“If music be the food of love, play on;
Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die.”
Shakespeare started Twelfth Night with his character Orsino saying these famous words. The meaning in this speech is that Orsino believed that if he had enough of what he craved he might beat the addiction, but we should all know that addictions don`t exactly work that way!
However, the belief that music can affect us at the level of our hearts and elevate our soul has been around for eons. We can easily get lost in a piece of favourite music, dancing with a loved one, flying off around the stars or playing virtual instruments.
Going back in time, music was so important to the ancient Greeks that it was one of only two compulsory subjects in education (the other being gymnastics). Music was a part of every spiritual occasion because it was known that music could induce states of religious ecstasy. In a different part of the world, the drum rhythms from native North America used in shamanic journeying are the same as those of modern popular music, especially ‘drum`n base’. There are definitely musical compositions which create a hypnotic effect or touch us at a soulful level and many types of religious music are designed to hold us in this sort of way.
Most of us have experienced the way music can affect our minds and moods. Music which we individually hear as `beautiful`, whether classical or popular, will create a good feeling. Music which we interpret as raucous, loud or `out of tune` can make us feel uncomfortable. Country and Western lyrics are quite often depressing as they connect with that part of our own narrative which has been painful in the past!
Science has now started to dismantle and analyse music to measure the effects it can have on us. Research has found that listening to the heavy metal genre raises heartrates, raises blood pressure which ultimately can be unhealthy. Mozart however is one of the most relaxing classical composers and his music is used in music therapy to help people with anxieties and physical health problems.
We now know that one of the ways music can affect us is through `entrainment`, our heat-beat tends to slow in the presence of a slow beat in music and our breathing tends to steady in the presence of a slow wave in a musical composition.
Recently, a competition for `the most relaxing tune ever` was won by a Manchester band called Marconi Union with a piece entitled `Weightless`. The band didn`t just write a piece that was vaguely relaxing, they actually collaborated with a leading sound therapist to build in all those elements which research has identified. These included a lack of melody, which allows the logical part of our brain to zone-out, drone sounds which induce a hypnotic affect along with random pleasant sounds. New Age and ambient music quite often includes some of these elements which is why we choose this sort of music for meditation and practices like yoga. However, not all dreamy music produces dreamy results and can be a disappointment.
We know that music affects our minds and our bodies, the evidence shows there is a psycho-acoustic effect on our brains effecting emotions and physical wellbeing. Can it really touch us at a soul level? Well, the universe we are familiar with is really ‘pure energy’ in a state of vibration. Sound is just another vibrational energy and in many Eastern religions sound is believed to be a basic building block of everything we perceive. Early christian music also uses sounds, tones and words that have a spiritual connection. It is my profound belief, as the writer, that it truly can affect us within a connection with the divine nature of our existence.
Different tones or notes can be associated with a more esoteric function too. For instance, ancient monks created a new musical scale called the Solfeggio frequencies which they used in their Gregorian chants. These notes are vested with healing properties too, with 396hz used for clearing guilt and 741hz used for awakening intuition.
So, is it possible to choose music for different environments? Absolutely! Not everyone responds to individual pieces of music in the same predictable way but you can generally fill spaces with sound and music which will enhance the environment. For meditation at home or for therapeutic spaces such as treatment rooms, use music with a beat of 50-60 beats per minute (bpm) to help entrain a busy heartbeat into a more relaxed state. For yoga and more physical modalities use sounds at 60-90 bpm. In addition to the underlying beat, look for suitable tones and notes applicable to the working situation.
Well chosen music can only enhance our individual lives, it can also create spaces of healing and relaxation.
John Shapter is a musician, writing and performing as Headzic, working with a mixture of live and electronic sounds. His music is designed for both people and spaces to touch mind, body and soul.
John Shapter, along with his wife June, is also an experienced practitioner in the use of gongs and singing bowls for creating live soundscapes with the intention for healing and journeying.