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Silvia Nakkach
Category: Voicework

Medicine Melodies; Emotional Magic and Music

In the Universe, everything sings: plants, animals, waterfalls, bones, people, the stars, the rain, and many things we don’t see; even silence makes a sound. Every spiritual tradition of the world has used sound to facilitate the passage between states of consciousness. From time immemorial the shaman hears the hidden music of the universe and sings it back through “medicine melodies,” simple tonal configurations that reflect a sacred unity with nature and have the power to heal body, mind and spirit. Many people in our own culture today are visited by such melodies—as if spontaneous transmissions from nature or the spirit world are “singing in” to the person rather than the person “singing out.”

Medicine melodies can be found in all traditions: from our own lullabies to Gregorian chants, Hebrew davennen, the kirtans, mantras and ragas from India, Tibetan ritual prayers, the zhikrs of the Sufis, Buddhist sutras and tantric chants, indigenous songs such as the icaros, and healing songs from Africa and the Americas. These melodies are divinely inspired, constructed with simplicity and minimalism and rendered with a great deal of repetition to most effectively convey the emotion, memory, revelation, or spiritual transmission and manifest it in the dimension of healing, music, and magic.

Evoking the original function of music—which is to quiet the mind and make it sensitive to divine intervention—these archetypal melodies clear and open energetic channels, giving birth to healing, kindness, and connecting us with ancestral lines and love.

In the musical spectrum, melody is defined as a tonal configuration with movement that unfolds in relation to time, with an intention that can be conceptual, intuitive, expressed or conveyed. Melody is the most affective and effective attribute of the transformational power of sound and has always been a means for expressing meaning and feeling.

Medicine melodies are based on simple melody lines that allow for variations in tone, rhythm, harmony and expression. They can be found in all cultures, sharing similar attributes as devotional music that had been preserved for centuries. These melodies create a contagious sensation of unity and well-being. Anyone who cultivates familiarity with healing music or chanting can find herself creating or remembering medicine melodies. It requires simply the ability to be completely present in the moment, allowing oneself to be subtly immersed in a transpersonal field of sound, positive intention, a reliable rhythmic pulse, and spontaneous song.

These healing sound formulas help to transform energy patterns and enhance deep listening and receptivity. By balancing the activity of the left and right brain hemispheres, medicine melodies can produce measurable effects in the physical body. They induce concentration and sharpen our capacity for self-awareness, allowing us to see not only what is there, but also what is felt, and what others feel, giving us access to a insightful vision of the past and the future.

As sacred sound travels through consciousness it can transform everyday occurrences into a mythical dimension. A fundamental part of shamanic healing, medicine melodies possess profound consciousness-altering effects. Examples are the icaros from the Peruvian Amazon, songs that the plants themselves transmit to the healers after they become physically, mentally and spiritually prepared to receive them. Interestingly, after their initiation individuals in completely different locations have been known to receive the very same icaros, evidence of their direct transmission from sacred realms.

Sometimes accompanied by wooden flutes and percussion, these chants have transformative qualities that make them central to medicine ritual. We recognize the medicinal power in a melody through it simplicity and its spiritual resonance with nature and the spirit world. These are the chants that shamans use for divination and protection.

In the shamanic realm, medicine melodies provide a skillful means to support the inner journey. The practice involves using evocative voices that imitate nature and spirit sounds, simple chants, and deep drumbeats to facilitate the transference of energy, and connect with the healing power of nature and the spirit world.

The latest discoveries in neuroscience confirm the healing power of sound, of devotional singing in particular. Chanting awakens all the physical and energetic psychic centers, stimulates the immune system and the emotional body, allowing greater meaning and spiritual insight into the mysteries of the shamanic and the creative state. The melody evokes, clears and pacifies the emotion.

The voice as a fabric of breath, tone, and expression has the capacity to convey and release emotions like no other instrument. In music and sound therapy one may discover the beneficial use of medicine melodies, with the range of breath to tone, using humming as a preliminary practice to generate an atmosphere of calm receptiveness for both clinician and patient.

Before entering into the dimension of melody, one may slowly chant ascending and descending notes over a drone (long tone), at times bending the pitch ever so slightly. The space of silence between the notes in this way is a metaphor for the spiritual journey.

The Eastern concept of microtonal intervals, or divisions of semi-tones, as well as the practice of meending or portmento—i.e., the slow sliding up and down within the space between two notes—is of great relevance. This gentle microtonal movement has the capacity to expand the senses and proves to be naturally entrancing, reaffirming the therapeutic potential of a meaningful relationship. It also creates a sense of ‘journeying,’ while allowing enough time to connect with the emotion that needs to be released.

We experience singing as one of the most directly transformative art forms because it liberates self-expression, promotes physical and emotional balance, and engenders a sense of devotion and happiness. We notice that singing in a slow, sustained, and sliding manner effects profound change in emotions and states of consciousness. When the voice wanders through ancient sounds, trancelike melodic repetitive patterns, and textural prayers, it creates an optimum coordination between brain, breath and heart, which helps to reduce stress, clear emotions, and sharpen intellectual focus and creativity.

Through working with the voice singing medicine melodies, the realm of sounding becomes a state of consciousness—a kind of trance—where the attention is not on the Self but in the experience of sound. Free from selfish demands, the voice soars, listens, receives, and reveals divine frequencies and songs. We wonder “Who is singing?”

The practice of being in sound, dwelling in simple sound, becomes a devotional gift. We begin to realize that we are not singing; but calling in divine qualities; we are not performing but transforming, simultaneously playing and praying. We enter a state akin to meditation, where singing becomes a doorway to the most inner silence. We are one with pure and divine vibration. Our breath is the breath of God. The heart is open, the voice is open, the hands are open, the eyes are softly closed—we experience no fear.

Singing medicine melodies connects us with our true energetic and emotional nature and helps reveal deeper aspects of our ancestral lineage. Awakening the whole body of the voice becomes a spiritual practice that involves both the body and the mind—the ultimate aim being the experience of divine remembrance and transformation.

Another way to experience medicine melodies is by repeating a mantra, or singing an Indian raga. Raga comes from the Sanskrit word that means “color, or passion” so it can be thought of as that which colors the mind with an emotion that stimulates brain and heart activity. I describe ragas as melodic entities that live in the threshold between passion and music, humanness and cosmic-ness, religion and spirituality, time and consciousness. Through ragas we become cosmic singers, connecting through sound to time, eternity, and light. In this lies the healing power of these distinctive melodies that have no composer, no ownership, but the intervention of the divine, In particular, we realize the raga’s potential to connect us with archetypal consciousness, emotional nature, and magic.

Some of the psycho-spiritual qualities that may be conveyed when singing medicine melodies include inner wisdom, serenity, open mindedness, selflessness, compassion, devotion, calm acceptance, wonder, affliction, detachment, inner joy, radiance, and relaxation.

When offering the music of medicine melodies as part of a healing practice, the sound practitioner must rely on his or her experience, belief, and intuition, spontaneously selecting the modality and the music that is appropriate for each situation and setting. I refer to this treatment of melody as spiritual melodicism—the mindful use of melody in the perfect synergy of pace, nature, and consciousness. The melody leads the emotion and becomes a metaphor to evoke meaning, aid memory, hold, embrace, and comfort, improving the ability to cope with stress and fear.

By experiencing the devotional nature of music, we open our hearts to the deep longing of the enchanters, those who journey through the magic of sound to attract spirit power. The evolution of the art of sound healing may depend on deepening cross-cultural sophistication and the conscious treatment of musical structure (melody, rhythm, harmony and mood) with a spiritual emphasis.

When Creating Medicine Melodies with a Drone 
A Practice

Begin… in a relaxed state
Focus… the attention on breath
Breath… peacefully
Choose… one long tone
Dwell… peacefully in one tone as a home
Move… slowly approaching neighboring notes
Focus… on minimal change
Align… melodic imagination with a particular mode or scale
Focus… on the melody that comes to you
Explore… simple movements of the melody
Find… the medicine melody
Repeat… the melodic pattern as often as possible

Empower… the melodies with words of wisdom and beauty
Remember… lullabies, indigenous prayers, and mantras
Deeply listen… to pace, pause, texture, and breath
Slow down Focus… on soft and equal quality of the voice or any instrument
Focus… on repetition
Focus… on rasa (feeling)
Focus… on divine nature
Focus… on the space between the notes
Focus… on sound and listening
Focus… on listening silence

Dwell… in Silence

• Recording examples will be download soon at

Medicine Melodies 
workshop will take place on March 7& 8 
at CIIS on 1453 Mission Street

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