat the exercise as often as needed until you are able to feel the music’s effect without discomfort.
Arden and Jack Wilken are the creators of INNER SOUND (1978), an original system of sound therapy and therapeutic music. The School for INNER SOUND in Barcelona offers a wide range of both distance and presence courses in the conscious use of music and sound for both personal and professional use. www.innersoundonline.com Tel: 34 629739619
School for INNER SOUND- Sound Therapy
2542 Westlake Ave North, #9
Seattle, WA 98109