Do you instantly feel better when you listen to a particular song? If yes, then you’re no different than 92 per cent of Indians, according to Outlook, who rely on music to go through difficult times! Although millennials call listening to a relaxing song ‘low-key music therapy,’ it is wrong and quite different from sound and music therapy. The association between music, sounds, and emotions has been operating since ancient Indian psychological history. From touching the right notes for singers to experiencing soothing effects after listening to a particular raga, sound therapy and music therapy have been known to extract positive long-term results.
What is sound therapy?
To explain in a line, sound therapy is that one little relaxing moment in your long day; that perfect position draws you to sleep after you struggle on your bed. Sound therapy is a type of therapy that utilises different sounds and music to relax muscle tension, induce refreshment and relaxation. It lies in the foundation that certain sounds and beats energize a fatigued mind and body by creating a sense of balance and therapeutic alleviation of stress. It is a sensory therapy that uses auditory stimuli to engage with the psychopathology of mental anxiety (Chenowith & Smith, 2020). In an interview, sound therapist Sara Auster says, “a certain type of beat, called the binaural beat, which is playing two different tones in two ears at the same time is received by the brain with elation and calmness (sic),” making sound therapy appealing and reliable.
Sound therapy involves the use of different tools and techniques, much like any other psychological therapy. Sound baths are one of the most common as well as effective techniques of sound therapy. Sound bath aims to create a sense of equilibrium within the individual’s mind, body, and soul. Derived from different cultural practices, sound therapy creates a meditational experience that helps clients realign their inner balance. Some practitioners contend that physical healing results from effective sound baths (Gould, R. W. 2020). In simple terms, a sound bath makes not only your ears pay attention to the sounds created by bowls but also your entire body feel and coincide with its vibrations. This sounds like the perfect ‘spa treatment’ for all music lovers, doesn’t it?
Indian historical relevance
Time and again, it has been reminded that each component of the cosmos begins from a sound vibration; hence it’s not surprising that sound and music could hone the power to heal every element of nature, including the human mind. The roots of music and sound therapy in India dates back to the fourth century BC, where the study of music called Gandharva Tattva witnessed the documentation on music therapy, called ‘Raga Chikista.’ Raga Chikitsa is carried out in the contemporary psychological setting where, the therapist identifies and develops a healthy association between sounds and emotions. In those days, the performer controlled the frequencies of the notes to modify the effect of the raga, which eventually developed into different tunes for rasas. ‘Bhava,’ indicating emotion, denotes the feelings experienced when a particular rasa of the raga is engaged. Indian ragas are, in this manner, reasonable for enthusiastic recuperating in conditions like extreme worry, distress, and restlessness (Sanivarapu, L. S. 2017).
Sound therapy Vs. Music therapy: Knowing the differences
Most often than not, we synonymously use the terms sound therapy and music therapy. While music is a combination of sounds, tunes, and many other elements, music therapy is different from sound therapy. Listening to music by itself could extract a therapeutic experience, even though it is not clinically or professionally administered. However, sound healing does not include playing music you like; it is not ‘amusement.’ Sound healing plays a crucial role in activating a person’s need to retrospect and unwind. Biologically, sound therapy looks at surrounding the person with its power to influence physically through vibrations, called brainwave entertainment in physics. While sound therapy uses crystal bowls, tuning forks, chimes, music therapy utilises human voices and musical instruments such as Sitar, Flute, Veena, Harp, and so on. As mentioned above, music therapy is called Raga Chikista, and sound therapy is named Nada Chikista in Sanskrit (Danke, A. 2019).
Music and healing: A composer’s perspective
Often, we listen to certain parts of a song that resonate with the emotions we’d be experiencing. This is usually the perspective of an active music listener. But how do music composers, instrument players, sound engineers relate to this premise? An interesting revelation was made in conversation with Ashwin Mandoth, music composer, pianist, and a live performer, a 19-year-old engineering student pursuing Industrial Engineering and Management, from BMS College of Engineering, Bengaluru.
In conversation about the dynamic relationship between emotions and music, Ashwin asserted that it has constantly given him warmth and feelings of security. “I have observed that I get a lot of goosebumps when I listen to rock and metal music, which explains that different sets of sounds, combinations, and permutations of tunes elicit different physiological responses. Since I am a musician, actively listening to music calms me. The more I pay attention to sounds, beats, and music and their effects on me, be it emotionally or physically, the more I understand my craft,” he added.
Harmonies elicited by different musical instruments are believed to express emotional catharsis. The 19-year-old musician explained, “harmony and emotions have always been toyed around by many composers specifically because we understand that if we want to express a story within certain sets of sounds, we need to feel their repercussions. The degree to which music can lead to emotional catharsis depends on two things: the complexity of the story you want to tell and the different tensions you want to generate. If you want to create perfect happiness harmony, I’d suggest you take the c-major diatonic harmony. If your story is a little complex, then go ahead with non-diatonic harmony. If your story leans on the lower side of emotions such as sadness, then you could take the minor diatonic harmonies.”
Speaking on the healing powers of music, Ashwin affirmed that music and sounds have always empowered him. Preferred musical instruments and genres are automatically associated with ‘feeling good.’ He believes that consciously or subconsciously, some sort of healing happens. “When I was going through a tough phase, music was something that helped me overcome it; music gave me newfound energy and motivated me to get back on my feet,” he disclosed. Sound and music have been associated with remedial potential and mend physical and mental issues stemming from daily life hassles. As Ashwin said, “music can always be the best solution,” the relevance of sound and music therapy shall continue to grow in India.
Gould, W. R. (2020, July 1). What Are Sound Baths? Verywell Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/what-are-sound-baths-4783501
Sanivarapu, S. L. (2015). India’s rich musical heritage has a lot to offer to modern psychiatry. NCBI. Retrieved 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4462795/
Smith, J., & Chenoweth, H. (2020, March 3). Inside the Life-Changing Benefits of Sound Therapy. Prevention. https://www.prevention.com/health/mental-health/a30986834/what-is-sound-therapy