Part 1: Music and Healing


The Ancient World:


Traditional peoples all over the world used music in the form of incantations, songs, rhythms and sounds to ward off evil spirits, absolve sins, or placate the Gods. The ancient Egyptians called music ‘the physic of the soul’ and had specially trained initiate priest/physicians who specialized in the use of music in curing especially nervous disorders. The ancient Persians used the music of the lute to cure many illnesses and the Hebrews used it to cure nervous diseases, the most famous example being David soothing the despondency of King Saul with his lyre.


Ancient Greece and Rome:


The Greeks investigated and used music scientifically. Homer recommended it to avoid negative emotions, Pythagoras prescribed musical remedies for a variety of physical disorders and Plato linked music to the future welfare of whole nations, Aristotle believed music to be an emotional catharsis and his most famous student, Alexander the Great, used music to motivate his troops before, and calm them after battle. The Romans learned from the Greeks and statesmen such as Cicero and Seneca believed that music affected the whole basis of society, and doctors, such as Celsus, used music extensively in their treatments and had a profound effect on European medicine down to the Middle Ages.


The Middle Ages and Renaissance:


Music therapy largely disappeared in the Dark Ages but surfaced spectacularly in the Middle Ages where it was the only remedy for the strange mass hysteria or ‘dancing mania’ which swept Europe following the Plague in 1374.From the Renaissance onwards, a growing number of physicians became interested in the healing properties of music. Dr Robert Burtin was a leading physician who wrote about the use of music for healing melancholia (depression). Music was subsequently used to treat the depressions suffered by Phillip V of Spain, George III of England, and King Ludwig of Bavaria.


The 18th and 19th Century:


In the 1700s efforts began to scientifically investigate the precise effects of music on the human body which have continued down to the present day. Dr Pargeter, towards the end of the 18th century, was one of the first physicians to express the belief that a scientific musical knowledge was required to control its therapeutic use. In 1846 Dr Hector Chomat wrote a treatise on ‘The Influence of Music in Preventing and Treating Illnesses’. These efforts formed a pervasive influence on the rediscovery of music as a therapy in the 20th century ongoing in the 21st century where music therapy is an established part of modern medicine and rehabilitation.




Music Therapy in the Modern Era:


One of the first hospital uses of musical therapy was to strengthen the morale of wounded and especially ‘shell-shocked’ veterans of World-War II. These therapeutic uses were based on laboratory studies in the 1930s and speculation in the early part of the 20th century on the healing properties of music. In the 1940s, music therapy was included in the curriculum of the University of Kansas and Michigan State University. Since then music therapy is routinely applied to an enormous range of disorders. Applications range from encouraging people to exercise, physiotherapy, and especially in psychiatric treatments including encouraging patients to re-establish communication, encouraging self-confidence, socialization, and self-worth training in severely withdrawn patients and mentally retarded people. Recently in Australia and elsewhere in the world, music has been used to activate memory in elderly people suffering dementia.  Brisbane radio station 4MBS ‘Silver Memories’ was founded in 2008 playing popular music from the 1920s-1950s to help activate memory in older people, particularly those living in care institutions.


Music Therapy to Reduce Anxiety:


Since the 1960s research has concentrated on the role of music in reducing anxiety. These experiments have led to the uses of soothing background music in hospitals, dentists’ clinics, delivery rooms, and of course, industrial and commercial applications such as in shopping centres and factories. Studies show that music can result in reducing the amount of pain medication required for some cancer patients (Canada), in delivery rooms  (USA), and that symphonic music especially reduced painful neurological symptoms (Poland),


Part 2: Music and Other Forms of Life


Music and Plants: Early Research by Dr JC Bose in India:


One of the earliest pioneers in this area of investigation was Dr JC Bose of Calcutta, India. His book, Responses in the Living and Non-Living (1902), showed that fundamental properties of animal life were shared by plants and even minerals. He established institutes at Calcutta and Darjeeling for the detailed study of consciousness in plants no doubt based on his knowledge of Hindu philosophy.

In the 1950s his work was carried on by Dr TCN Singh of Annamalai University in Chennai with emphasis on increasing crop yields with the use of traditional Indian music. Dr Singh discovered that the hydrilla, a water plant, reacted to Indian ragas played on violin, flute and vina. Further experiments with various pitches of sound caused plants to greatly increase their yields. From 1960 to 1963 Dr Singh conducted a series of remarkable experiments in rice fields around Chennai  and in Pondicherry increasing yields from 25% to 60% when exposed to Indian ‘ragas’. Around the world this research continued in the 1960s and 1970s with mixed results. Plants responded to most kinds of music or sound, to magnetic and electrical fields or current, all of which favoured growth under certain conditions. It was discovered that jazz and classical music in general gave better results than hard rock music, which produced an adverse effect.


Canadian and American Experiments Boosting Crop Yields with Music:


These Indian experiments were repeated with similar success by Canadian researchers using Bach violin sonatas which stimulated a 66% greater harvest in a test plot of wheat.

In the late 1960s American botanists continued this work first using Gershwin’s music and then continuous sounds at various frequencies to increase crop yields and protect crops from insect damage. Other researchers followed similar lines of enquiry: “Clive Backster used a polygraph (lie-detector) to test plants, attaching electrodes to the leaves. By recording electrical impulses he found plants to be extremely sensitive to his thoughts, particularly thoughts that threatened their well-being. Backster also observed a reaction in a plant when even the smallest cells were killed near it. He noted that plants have a kind of memory, reacting to someone who earlier had done harm to another plant nearby: in a line-up of anonymous people, the plant could pick out the one who had performed the act! Marcel Vogel, a contemporary, performed most of Backster’s experiments successfully. He came to an interesting conclusion: that there is a life-force, a cosmic energy surrounding all living things, and shared by all the kingdoms of life including us humans. He said: ‘this oneness is what makes possible a mutual sensitivity allowing plant and man not only to intercommunicate, but to record these communications via the plant on a recording chart.’ – The Secret Life of Plants, p.24.” (quoted from John Van Mater Jnr. “Our intelligent companions, the Plants” in Sunrise April/May 1987, page 133)


Popular Books on Music and Plants:


Inevitably, all this scientific work caught the popular imagination largely spurred on by Dorothy Retallack’s vastly popular book, The Sound of Music and Plants, and Peter Tompkin’s classic, The Secret Life of Plants,  both published 1973 followed up with further research such as Stephen Buhrer’s, Secret Teachings of Plants, in 2004.

Dorothy Retallack showed that plant growth was promoted by certain types of Western classical and traditional Indian music and retarded by heavy-metal rock music. This finding sparked a wave of controversy over the effect of rock music on a whole generation of younger people and had gardeners around the world playing music to their plants. As indicated, Backster, Tompkins, and others provided evidence that a type of consciousness exists in plants.


Music Made Visible:


Many other researchers have since the 1960s followed these pioneers. Outstanding among them was Dr Hans Jenny who investigated the effects of vibration on living things – what he called Cymatics.

Part of this work involved high-speed photography of vibrations including music producing beautiful patterns in sand, fluids, and fine iron filings – including the Hindu chant ‘Om’ which produces a circle filled with concentric squares or triangles such as is used in many of the world’s religions.

Cymatics was followed up by the founder of the Center for Advanced Visual Studies(CAVS) at MIT, György Kepes. His work in this area included an acoustically vibrated piece of sheet metal in which small holes had been drilled in a grid. Small flames of gas burned through these holes and thermodynamic patterns were made visible by this setup.

Photographer Alexander Lauterwasser has also captured imagery of water surfaces set into motion by sound sources ranging from sine waves to music by Beethoven,  Karlheinz Stockhausen, and overtone singing.


Music and Education: MATB – Music and the Brain:


There are many ways in which ancient ideas about music are being applied to education today. One exciting project that reflects Plato’s ideas on the importance of music in the education of young people is inspired by neurological research linking music and cognitive development.

Since the 1990s a program called Music and the Brain (MATB) has been introduced at many schools in the USA. MATB is the experience of what these studies are telling us – when children receive sequential music instruction, it can impact their proficiency in language, reading, math and cognition. The MATB program is granted to qualifying public schools and includes invaluable teacher training, piano books, keyboards, recordings and rhythm cards for successful classroom piano study.  With participating schools throughout N.Y.C., New Orleans, Ferguson (MO) and beyond, more than 45,000 students receive Music and the Brain lessons each year.  Since 1997, more than 275 schools and 400,000 students have benefitted from Music and the Brain training, curriculum and keyboards. More information is available at:


Harmonious Tuning at 432 Hz:


Recently many musicians around the world, who are concerned about the inner effects of music on audiences, have revived what they say is the ancient practice of tuning musical instruments to 432 Hz. This is believed to be the natural vibration of living cells and therefore is healthier than the normal tuning at 440Mz. Such researchers claim that in ancient China at various times the central government authorities enforced the tuning of instruments in this way lest improper vibrations set off conflict between various parts of their kingdom attuned to different musical vibrations. In ancient Greece too we have seen that Plato especially emphasized the importance of harmonious music, played at the healthiest level of vibrations, especially for young people, lest social disharmony and upheaval be encouraged amongst the general populace. An interesting video series on the tuning of instruments to 432 Hz, covering all the issues of this complex subject is available at:

This is currently a highly controversial debate, but it causes us to ponder on the effects of disharmonious music, played at high volume, featuring vibrations which may be unhealthy, upon today’s mass audiences for some types of popular music.


Part 3: Hidden Aspects of Modern Popular Music.


Popular music, especially rock music, has a dominating influence on the lives and aspirations of millions of young people all over the world today. Whatever its shade – rock, rap, hip-hop, dance, techno, etc. – pop music represents the modern folk music indicating, as music of the people has always done throughout the ages, the emotions, frustrations, and aspirations of ordinary people.


Rock is based on Afro-American blues music and therefore is the music of dance, good times, love and physical desire – and is therefore  a limited medium for expressing mystical or spiritual ideas. This is because the rhythms of rock’s ancestors expressed physical vitality and were designed to excite the desire nature.  As the majority of mankind’s consciousness is currently at the level of Desire Mind (Kama/Manas) this accounts for the enormous popularity of rock and rhythm-based music with today’s mass audience.


Some rock performers have expressed mystical ideas in their music, pre-eminently, British rock band: The Moody Blues, Greek band Aphrodite’s Child, Led Zeppelin (Stairway to Heaven), Yes (Close to the Edge), Alan Parsons Project (Tales of Mystery and Imagination). Many rock bands have been influenced specifically by Eastern mystical ideas including The Beatles (especially the late George Harrison), Mahavishnu John McLaughlin, Carlos Santana, Pete Townshend of The Who. Others reflect their own journeys of self-discovery, eg. Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen (especially his songs – ‘Who by Fire’, ‘If It Be Your Will’, ‘Hallelujah’, and many others), David Bowie (especially the Ziggy Stardust period).


Many rock bands are concerned with brotherhood, equity, and anti-war themes, eg. The Hollies, Genesis, Pink Floyd, even Black Sabbath and AC/DC have powerful anti-war themes in their repertoire!


New Age and Meditation Music:


After the effects of music on plants became better known, people became more concerned about the effects of popular music on the bodies and mental state of young people. This engendered a new form of ancient esoteric music known as ‘New Age’ or ‘Meditative Music’.


This music is notable for its lack of rhythm, use of natural sounds, quiet melodic strains, and its attempt to create an atmosphere conducive to reflection, relaxation, and spiritual aspiration. Some new esoteric music, like Prima Sounds, attempts to find sympathetic vibrations with the various ‘chakras’ or energy centres in the body to promote the flow of balanced energies in the body and create an environment for deep meditation. Much of this music is based on acquaintance with esoteric aspects of music, on the study of Eastern religions, yoga, meditation, and especially mantras from many different traditions.


Esoteric Music for the 21st Century:


Our lectures and discussions over the past few months have shown that ancient peoples the world over had a deep knowledge of the potent influence of music and vibration on the inner planes of being.


This esoteric science is only beginning to be understood with all our technical wizardry of the 21st century and is part of a gradual reawakening to the pervasive influence of the spiritual worlds on everyday life.


Once again, scientific orthodoxy lags behind and much of this research is not applied, for example, to enormously boost crop yields for the world’s starving peoples. In some instances the same research on vibrations may have been applied for destructive and military purposes.


The outstanding pioneers of the New Age are attempting to combine ancient wisdom with new technology in ways which will make for a better world into the future.


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Readers of this article may also be interested in the following article by Terry Stefan: The surprising benefits of playing an instrument for people of all ages at: