Music, the universal language, has been used throughout the world since the dawn of time for ritual, entertainment, community building, magic, and healing.
The old ceilidh dances in the highlands of Scotland, the gypsy flamenco gatherings, the Irish pubs, are ancient traditions where music is used to soothe, relax, uplift, and exalt whilst strengthening bonds between communities and neighbors and breaking down barriers between enemies.
A balm for the soul and a tonic for the spirit, music has been known as one of life’s priceless elixirs since humanity learned to walk and bang two sticks together, discovering rhythm.
Music Stirs Up
We all know from personal experience how music can stir us, whether positively or negatively: think of a classical piece of Chopin for piano, or the lyrical sounds of the Irish harp, and compare these with the raucous and pounding beat of some heavy metal sounds, and you can soon recall the effect that music can have upon you.
Consider your exercise class, would it be the same without music?
No, that music gets us moving and motivates us to either move faster or slower as needed.
We know it can relax us or elate us, make us feel joy or make us weep, in short, music moves us powerfully and can change our mood.
What Studies Show
Recently, science has begun to study the effects of music upon the human brain and some remarkable findings are being made.
• For instance, it has been shown that in patients suffering from brain injury, music can induce new neural pathways to forge themselves around the injured site in the brain.
• Stroke patients and brain injury patients who have lost their ability to use speech are sometimes able to sing their words in communicating, as a different part of the brain is used for singing. This is known as melodic intonation therapy.
• Singing uses the right side of the brain, as opposed to spoken language, which uses the left side of the brain, so the brain-injured patient or the stroke patient can actually bypass the damaged part of the brain and learn a new way to communicate with singing.
• It has been scientifically shown that what we have known in our bones for millennia is actually the case: music has the power to heal. Studies show that listening to music does indeed reduce symptoms of stress, depression, anxiety, and chronic pain by lowering cortisol levels, lowering heart rate, and reducing blood pressure.
• Research shows that mental health is improved when we have a sense of belonging, and since music helps us to feel connected it follows that it will positively affect our mental health.
• Music has been shown scientifically not only to reduce pain but also to reduce the amount of anesthesia needed in surgery.
• Studies find that music helps to reduce stress in adult patients undergoing surgery, in children during various medical procedures, and for those suffering from coronary heart disease.
• Some evidence suggests that music can boost immune function although more studies are needed.
Ancient tribes have always known about this, although they undoubtedly had a very different perspective on the whys and wherefores than we do today.
African dancers and singers healed through ritual, chant, song, and rhythm.
Shamans in both Africa and North America have used music as an integral part of their healing rituals.
The Navajo word for “song” is the same as the word for “prayer,” and the word for “doctor” is the same as the word for “singer.”
The Navaho believe in the power of healing with language and melody, and it seems that there is much wisdom in these ancient practices that science is only just catching up to.
In ancient cultures, the role of music to heal was so great that a physician was also required to be a musician and often also a priest.
This was the case in ancient Egypt and ancient Babylon.
Therefore, music certainly has the capacity to heal from within.
From its ability to reduce blood pressure, heart rate and cortisol levels to its amazing capacity to generate new pathways in the brain, along with its tendency to bring people together and unite them, relax them, inspire them and excite them, music is a powerful vibrational sound healing tool which influences the body’s own ability to heal itself.