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For at least the last thirty to forty years we have had two groups of practitioners who use sound as their basis for healing.   Their approaches both diverge and overlap. The way they receive their training is quite different. Yet each group, the music therapists and sound therapists so-called, actually has something to impart to each other through both their rational and intuitive minds. For a start both use musical tones with a discernible frequency as the basis for their practice.  In ancient times it was understood that musical tones, i.e., regularly vibrating sounds emerging from the voice and instruments consisting of plucked or bowed strings or being blown through, had specific physical and emotional effects on body, mind and spirit. It would be difficult to call the ancient’s practices either music or sound therapy. Music is sound but sound, of course, is not always music.  Music is some form of organized, regularly vibrating sound structures, even if that organization is nothing more than three tones as in Vedic chanting. Eventually, music, as Rudolf Steiner noted, could be reduced to a single tone because contained within it are an infinite array of overtones. The tone is its own form of organization.  Nowadays we are well aware of this phenomenon through the practice of overtoning as revealed to us by David Hykes, Jill Purce, Michael Ormiston and the like.


A case in point are the ancient Greek modes (scalar forms) as discussed by Plato. In the Republic he states unequivocally that each of them conveys a particular emotional feeling and gives specific examples.. And that they can be used to alter a person’s behaviour.  Very important in this is exactly how the tones were tuned.  That knowledge has been lost.  It is not the same to play these modes on modern instruments because the fineness of the tunings is missing.  To what extent were there fixed compositions and/or pure improvisation remains speculative. The ancient Greek approach is very much akin to what we have today in the ragas of Indian music with its fine tuning of the micro intervals or shrutis. Within classical Indian music there are schools of music therapy of long standing.   


In our own time music therapy became a major subject of study when Michigan State University and the University of Kansas offered it beginning in 1944. .  Musicians working within a framework   of      Western music could earn degrees in music   therapy. 

In England two schools of music therapy were established.  The most famous, developing in the 1950s and 1960s,  was that of the pioneers Paul Nordoff and Clive Robbins. Its essential basis is the piano to this day. The other, called Analytical Music Therapy,  was created in the 1960s by the cellist Juliette Alvin and developed by her student Mary Priestley  It was housed at the Guildhall School of Music where they continue to train music therapists. . In the 1970s Helen Bonny in the USA invented a therapeutc process of interlocking music and psychology called Guided Imagery Through Music. She took her lead from the forward looking, self-actualising  psychologists Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow. 


Lying outside academia there developed a separate field of sound therapy and healing in the 1970s and 1980s.  It began primarily with the voice and the earliest known practitioner was the American  Laurel Elizabeth Keyes.  Her book Toning: The Creative Power of the Voice is still in print and has been updated by another key figure Don Campbell who, over the years, has been highly instrumental in bridging the gap between music and sound therapy.  His classical training as a musician has enabled him to understand the healing power of sound in its widest sense. His book The Mozart Effect remains the bible for anyone who wants knowledge about both fields.  Yet another figure of significance is Jonathan Goldman who has placed the use of sound  and vibration at the forefront of the many healing modalities available today.and created the first Sound Healers Association.  In the UK it has been Jill Purce who has pioneered the voice as the ultimate healing instrument, drawing from the great traditions of the East.  All those who have achieved some status as UK sound therapists/healers owe her a debt.


The growth of the sound therapy field has followed three lines:  1) the use of the voice as a self-empowering instrument     2) the use of non-Western instruments and/or original acoustic instruments (Tibetan bowls and bells, crystal bowls, tuning forks, gongs, didgierdoo and the like), and 3) the use of technology, working with the Cymatics and Tomatis electronic instruments, for example. In the first two cases, practitioners sometimes study Eastern texts and scriptures and/or actually work with Eastern gurus to gain insight into their sound healing methods. They understand that  healing means to bring wholeness to an individual. It is not just a matter of correcting the tensions of the physical body. Practitioners also have to use their intuitions and experiment with the sounds, especially if they are adapting traditions. They have to come to a consensus within themselves of what is actually efficacious . For example, the use of vowel sounds with the chakras growing out of the work of Jonathan Goldman in the 1980s and the development of various forms of tuning forks with different frequencies such as those as John Beaulieu. What they all have to acknowledge is that no one form of sound healing methods work for everybody.


The essential practice of the sound healers/practitioners /.facilitators is administering small packets of sound into the energy field of persons.  The premise is that all aspects of a human being -       physical body, non-local mind, the auric field,    the chakras and the soul consist of frequencies which are not vibrating at the ultimate and correct rates for that person. That the application of the sounds will cause a resonance such that a re-tuning of whatever aspect is effected.  The choice of the sound frequencies is both rational and intuitive.  Rationally, a healer could use particular seed syllables for the chakras from an Indian tradition which, descending from the rishis, have stood the test time of time.; but how they are applied is usually decided intuitively.  .  In the case of Beaulieu’s tuning forks, there is both the rational and the intuitive.  While the   frequencies are derived from the overtone series, categorizing the tone combinations into the four elements, as he does,  is intuitive. .Clearly, although the sounds produced are “musical”, what is produced is not music even if listened to without intent for healing. For example, putting on a recording of a continuous sound of a gong.


The second point about the field of sound therapy is those drawn to it are largely not physically or mentally disabled. Here the definition of “physically or mentally disabled”is someone who is officially statemented as being so for legal purposes.  Of courses, it will always be difficult to draw a line about what constitutes being disabled. From the highest level we are all so.  The Tomatis method of music/sound therapy is often used with children with autism   It falls between two stools.         Is it sound or music  therapy? Music because it uses pieces of music, largely Mozart and Gregorian chants, but sound therapy because the music is radically modified by electronic means.


Most people who would use a sound therapist or practice sound therapy on themselves usually are simply in some recognizable state of physical and/or mental stress They have an intuition that fine vibrations can have a definite effect on their state of being,  returning them to a state of balance and consequently  leading them into deep meditation.  Ultimately, they approach the issue of their health spiritually.  They recognize  that being bathed in fine frequencies is a refinement of their being and thus the path forward,  Thus it becomes a matter of self-empowerment..


The training of music and sound therapists is a distinguishing feature of the two groups.

There is a certain exclusivity in becoming an official, certified music therapist. Almost all the programmes offered at UK colleges and universities or at specialist schools, most especially the Nordoff-Robbins School in London (only for pianists), require a first degree in music.  The cornerstone of music therapy practice is the ability to improvise on one’s instrument and to create organized patterns of sound such as may be called “music.“ How they shape that improvised music according to melody, rhythm and harmony is thus the key to their work. Percussion instruments are brought into play where the patients can have a participatory role. 


So, essentially, music therapy studies amount to graduate work. This requirement is a barrier to those musicians whose temperaments are well suited to working in a therapeutic field and are sufficiently “musical” whatever that might mean. The fact that they lack official music training should not hold these people back. This writer has led workshops at Goldsmiths College, London for those who have an interest in entering the music or sound therapy field.  Most are surprised to learn that a degree in music is the entry  point for a career in music therapy. 


For the sound therapist, up until recent years, there was no official way of breaking into the field.  They need not even be musicians although it helps if they are musically sensitive and have a reasonably good voice. Those of us who began in the 1990s or even earlier had to find our way through different kinds of research and experiment and then have the confidence to put our approaches forward.  Now a sufficient body of knowledge has been accumulated so that actual schools of sound healing have emerged.  In England four have been established: The British Academy of Sound Therapy (Lyz Cooper, founder), The College of Sound Healing (Simon Heather, founder), the Academy of Tim Wheater and Chloe Goodchild‘s school known as The Naked Voice.  


Those coming out of these schools, even with their certificates, will most likely not be able to enter the domain of the music therapists.  That is, hospitals, hospices, mental institutions, nursing homes and the like.  One kind of institution might be open to them - prisons.  However, it should be noted that the governors have complete autonomy and can decide what they want or do not want in their prisons at any given time.


In the end it is the concept of “healing” that matters.  While the approaches and credentials of music and sound therapists are different, at another level they merge if the result of their practices is “healing”, that is, bringing, however small, a unity between mind, body and spirit.  Something of this is, more than likely ,being achieved even in the extreme cases of an autistic or Down’s syndrome child.  For music therapists who deal with these situations cannot go just by their training.  They, too, have to apply their intuition and become pioneers.  It is high time that a dialogue between the two groups be established so that they come to know their common ground.  Conferences such as Resonance: A Festival of Sound Healing at Hawkwood College this year* could lead the way.


James D’Angelo



*5-7 June.  See

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