The use of sound and music to generate “healing” has a long history stretching back to the virtual beginnings of man.
Indigenous shamans and healers using instruments such as the human voice, drums, flutes and percussive instruments have been documented to alter brain states (i.e. the neural activity within the brain itself). These studies have shown, for instance, that certain drumming patterns can increase theta activity in the cerebral cortex, a brain state known to be connected with hypnagogic states of awareness, dream-like states of mind as well as states of unusual mental creativity.
Rocking the Right Side of your Brain
Research studies conducted on the neurological effects of sound have shown that the human brain responds to pure tone in highly specific ways. PET Scans, which measure glucose consumption at the cellular level, show that pure sound or music (without words) stimulate an increase of cellular activity in the right hemisphere.
Although both cerebral hemispheres of the brain process many different kinds of information, a simple division in tasking can be made.
While there are unique differences between the brains of individual humans, generally speaking, the left hemisphere processes language and logic.
The right hemisphere, on the other hand, does not “comprehend” language as such. However, the right hemisphere processes spatial information, paradox, novelty and non-verbal information in ways that the left hemisphere is incapable of. When stimulated, as in the use of pure sound or tone, there is often an increase in non-ordinary states of awareness. In these neurological states, our perception of reality (both internal and external) can be very different from our everyday experience. Our senses may become heightened or sensitive, more vivid or refined. It is not uncommon to have a more immediate experience of our inner mental and emotional life through the direct perception of our psychic drivers (i.e., our deeply seated emotions, fantasies, and archetypal conflicts or dramas) during these types of altered states.
In such instances, our unconscious mental/emotional material may present itself as internal imagery (dream-like images) or even internal dialogues. While our Western culture can be unconcerned with these deep emotional and mental states, numerous anecdotal reports from the lives of great scientists and artists indicate that these states of mind are gateways to our innate genius.
The Long-standing Link Between Sound And The Mind
For centuries music and sound have been used for “healing” and transformation. From the guttural chanting of ancient shamans to the lofty Gregorian chants of the cathedrals, sound and music have played a central role in the culture of humanity. Only recently have we begun to understand the physiological effects of sound and music on the brain. In the following section, we will discuss their background and ramifications in the technology of Psychoacoustics.
We know that music can play a crucial role in brain processing. The work of Dr. Lozanov in Bulgaria confirms this. He discovered that music at 60 beats per minute, as used in the Largo movements of Baroque music, increased alpha activity by 6% associated with relaxation and decreased beta activity (normal waking state) by 6%. Pulse slowed by an average of 4 divisions of mercury. Subjects reported a “relaxed awareness”.
In a study conducted by Dr. Sue Chapman at a New York City Hospital, the response of premature infants to music was studied. One group listened to Brahms’ Lullaby (stringed version) six times a day, while a control group listened to nothing. The group of infants who listened to Brahms gained weight faster, had fewer complications and were released from the hospital an average of a week earlier than those babies who did not listen to Brahms.
From the perspective of Psychoacoustics, it is very clear. The architecture of the music, the rhythm, and the timbre all created changes in brain processing through stimulation of the auditory pathways. These changes in the infants’ brain processing greatly reduced their stress levels, thereby allowing their natural “healing” abilities to engage more efficiently than those in the control group.
How Musical Vibrations Shape a Language
The vibratory nature of sound and music creates a language which the body and mind understand. By language we do not mean “words,” we mean “information.” Indeed our word “information” comes from the Latin stem “informare” which means form or shape. From this perspective, music is a process of changing acoustic shapes and forms. If you were to look at the shapes and forms made by music you would see organic shapes reminiscent of mountains, valleys, trees, microorganisms, and galaxies.
The study of the shapes created by music and sound is called Cymatics, and has resulted primarily from the work of two men: Dr. Hans Jenny and Dr. Guy Manners. These researchers have collected numerous photographs of cymatic patterns which are made by sending sound vibrations through a metal plate covered with various resonant mediums, such as iron filings or sand. In some cases, a tonoscope was used which records the patterns electronically. These studies show that music does indeed create a kind of language.
As with all language, there is the concept of syntax. Normally syntax is a term reserved for written or spoken speech. It refers to the order in which words appear. If you change the order of words in a sentence, you change the meaning. This concept can also be extended to music. If you scramble the notes in a musical composition, you have changed it. The order of the information (notes) in music is just as crucial as the order of the information (words) in speech. When we think of sound and music as a language or sets of information, we see new possibilities for understanding its effects on the brain/mind.
Removing Ancient Sound Practices Resulted in Depression
Music also has a profound impact on emotional problems and learning difficulties, as shown by the work of Dr. Tomatis in France. It is quite interesting how Dr. Tomatis got involved in his work with Sound Therapy. Somewhat early in his studies, he was called to a Benedictine monastery outside of Paris. The monks were depressed and were having trouble eating and sleeping. Dr. Tomatis was asked to find the cause of their ailments. In the course of his explorations, he discovered that the Abbey had recently acquired a new abbot. The new father prided himself on being a modern man and, considering the Gregorian chants too medieval, he had ordered the monks to stop chanting.
Without knowing it, the abbot had taken away a primary form of brain stimulation for the monks. When Dr. Tomatis had the abbot reinstate the chanting, the depression lifted, and the monks were fine. This incident led Dr. Tomatis to study the effects of sound on the brain. In the course of his work, he discovered the effects of high frequencies on brain processing, emotional problems, and blocks to learning.
At the Beckman Research Institute in Duarte, California, noted geneticist Dr. Ohno has ascribed musical notes to each of the six amino acids that make up the DNA code. Dr. Ohno has been able to transcribe the “music” made by the DNA helixes in living things. These sound patterns are not random, but, actually, make melodies. In one of his experiments, he transcribed the melody of a particular type of cancer. The melody had an uncanny similarity to a piece of music written in the 17th century—Chopin’s Funeral March. Had Chopin “intuited” this melody from nature itself?
Understanding the Physiological Impacts of Music and Sound
The importance of sound and music on brain processing is significant to the field of Psychoacoustics. By looking at the changes in brain states and behaviors elicited through sound, language, and music, we can more fully understand these phenomena. Psychoacoustics is in its infancy, and we are only now beginning to understand the precision in which sound patterns can affect the brain and cellular processes. It is an exciting time and Acoustic Brain Research (ABR) is committed to the scientific exploration and understanding of Psychoacoustic theory and technology.
While our ability to understand and create language is a vital component of our human experience, there are other valuable aspects of our intelligence that are not generally recognized by our culture as having intrinsic value.
The irony, here, is that history is full of instances where scientific breakthroughs occurred when scientists engaged right hemispheric abilities to “see” situations and opportunities in novel ways.
One of my favorite stories in this regard concerns the German chemist Kekule who was struggling with the structure of the benzene ring.
One night, exasperated from not having been able to determine the structure of this particular molecule, he had a truly strange dream in which he saw a snake swallowing its tail.
There are several things I find interesting here. One is that Kekule’s dream of a snake swallowing its tail was actually an ancient alchemical symbol called the Uroborus (or Ouroboros), sometimes associated with self-reflexivity as in the sense of something re-creating itself.
Kekule awoke from his dream and “knew” that this was the structure of benzene. What made Kekule a genius, rather than someone who simply had an unusual dream, was his ability to “translate” the spatial images from his intuitive right hemisphere into the language of his left hemisphere, i.e. logic and mathematics.
As an interesting side note, at least one historian has noted that Kekule was not the first person to have discovered the benzene ring. However, who discovered what and when does not have much bearing on Kekule’s dream itself. Kekule maintained that the dream-born image was unquestionably instrumental in his creative problem-solving process.
The Power Of Music to Enhance Human Capabilities
Neuropsychology has clearly demonstrated that we use only a small portion of our brain/mind’s potential. One reason for this has to do with the simple fact that our brains only build new neurological networks when they are challenged in new ways.
In 1983, I began my work in Psychoacoustics with ABR to study the effects of sound and music on the brain as a means to enhance human potential in the areas of creativity and high genius.
Based on this research and my own experiences with sound-based technology, I am convinced that altered states of consciousness are a powerful key to unlocking much of our unused potential. And as a technology to assist us, sound and music are unparalleled.
I invite you to experience the power of sound and music to affect altered states of consciousness for yourself.
Find out how Research Shows the Health Benefits of Music.