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A Scientific Approach to Sound and Music Therapy

by Gordon Dalgarno(more info)

listed in sound and music, originally published in issue 115 - September 2005

Therapy with music is well-established. Music Therapists have long used music in an interactive way with clients.1 Many CDs are for sale for healing purposes, both with sounds and music. Other practitioners are using sounds, made in the presence of the client, eg. using tuning forks or with Tibetan Bowls.[2-1] Then there are a number of proprietary techniques which use music in a special way some way, (eg. Tomatis Therapy, Samalin Therapy).

With a large variety of methods in use and various claims made, it's hard to know what to accept as an effective method, independent of the practitioner. [I] suggest this is especially so because of four factors: (a) the natural (or spiritual) healing ability of the practitioner; (b) their strong intention to help the client; (c) their strong belief in the methods they are using; and (d) their clients' strong belief that the practitioner, or the equipment used, is going to help them.

Sound and Mussic
Client for therapy with music through the whole body

My personal belief is that the combination of these is so strong that the same practitioner might get a similar result with quite different methods. In other words, while it works for them, it is no indication that it's a suitable method for others to use, not that the results/efficiency of their treatment could not be even better.

I think it's most unlikely that the same music or the same sounds with tuning forks, bowls or recordings, is going to be optimum for any individual. Why should it be – surely the onus of proof is the other way round? However, here are three things that I think may be partial proof for the effectiveness of using either particular sounds or music for the individual.

1. Indian and Tibetan healers, have for generations, been listening to the client's voice and observing the notes which are under and over emphasized. They then tuned the strings of their musical instruments accordingly and played selected music to the client. This takes great skill and dedication to learn, and surely it's most unlikely that this would have been practised for so long without good reason. This method is now also used in the West, notably by Danny Becher (agent: Oreade Music).

2. A personal experience. In 1984 I was very ill with clinical depression. The medical practitioners tried all they knew for months but to no effect, eventually saying there was nothing more they could do. When pressed very hard for a prognosis they said that I'd have to accept that I would have to give up work and just potter around in the garden, etc.

I was then impelled to listen to Bach's Suite in B minor for Flute and Strings. I say 'impelled', but I was an agnostic at the time and had no belief in spiritual communication and was not aware of any 'external' influence. This was music I was very fond of, and I had five recordings of it. Yet I only wanted to listen to one of these recordings. At the time my logical mind was saying that one was the one I wanted to listen to because of the way the appoggiaturas were played. This 'impelling' to listen to this particular recording was enormously powerful, and frequent over two months. The terrible depression left.

This was many years ago, but it was only a year ago that I found this recording again and, curious, measured the pitch. It was at what I believe is 'my pitch' (The note 'A' tuned to 432 Hz). I then measured all the other recordings I had of the piece, and none were close to that tuning although all were of course in B minor, which I believe is 'my key'.

I should explain that in Baroque times the pitch was not standardized and many authentic performances tune their instruments and play at the pitch they think was likely to be close to the original

3. Many sound therapists who have a technical or scientific approach, eg. Philip Sterling (, have experimented with sounds with the frequency set to around a frequency which they believe is one which is tuned for the client, and find precise tuning (to perhaps 0.1% ) is critical.

Proof of the Physical Effect of Sounds

Many will accept the psychological effects of sounds/music but what about the physical effects?

Each substance appears to be related to a frequency dependent on its atomic weight – I don't think anyone knows why – but the correlations seem strong and precise. Here are two examples

(a) A sceptical enquirer asked a teacher of sound therapy for evidence. They were asked if they had previously been on any medication and they said they had been on amitriptyline. The person was asked to lie on a couch and sound at a frequency of 17.34 Hz (a sub multiple of the atomic weight) played. When they got up they nearly fell over – they reported that they were experiencing the side-effects of a large dose of amitriptyline, in particular, difficulty in balancing.

This convinced both the enquirer and me at the time, but later I found out that when amitriptyline is medically administered, it is as amitriptyline hydrochloride. The frequency for this would be quite different, 19.62 Hz. This destroyed the evidence.

But then some months after I discovered, in discussions with a pharmacologist, that the hydrochloride was stripped off when stored in the body, i.e. what is stored in the body is amitriptyline itself! Wonderful 'blind' evidence.

(b) I watched a trainee practitioner analyse a fellow trainee's voice and declare "You would seem to have toluene in your system – but of course that can't be right".

To her amazement he replied, "Yes, I have been using lots of impact adhesive in the past few days and it contains toluene".

The Client's Voice as an Indication of the Problem

Most people would say that if they speak to a close friend or relative, even on the telephone, they can tell if the person is ill or under the weather. It's only a small leap from that to believe that if the voice were more fully analysed, one can go well beyond that.

Training the ear/brain to that degree can take many years of hard study and, besides, a certain talent will be required for it to be possible at all, so it seems unsuitable for use by most people in the modern world. Thus it is reasonable to use a machine to analyse the voice. But here is a case where I believe the combination of man and machine is best: (a) the ear can sometimes pick out things not noticed by the machine; (b) I think it's important that the practitioner should watch the display of the machine, with sensitivity and awareness, and correlate it with what the client is saying. The voice pattern may change when the client mentions his brother, for example, and on further investigation he may turn out to be a significant cause of their problem.

But how can we prove convincingly that physical problems also show in the voice?

It is widely asserted to be the case, for example, by teachers of sound therapies (Sharry Edwards being perhaps the first in the Western world in the present day). A good deal of data on the meaning of voice patterns is to be found on the internet, but the connections are generally given with no evidence. Could one person just be following the opinion of another?

Not just for convincing others, but for our own work, we need to analyse the voice objectively and correlate the results with an established method.
Supposing a client had stomach acid which was too weak.[2] As lay practitioners we cannot put a sample tube down a client's throat and draw out a sample of the stomach's contents for chemical analysis – even if the client agrees.

I think most open-minded people could be open to correlating the voice with results using the methods of Applied Kinesiology (AK). This is the original and most respected form of Kinesiology. This was devised as recently as 1964 by Dr George Goodheart. The underlying theory is similar to that of acupuncture and has many features from ancient Chinese Medicine. From it some other forms of kinesiology have been developed. It has the most particular requirement, that no methods are allowed to be taught or included in the published techniques unless they have been independently proven to work, by all competent practitioners of kinesiology, and also independently verified by many Chiropractors or Osteopaths. It is a highly systematized body of knowledge which includes specific tests on particular muscles. A number of Medical and Dental practitioners are also Kinesiologists – and this must help to break down barriers.

Some practitioners of certain forms of Kinesiology, and other of therapies which use muscle testing taken from kinesiological techniques, carry out the testing of a muscle while asking the client verbal questions. While they may get results which are good for them in their own practice, if we are to expect others to believe in the correlations with the voice we must operate to strictly accepted standards with only objective physical responses to specific tests.

I ask all clients, presenting for kinesiology, if they will consent to my measuring their voices. Or if they come for therapy for sound/music if I can make kinesiological assessments. I am finding definite correlations involving weak stomach acid, lack of digestive enzymes and lack of appropriate flora in the gut. I'm working on other correlations.

This is in addition to being able to correlate the voice with psychological things like low self- esteem. More data will be needed to convince the medical profession. This data is gradually being accumulated. I would very much like to collaborate with others in this work.

Analysing the Voice

Two separate types of software are required:

A. Counting the hits

In the early days a Korg Chromatic Tuner (intended for musicians) was used, and later, this was interfaced to a PC. This counted the number of notes, 'C', 'C#', 'D', etc., which were spoken in a given time, and separately for each octave in which the notes occurred. This was known as 'counting the hits'.

Modern PCs are so powerful that there are now programmes requiring no extra hardware. Two are the Biosonic ( and the Biotuner ( Both have their pros and cons. I use mainly the latter, because one can watch the display and listen to what the client is saying at the same time.

B. Spectral analysis

Many programmes are on the market for this, since the facility is required in industry. It shows the relative strength of frequencies. An excellent programme, which is intended for therapy work is 'The Oneness Sound Assistant', also available from BioWaves.

Method in Technological Sound Therapy

Most practitioners of this type of therapy find the sounds to use from under- and over-emphasized notes in the client's voice. Simplifying considerably, a common method is for notes which are under-emphasized to be chosen to be boosted while notes which are over-emphasized are to be counteracted by playing a note differing by half an octave,[3], i.e. differing in frequency multiplying by the square root of two.

I wonder if this is the same as done intuitively by the Indian and Tibetan healers mentioned earlier.

These notes, usually with a simple waveform such as triangular, are then played to the client, perhaps for a minute or two each. The note is then turned off and another note started. And this sequence then repeated. The client often takes away a means of listening to these notes over days or weeks.

Going Beyond this – Musical Intervals and the use of Music

I believe it is much more powerful if instead of these individual simple sounds we use the sounds in more complex form, and played as musical intervals (like an arpeggio of at least two notes) or, best of all, as music.

I offer the following in support:-

• Tibetan Bowls produce at least six clearly discernible notes at once. They capture the attention, not least because the relative strength of the notes varies in time;
• My understanding is that, traditionally, a number of bowls were used, sounded in succession. Musical intervals are themselves meaningful.3 Indeed Indian Healing music depends on precisely varied intervals from a tonic;
• I don't think anyone would argue against music containing specific sounds being more powerful than these same sounds played in isolation. But in order to have these specific sounds within the music, one has to know how to achieve them. This has taken us several years of research to achieve.

Using Music containing the Specific Sounds

Briefly, a minimal first step is to have a recording of suitable music which the client knows moves them emotionally, and which is in a key not more than say a minor third removed from the most important of the client's 'own' notes. Then to electronically pitch shift the music to match. But one can go well beyond that.

Feeling the Music through the Whole Body

The final element in making therapy with sounds and music effective is, I believe, feeling it through the whole body. That applies equally to the use of simple sounds, or with notes forming musical intervals or with music.

We have developed a special reclining chair and also a couch, for this purpose. This was a further development of vibroacoustic systems which we had been developing for some years, intended for use with profoundly deaf people.[4] At that time in the USA, and in Scandinavia, there was already significant use of vibroacoustics for therapeutic purposes, but little in the UK.[5] The advance over previous vibroacoustic systems is that it (a) enables musical notes of nearly an octave higher in frequency to be felt – so that one can feel much more of the music; and (b) it enables musical parts to be separated enhancing clarity in the feeling.[6]

Using non-technological means, this feeling of music through the whole body has also been in use in India and Tibet and is used in the West, eg. by Danny Becher, mentioned earlier.

One wonderful result we obtained was with a client who had been clinically depressed for a year and whom allopathic medicine had been unable to help. The client had been inspired to listen to certain music. We took CDs of this music and adjusted it electronically to match the client's 'own' key and pitch. The client then experienced the music through the whole body. He was overcome emotionally, shaking with sobs, and after half-an-hour of this he declared himself better. His depression has never returned.


1. Bunt L. Music Therapy. Routledge. London. INSN 0-415-08702-3. 1994.
2. Beaulieu J. Music and Sound in the Healing Arts. Station Hill Press. Barrytown. New York. IBSN 0-88268-057-9. 1987.
3. Danielou A. Music and the Power of Sound. Rochester. Vermont. ISBN 0-89281-336-9. 1995.
4. Dalgarno G. Using music technology to enhance the perception and enjoyment of music for people with severe hearing impairment. Proceedings of the 1996 Ensemble Conference. University of York. 1996.
5. Hooper J. An introduction to vibroacoustic therapy and an examination of its place in music therapy practice. Brit J of Music Therapy. Volume 15. No2. 2001.
6. Dalgarno G. A vibroacoustic couch to improve perception of music by deaf people and for general therapeutic use. 6th International Conference on Music Perception and Cognition. Keele University. ISBN 0-9539909-0-7. UK. 2000.


[1]. Be aware of a widespread confusion: what some people (including in 2) call 'Pythagorean' tuning is not so but actually 'Just Intonation' (natural intervals). I think that for therapy, 'Just' is much preferred to 'Pythagorean' as the latter is artificially based on the perceived need for 'perfection' using the ratios two and three only.
[2]. This is a common problem, particularly in the over 40s. It can give serious problems in digestion, with failure to extract the valuable nutrition from the food and also the undigested food can putrefy in the intestines, which if uncorrected for years could lead to bowel disease.
[3]. The interval corresponds to what the medieval theorist called diabolus in musicus (the devil in music). It corresponds to an augmented fourth on an equally tempered musical instrument.


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About Gordon Dalgarno

Gordon Dalgarno BSc (Hons Physics) MIOA Adv. Cert. Kinesiology AAMT EFT Cert. Reiki Master, Former Visiting Research Fellow, York and Keele Universities worked for many years as a physicist in industry, becoming the manager of a research group. He then worked at York University, first in the Music Department. with Professor John Paynter, and then the Electronics Department., on music for deaf and hard of hearing people. Also to enable people who could not use their hands to make music, with computer-based equipment, creating their individual expressive recorded performance of a piece. He then worked at Keele University on the therapeutic use of music with Professor John Sloboda. He is now in private practice ('Sounds Healthy') in Morecambe, practising Kinesiology, EFT and Hi-tech Therapy with Sound and Music and may be reached via ;

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