I’m often asked, “How does intentional music work? What is its mechanism from a scientific perspective?” In other words, “How does sound healing function?” To address this question, we should note that sound healing can be divided into two broad categories: one focusing on medical perspectives and the other on spiritual aspects.
Sound healing as a form of sound medicine includes the use of music and sound for brainwave entrainment (neuroacoustics), stress reduction, relaxation, mood improvement, and healing trauma.
The medicinal side of sound healing is well-studied scientifically. It’s well-documented that brainwave states can be influenced through sound and light machines, among other methods. The general stress-relieving benefits of ambient music have been shown to improve health conditions and generate positive immune responses. Additionally, there’s a field of research known as psychoacoustics that explores how our mood is affected by specific musical compositions. These subjects are quite fascinating, but I won’t delve into them here, as much material already exists on them. Instead, for this article, I want to delve deeper into the aspect of sound healing that involves more spiritual considerations.
This facet of sound healing often involves specific tuning systems, color-tone correspondences, and similar elements. Science hasn’t definitively shown that any particular note or frequency is inherently more beneficial than others. Research suggests that the healing benefits of music seem to stem more from personal taste and emotional reactions rather than specific tones or frequencies. Even research in neuroacoustics often uses somewhat arbitrary notes in studies, as long as the frequencies fall within the desired range. However, in sound healing, certain key signatures, musical modes, and tempos are often used intentionally. Sound healers also have preferences for specific tuning systems beyond just their aesthetic properties. For instance, solfeggio tones are commonly used; the tuning of A = 432 Hz is preferred over A at 440 Hz, and different temperaments like the Pythagorean or just intonation are chosen over standard equal temperament. This subject becomes quite complicated as it draws from various fields including music theory, mathematics, neuroacoustics, geometry, cosmology, and diverse spiritual belief systems.
The simple reason for choosing specific colors/tone systems or tuning systems, or composing in one key over another, is that it allows us, as musicians, to embed our prayerful intentions into the music more intricately, providing a particular color or emotional texture to the piece. But what does that really mean? Why would these specific choices make a difference?
To explore these questions, let’s first acknowledge that this area of sound healing is a type of speculative metaphysical art. Ideally, we could say, “This note resonates with a part of the endocrine system or nerve ganglia and stimulates the production of X happy hormones,” but the truth is, we don’t fully understand these connections. Some research points to relationships between color and sound, and there’s anecdotal evidence suggesting an impact from pitch. Nevertheless, some form of musical correspondence system for healing seems to have existed as long as music itself.
The Ancient Egyptians had a mystical musical tradition centered around the goddess Hathor. The Tibetans and Hindus practice chanting the “root” syllables of their languages, believing that these tones, when uttered correctly, promote healing and enlightenment. The practice of mantra yoga from the East uses specific chants to worship deities and induce ecstatic states. Indigenous shamanic traditions utilize chants and drumming to enter trance states, meet spirit animals, commune with guides, and connect with ancestors. For example, the Australian Aborigines had an entire animal language expressed through the didgeridoo. The sounds mimicking animal calls in its mesmerizing drone would evoke shared stories and experiences, and songs passed down through generations acted like maps, aiding navigation and survival in the outback. The Gregorian chants of the early Christian era used plainchant or monophonic textures in liturgical traditions, significantly influencing modern music theory. The mystical Kabbalistic tradition uses sound correspondences to invoke divine qualities and energies. Nearly every culture has some form of sacred music tradition, commonly using music to induce sacred experiences and intentionally evoke specific energy qualities.
In the early days of music theory, when the Greek Pythagoras of Samos pioneered acoustic physics and music theory, the natural world was considered part of a unified system of knowledge encompassing philosophy, ethics, cosmology, and mathematics. To understand one subject, students needed a deep understanding of all these areas, as each field supported and illuminated the others. This idea evolved into the Neoplatonic school of thought, which viewed music and its sacred relationship to numbers as keys to a deeper understanding of nature — a view that significantly influences my thinking and relationship to music. (written about here: pt. 1, pt.2, pt.3)
Today, with the internet popularizing many older musical and spiritual systems, people have combined elements from various traditions, creating an eclectic mix of sound healing principles and practices. While this enriches the sound healing culture, it can also lead to confusion, with conflicting perspectives and information often presented outside the context of the originating spiritual tradition. In my opinion, to truly benefit from a spiritual sound healing practice, it’s best to delve deeply into it, so its significance becomes clear and its methods become second nature. As the proverb goes, “Dig many holes, find no water; dig one hole deep enough, and you’ll find water.”
In this blog, I offer perspectives on speculative metaphysical practices and spiritual music. For those interested in a deep dive into the theory and practice used in Source Vibrations music, I’ll provide a glimpse into some of the correspondences I use. Although the Eastern system offers a rich cosmology aligned with the raga system of music, I have found the Western mystical tradition more accessible, likely due to my Western heritage and appreciation for Western music theory. Similar to Vedanta, where the Raga system originates, Kabbalah and Hermeticism, or what is broadly described as the Western esoteric tradition, provide a unitive cosmology that considers vibration a fundamental organizing principle of both mind and matter. This model of the universe, epitomized in the Tree of Life diagram, seeks to express a complete picture of natural laws operating in the human body, personality, and the world of form. At its heart lies the musica universalis – the music of the spheres, expressing celestial harmony in ratios and numbers. By meditating on the subtle patterns expressed in them, we gain a transcendental view of the laws and the inner structures shaping life’s outer forms.
In the Ragas of Indian classical music, music is regarded as having both spiritual and entertainment value. Its rich heritage has allowed its classical music system to develop alongside Hinduism. According to Hindu tradition, music delights and uplifts the human spirit due to its innate connection with the hidden harmonies of the transcendent level of Creation. Music is seen as a manifestation of the Divine, not created by people but discovered by them. The rules governing music’s structure are derived from nature’s laws, and discerning them has revealed the framework for improvisation in their system. The term “Raga” means “to dye,” “to color,” or “to tinge.” Playing music in one of the 72 melodic motifs of its system evokes specific feelings, coloring the mind and spirit of the audience.
However, no equivalent tradition is believed to exist in European classical music. This is partly because the raga system developed within a relatively continuous cultural and philosophical context, starting around 500 BCE, while European music evolved through various stylistic periods, each with distinct characteristics. The relationship between European classical music and spirituality, particularly within Western religious traditions, has undergone significant shifts over time. These shifts, influenced by religious, cultural, and philosophical changes, have led to a more fragmented relationship between music and spirituality, with no standardized system linking the spiritual roots of the Abrahamic faiths to today’s musical system.
For this reason, those seeking to incorporate spirituality into music’s structure have often turned to the Indian classical system. Yet, as I will argue, an equivalent system does exist in Western music, albeit in a dormant or hidden form awaiting discovery. To uncover this insight and retrieve it from the Western esoteric tradition’s vault, we must emulate what the ancient Vedic sages of India did as they pioneered their raga system. Fortunately, most of the groundwork has been laid by Kabbalistic sages. In the Tree of Life and the broader corpus of mystical teachings on ageless wisdom, the structures of natural law expressing holy harmonies are already present, awaiting translation into Western music theory.
In the following sections, we will touch on what might be considered the raga methodology of the West. As we explore the philosophy and cosmology of spiritual music of the Tree of Life.