Notes on Sound Healing

by Steven Halpern

For thousands of years, cultures throughout the world have used the powers of music to heal the body, mind and spirit. Five hundred years ago, the therapeutic role of music was eclipsed by its role as entertainment. Only recently has the field of sound healing emerged into full-scale public awareness. For the first time, books and recordings promoting the healing potential of music are best-sellers.

Studies have shown that music can reduce stress, enhance immune system function, slow down and balance brain wave activity, reduce muscle tension, increase endorphin levels, and evoke feelings of love and inner peace.

There is so much conflicting information, however, that many people are more confused than ever. How can you make sense of it all? Even more importantly:
How can you harness the healing powers of sound and music for yourself?
This overview will help you tune into information and resources that can make a wonderful contribution to your life, Here are several basic considerations to get started:

1. Your body is a self-healing instrument — if you give it a chance. It is genetically pre-programmed to heal itself. In my opinion, certain music heals by assisting the body to come into its natural state of balance and harmony. At this stage of research and development, it is both politically incorrect and legally irresponsible to state that a specific selection of music will heal a specific physical disease.

2. Although there are many paths to healing, the common denominator in the vast majority of approaches acknowledges that the body heals itself most effectively in a state of deep relaxation.

3. Using music to evoke “the relaxation response” is one of the simplest and most effective ways of all — but you must choose the right music. (Most music was not composed for this purpose.)

Although we are all individuals, we also share certain vibrational and structural factors. Two concepts are paramount in the ways that we respond to sound (by the way, they are not contingent on your personal taste or favorite style of music):

Rhythm Entrainment
1. The most powerful effect of music is our physical response to “the beat.” The phenomenon known as “rhythm entrainment” describes how an external rhythmic stimulus, such as a ticking clock, drum or pulse in a musical composition, involuntarily causes your heartbeat to match its speed. For example, a fast rhythm inexorably produces a fast heartbeat and pulse — the complete antithesis of relaxation.

For most people, trying to relax while listening to fast music is like driving a car with one foot on the brake and the other on the gas pedal — you will not get satisfactory results and will waste a lot of energy trying!

“The Anticipation Response”
. The second factor relates to our mental response:
We have been culturally conditioned to follow melodic, harmonic and rhythmic patterns in music. When we listen to most compositions, we are unconsciously hooked into following the structure — and projecting that structure into the future.

There is a basic principle in life that states: “Energy follows thought.” If you are paying attention to something outside of you, less energy will be available for internal healing purposes.

In my workshops, I demonstrate this “paralysis of analysis” by singing the first seven notes of the scale: Do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti- … and then I pause. I do not finish the scale! It is a delight to watch people holding their breath, or hear them actually singing the note aloud. They feel “too stressed” to leave the pattern of notes unfulfilled. This approach to tension and resolution is the basis for most Western classical compositions — precisely why it is unsuitable in most cases for evoking relaxation.

In my own compositions, the listener is not manipulated in this fashion. Rather, as the mind’s analytical mode shuts down, you are free to be in the “hear and now” with the music.

How Does Music Heal?
We are only now getting closer to a full understanding. Music affects us physically, psychologically, emotionally and spiritually. All we can say with certainty is that our responses to music are far more complex, subtle and far-reaching than we imagined.

Recall the parable about the blind men and the elephant: Each is sure they know the “truth” about an elephant’s nature, based on their perception of the trunk, the leg, or the tail. None of them sees the big picture.

Until recently, researchers have generally focussed on easily observable physical effects, such as changes in blood flow through the fingertips or the speed of muscle reactions. We are now opening new vistas in the understanding of blood chemistry, the release of endorphins, and the connections between neuropeptides and emotions. The work of Dr. Gordon Shaw and associates has progressed far beyond their initial investigations into the apocryphal “Mozart Effect.”

The new branches of science and medicine, such as electromedicine and magnetotherapy, build upon the insights of Einstein, Planck and Eisenberg. Many experts now recognize the existence of the “energy anatomy” which underlies the physical anatomy and is every bit as real.

Research into the finer subtle energies is progressing on many fronts. Dr. William Tiller, Dr. Hiroshi Montoyama, Dr. Glen Rein, Dr. Ellen Kamhi and many others are leading the way into the future. They represent a major paradigm shift that will radically change the fields of science and medicine — as well as music. Caroline Myss has brought a greater awareness of “energy anatomy” to the general population with her best-selling book and appearance on Oprah.

As “The X-Files” remind us, “The Truth is out there.” Dr. Valerie Hunt, U.C.L.A. Professor Emeritus and author of Infinite Mind, is able to measure changes in the human energy field using her highly sophisticated instrumentation. Her work heralds a bold new era of understanding. Dr. Hunt told me that Chakra Suite affects the human energy field by helping it self-organize and shift into a higher order of functioning, which most music does not do.

It is my hope that leading edge research such as Dr. Hunt’s and Dr. Shaw’s will receive the funding it deserves.

The Relaxation/Healing Connection
In several landmark books, including The Relaxation Response, Dr. Herbert Benson has detailed the broad range of bodily functions that work more efficiently when the body is in a state of deep relaxation. Specific relaxation techniques are usually necessary to balance stress. Doing nothing, or watching television, is not enough. People may think they are achieving meaningful relaxation, but they are mistaken.

Unrelieved stress is a contributing factor in a wide range of diseases such as hypertension, heart attack, stroke, ulcers, migraine, irritability, inability to concentrate or sleep, and sexual dysfunction. Knowing that, you can appreciate why it is so important to build into your daily schedule opportunities for your body, mind and spirit to return to a state of balance.

One of the easiest ways to restore balance is by listening to music — but only certain music. Most music is composed for entertainment, dancing, or emotional release — and literally makes your nervous system more nervous! There is a time and a place for such soundtracks, but reducing stress is not one of them.
Early in my career, I was privileged to work with several leading edge scientists who provided me with a deeper understanding of music and healing. With these scientists as my mentors, I conducted studies using brainwave biofeedback, Kirlian photography, and darkfield microscopy (live blood cell analysis).

Dr. Marcel Vogel, former senior research scientist at IBM, and Irzhak Bentov, medical inventor and author of Stalking the Wild Pendulum, allowed me to use their equipment to measure the ways that subtle energy fields respond to music.
Their pioneering studies revealed that, in a state of deep relaxation or meditation, the electromagnetic field surrounding our head literally entrains and attunes to the basic electromagnetic field of the earth itself! The earth’s harmonic resonance has been measured at approximately 8 cycles per second, or 8 Hertz (Hz). The frequency range of the electrical activity of the brain that we access in stares of deep relaxation is also centered around 8 Hz. Is that correspondence a coincidence? No, indeed, which is why we feel so rejuvenated when surrounded by nature, in a forest, in the mountains, or by the ocean.

I believe this is also a key to understanding how our inner and outer environments are orchestrated to a higher level of harmony.

Ancient Roots, Modern Sound Technology
Ancient sound technologies, such as Tibetan singing bowls, mantras and chants, are based on this right-brained, holistic approach.

In 1968, I began a quest to discover what type of music would be healing in the late 20th century, just as the music of Pythagoras was healing to ancient Greeks, or the music of Mozart to 18th century Europeans.

At age twenty-two, I was already a classic Type A individual. Given my background as an ex-New Yorker, it was not surprising that my requirement was “I want my relaxation — and I want it now!”

I needed a solution — something legal, non-addictive, and effective, available at my convenience and virtually instantaneous. The solution was to combine my training in music and psychology with insights ranging from ancient shamanic sound traditions to modern bio-physics and vibrational medicine.

My discoveries became the basis for my ongoing series of “Inner Peace Music” recordings. Each of these albums evokes “the relaxation response” via sound. Some of these recordings produce lighter levels of relaxation; others produce much deeper levels.

In this music, there are no “hard edges.” Particular instruments are chosen because their tones are easily accepted into the body. By contrast, the tones of trumpet, oboe and violin are not generally conducive to relaxation. Many people react to them as if a fingernail were scratched along a blackboard. If you are one of these individuals, trying to relax while listening to these instruments is like trying to relax while sitting on a thumbtack. It can be done, but why bother? There are so many more effective and pleasurable alternatives!

In the twenty-four years since Spectrum Suite brought this concept to the public, a number of other recording artists have begun working in this genre. Currently, you have many choices when choosing music to support the healing process. However, not all “healing” music is created equal.

My initial research compared Spectrum Suite to the highest-rated classical music, which relaxed 72% of listeners — and that was not a deep relaxation. Mozart rated only 65%. In a number of studies, Spectrum Suite deeply relaxed over 95% of subjects. These results were contrary to the prevailing attitude that only classical music could be of benefit, and the data was largely ignored.

There is now more confusion than ever, as promotional and marketing departments have jumped on the bandwagon and pre-empted composers and researchers. To declare that “Mozart makes you smarter” or is the best for healing is far too simplistic a statement. Which composition by Mozart? By which performer? These variables make a huge difference in the effect you experience. Despite the hyperbole on some recordings’ liner notes, the music itself may not deliver the desired effect. The most important consideration is whether a given piece of music works for you! One size does not fit all!

“Be Still and Know”
Many spiritual traditions recommend a variation of “Be Still and Know.”
It is in the stillness that we align and attune to the deeper spiritual dimensions of life. It is in the stillness that true healing occurs, as we connect to Source.
There is no need to “do” anything; all you need is to “be” with the music.

Steven Halpern is the world’s leading composer and recording artist of music for relaxation, wellness and “sound health”. For over 30 years, he has pioneered and promoted the healing powers of music through his recordings, books, media appearances and workshops.

Halpern’s unique use of musical tone, time and space have helped millions to enjoy the stillness and peaceful place that lies within each of us. His music resonates in the key of the heart, and strikes a chord that we recognize and appreciate intuitively.

The free-floating ambience and luminous sound quality make it easy to heed the advice of spiritual teachers throughout the ages: “Be Still…and Know.”

Visit his website at