One of the earliest mentions of music being used as therapy appears in the Bible (1-Samuel 16) when an evil spirit torments Saul for disobeying God. David calms his soul by playing on his zither.
Throughout recorded history, in fact and in legend, music has always played a part. Who can forget Homerís Ulysses being tied to the mast in order to hear the terrible music of the Sirens? Joshua, with his trumpets, made music of a different kind to bring down the walls of Jericho.
Greek legend has also brought us the story of Orpheus, the man-god with his fabulous lyre. The music he produced was so sweet and haunting that he charmed all men, birds and animals. When his beloved Eurydice died, he used his melodies to restore her to life.
Orpheus, through a cult devoted to him called the Orphic Mysteries, had a direct influence on Plato and Pythagoras. In his ëRepublicí Plato says that it is impossible for a society to change its taste in music without modifying its political institutions.
Pythagoras, in the words of his disciple Porphyry, studied music because of its curative and purifying effects on the passions of men.
Moving on to the realm of the occult, Hermes Trismegistus, the Greek equivalent of the Egyptian Thoth, was said to have written two books on music. Known mainly through references from other authors of antiquity, Hermes wrote that there is a harmony between flora, fauna and all natural phenomena.
The curative and therapeutic effects of music are well-known even among primitive peoples, such as the Ojibwas of North America. The healers of the tribe used to sit at the feet of the sick person and sing songs similar to Gregorian chants. After a few days the patient would be well enough to walk.
Music is also known to affect muscular tension, respiration, digestion, as well as cardiac rhythm. The opera Tristan and Isolde by Wagner is famous not only for its stirring music but also because three directors have died while conducting a certain passage.
On the other hand, music with an average tempo of 56-64 beats per minute is said to lower heartbeat and respiration. It is also said to benefit concentration and the intellect. Superlearning systems all use baroque music as part of their techniques.
The 60 beats per minute of the largo passages slow down body/mind rhythms. All of the attention is then concentrated on the subject being taught or studied. This leads to an increase in comprehension and retention.
In her book Superlearning (Dell) Sheila Ostrander gives a detailed description of a Superlearning technique that uses baroque music as a key tool. The information to be assimilated is phrased so as to occupy a period of eight seconds. This is then synchronized with rhythmic respiration and periods of silence. The largo movements of baroque music are used as background to evoke a special state of relaxed concentration.
One of the leading investigators of the effects of sound on the body is Dr. Alfred Tomatis of France. He has discovered that frequencies of 8000 Hertz or higher act as food for the brain. Lower frequencies, on the other hand, fatigue the brain and produce anxiety.
Among the musical instruments that produces sounds of the suitable high frequencies are the viola, oboe, flute and harp. His favorite composers are Bach, Vivaldi and Mozart.
Using a combination of music therapy and counseling he has developed treatments for dyslexia, chronic fatigue and depression.
“As a distraction alone, music therapy can be very therapeutic for pain management,” says prominent Los Angeles hospice proprietor Aleksandra Dubina. “For example, if a patient can sing with our therapist, oxygen intake increases and livens up their mind and body,” she says.