Music as a Healing Modality

The Scream
The Scream

Music or frequencies cannot influence health as directly as some pseudo-scientists try to claim. Yes, sound can make sand or water dance but that only demonstrates how sound moves in an enclosed space when interacting with sand or water.

To make the leap that this irrevocably proves that all sound changes us is credulous in the extreme. If that were the case, we’d fall in a dissolving heap every time a train went past, or the wind blew. We need to be credible.

Before you get upset though, music can & does have a very useful role in our mental state. From there we feel happier overall and physical maladies reduce. Whether because we make ourselves less sick or we fret on our limits less – either way, we win.

All experience is filtered through the mind. Music is an experience that we create in the mind. Some people experience Opera as transcendent Art, some loathe it. Some find Death Metal cathartic and therefore uplifting, some loathe it.

As a Composer, Record Producer & Fan, I have very strong beliefs that music reflects society; its strengths, its weaknesses, its hopes, its fears. Music shows where we are trying to go and where we are failing.

The Scream painting by Edvard Munch is such a powerful image, not because it is dark and brooding. The Scream is so enduringly powerful because it expresses something about life along with a lot of movement and therefore hope even though on the surface the character seems trapped.

To the Listener

My advice is that if you use music for your well-being that you chose with some care. Choose music that uplifts in some way. As mentioned, Death Metal can do that if it is good music because even though it may speak (scream & growl) about all manner of gory things, above it all, there should be hope. If not, chose another act until there is overarching hope in the form.

If you have frustration, anger, or other dark shadows that need to see the light of day Hard Rock, Metal or Punk may be just the ticket to let you explore & feel those things. As experience & feel we must or nothing can be seen, accepted and let go (go check the old Buddha dude on that).

Soothing & integration are needed too so be sure that the music helps you integrate those things as simply being angry alone is not a help. You need to move past the angry so be sure to listen to music that is “complete” in its form. Music with melodies that develop & resolve is essential. What people currently call Classic Rock (incl Disco and all its sub-forms), Classical and Electronic Music pre-1990 generally do this well so if you have any of this around then listen to it as you read a book at bedtime (a book please not Facebook).

Take extreme care with music that only focuses inwards, referencing only itself or the culture it seeks to sell. These forms behave more like drugs that make you feel better for a while but worse overall.

Generally, this is the great difference between music in the last 20 years and that before – 1990 being the safe cut-off point if ever unsure. No matter how grey Joy Division may have sounded, there is hope in their music. No matter how evil Black Sabbath or Candlemass may pretend to be on the cover, their music lit far more candles than it ever snuffed out.

Conversely, much of the New Agey material I see on YouTube wanting you to believe how it will make you better, will not as it is not selling hope in any form, merely addiction. Same with most music Top 40, Indie and underground as the writers are too scared to do anything but reference themselves and the culture they seek to appease to get a “Play”. Therefore they don’t use melodies in ways that allow them to vary & resolve. This leaves you the listener left hanging in an unresolved place which is the very essence of disease.

To the Creator

As a Composer, Record Producer & Fan, I have very strong beliefs that music reflects society; its strengths, its weaknesses, its hopes, its fears. Music shows where we are trying to go and where we are failing.

Because of this I believe that music and those who make it must always strive to make the best Art they can. This doesn’t mean that I am saying that Rappers should stop rapping and become Opera singers warbling away with their noses in the air to Verdi & Mozart. Nose in the air helps no one.

If you are a Rapper be a great Rapper. This means to tell real stories about the human condition as only you can. This means that copying MC Shizza and only mumbling about how U iz da dopa shizz than all tha rezt is not real music. This does damage as it is faux. Plain false art.

No matter if you are making EDM, Rock, Metal, New Age, Filmcore – trying to carbon copy the latest sound based on Tips n Tricks off 2-min Tuts on YouTube – you are not making the sort of human-expression that is the music that shines a light on who we are, and how we can be freer than we were yesterday. If you make trapped music, your listeners learn only how to feel more trapped.

I hear some of you saying, but this isn’t our responsibility, we just want to make our noise and get Plays and maybe get famous so we can hire hookers to live the bling life. I hear you. I really do. There are two things here, you are hoping to be heard and have life reward you. That part is good and needs to be followed.

It is the how that is the problem here. If you aren’t making life better for all, you are practicing a false art – a Black Art, Evil! The problem is essentially the same as a factory that makes cool toys that amuse but in the process is dumping chemicals in the river and poisoning the people. Is this the choice you would make, or support another in making? If you think yes then I doubt that you would have read this far so I assume your answer is really no. No, it is not good to make tiny gains for your self at the expense of everyone around you – ultimately yourself when you either choke on your own poison or the peasants realize and have at you with pitchforks.

As a creator of music (someone looking to improve the world for all by improving yours – why I write these articles) you may shine a light on any thing that you need to say to the world, universe, god, the pixies in the backyard… This is half of your job: if you are feeling it, others are too and it helps just to know that. Shine that light nice & clear, whether that be in New Age, Opera, Rap or Extreme Black Metal. Find the universal theme in your story and use your details to express that.

The other half of your compact with life is that you do the light shining with a sense that there is life & hope. Like knowing Music Theory, this DOES NOT mean that you have to make music like The Wiggles (oh how I pray you don’t as I think they insult our kids) but it does mean that your music needs to deliver the whole package of a beginning , middle, and end. Melody, variation, countermelody and resolution are the common ways that is expressed in music.

These articles will help you with more specifics there:
Good Music & How To Make It
Arranging A Piece of Music

The reason that variation & resolution are so important in this equation is that if music is to heal, then it must show movement. Life is about movement. Anything that does not move is not living. Anything that denies movement is anti-life.

This means that tracks that do nothing but go rat, tat, tat, tat, over and over (despite the number of costume changes) are not showing movement & completion. These sorts of tracks do damage to the listener exactly as I said above: they are a drug. A cigarette raises adrenaline so you think it makes you feel better, whilst it poisons you, creating the need for more cigarettes which as we all know condemns you (or your customers) to a live of pain & poverty.

Write music that looks to show something about the human condition be it birds in the trees or the evils of partner abuse. movement & resolution in your lyrical (words, melodies, flow) show that no matter how bleak the scene you paint, there is life & hope.

Focus on your story as you must tell it. Avoid all this peer-pressure about meeting the genre norms by following all those silly rules that ensure that you are not able to deliver your story at all. If you feel like you are starting out and don’t know how to do it properly then either hire a teacher/mentor who understands real art and can help you express yours, or start faking it.

Pour out the story and let the details like Mixes run after you. Your first few things may be a bit unusual, but as you practice more, put in your 10,000 hours, you will get better skilled in your craft. Your craft that is, not the cookie cutter-isms of others.

3 thoughts on “Music as a Healing Modality

  1. Good post. I heard a bit from an interview with Pete Townshend about the decline of the guitar in rock music. He said, I paraphrase, that virtuoso guitarists have exhausted the artistic possibilities of the instrument. I think anyone who can write “The real Me” deserves to have his opinion heard. I heard, but I can’t agree. It’s like saying the impressionists have exhausted the artistic possibilities of the paintbrush. Your post kind of bears me out on this matter. There’s way too much plastic music in the world, and I’m not just talking about music made by plastic people. There’s plenty of room on the stage for people who are trying to do something real. Your post shows you to be a strong advocate for them

      1. Well, he’s pushing 80 with a short stick, so I could see him being a little disaffected. Mostly he was saying there is going to have a shift in the style and instrumentation. I see that happening with the proliferation of seven and eight string guitars with super low tunings. That opens up a decent sized patch of new ground. Another thing that could help would be requiring that plagiarism cases be tried by jurors with a background in music. I don’t know where you live (Australia?) but here, for now, the law requires that you be tried by a jury of your peers. This might stop people fromwining judgements against people who allegedly stole things no one can really own, like time signatures or the diatonic scale. Creativity could realy flourish if musicians weren’t worried about being dragged into court every time the put out a song.
        YAY for a great post.

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