The Language of Healing Music

Note: This paper is open to criticisms and suggestions on how I could further improve it. I know that it lacks depth, but I still want to improve on it especially in the musical aspect of it. Specifically on the musical theory part and what music can I add to improve it.

There are numerous cultures around the world. We all have different cultural backgrounds, and experiences as well. In a globalized world, almost nothing at all may be coined originally ours.

The world has a vast history of cultures. Many have studied them, some may be in depth, and others could be superficial. The study of humans is called Anthropology, and Anthropology has a particular study on Language.

Language has been discussed for countless of times. Many languages are actually taken for granted; it seems to others that it is just a mere way of communicating. Language, some think is another everyday truth of life that does not really matter. This is the mentality of most hardcore science scholars today. It is not science if it does not give you the skill to build bridges, or invasively show you how to heal the sick, or get you out of jail. It is not a real study or course if it is not engineering, modern medicine, or law.[1] But as time passes on these studies became even more real and helpful in knowing the balance between the hardcore sciences and the “pseudo-science”.

Studying language is very tricky; many have tried to box it in such a way they give meaning to the word. But the word itself is encompassing. Language can stem from the meaning a symbolic writing, a drawing, a statue, a totem[2], a nod, a gesture, a dance, a click sound, a wail, a succession of sounds, and music. These are some of the few things we could use to grasp the knowledge of language and what it is.

Back when we were in high school we were taught about communication, the proper way to communicate and the reality of communication. When we communicate there must be a speaker and a listener. One’s thought must be conveyed to another for communication to be successful. In reality, on a one on one conversation, communication does not always happen very systematically. Wherein, a speaker talks, and then a listener would absorb or interpret the movement, sound or symbol the speaker has imparted.[3] But instead, during the time the speaker tries to convey her or his thoughts, the listener would interject and react to what it is that they are conversing about. The information a person get as a receiver may not be necessarily the same as what the speaker thinks of. For we all have different experiences and understanding of information.[4]

We all know that culture is transmitted from different forms of communication or language. It may be in the form of verbal communication (i.e. oral, written, etc.) or a non-verbal type of communication (i.e. body language, space etc.).[5] I would also like to add here that there are artistic forms of nonverbal communication such as dance and music. Among my travels, I have seen forms of music and dance that were not written or drawn. It was only at this age that these cultures are being documented for the sake of reviving them or keeping them alive. Many of our cultural heritages are no longer practiced or are not even known because of the lack of written texts that would prove their existence.

In the modern age of electricity and modernization our culture is slowly fading away from the minds of the younger generation. One good example here is our traditional music. A reason why this culture is dying is because we have not written them, the way modern music is written. Our ancestors focused on the performance of the music and how to pass it on by performing it as well. Second is the earth based type of instruments that most often than not are fragile and would not stand wear and tear of time (i.e. kubing, tungatong).  And third because of the youth today being influenced by pop culture thus deeming that their traditional culture to be outdated and “uncool”.[6] Musicians or the people back then played according to how their ancestors made music. This is heard from the musical distinctions of different cultures (i.e. Egyptian, Chinese, Indian, etc.). Just like language, the generation before and the present influence our traditional culture. There are two types influences, the hard power and the soft power. The more on influential one is the soft structural power, an influence that does not coerce the change in one’s culture.[7] This may also then influence not just change but culture as it is. In traditional cultures, the term soft power, which is used by Joseph Nye, may also be referred as the media (in present times), or the culture that surrounds a person (i.e. local or foreign). In the subject of traditional music, we can thus say that Egyptian music is similar Arabic music, Chinese music to Japanese and Korean, and Indian music to the Bangladeshi type of music since these cultures and countries are close to each other.

Language of Music

In this day, age and technology regardless if it were a new type of culture or an old one, anthropologists make it a point to document everything. Every detail is documented through the use of either/or writing (i.e. electronic or handwritten) and media recording (i.e. film or photography). In music, there is a different way of recording music. Since the language of music is not always through words and has a different way of conveying what it wants to tell us. Music has a different set of symbols for it to be understood.


Universal Feeling

First we must need to understand what the language of music is. Many have used music as part of their study of language and as many believe, language is a universal language that encompasses all other languages. This is believed because of the fact that music actually appeals to our emotions. All human beings are capable to feel a universal feeling. Through music the Science Daily made a study with Mafa, a native group in Africa who have never heard of Western music before. They were made to listen to music that conveyed happiness, sadness, and fear. The study was conclusive that despite the Mafa people who have not heard Western music or non-organic music recognized what is a happy, sad, and music that conveys fear.[8] Although music has a universal language, which make us understand the person who made the music it may also be arbitrary. In a quick trial during class with the first movement in Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 14 or better known as the “Moonlight Sonata”, not everyone felt the same about the music.

                        Moonlight Sonata. Sonata No. 14 [9]

Most of the people in class said that the music was depressing and they felt really sad; to my surprise though that there was one who actually found the music to be music that is played in wellness centers or Spa. It is then possible that after generations that this music is believed by most to be one of Beethoven’s melancholic composition, one actually finds it to be music to relax and feel good. This is where the arbitrariness of music enters. Not everyone have the same interpretation of music, just like information. Our experiences are different from one another therefore, making us understand things differently from others.

Music just like written language has a system for it to be read and understood. If the common spoken language use symbols such “a, b, c, d, e, …” or “열,심,히, …” or  “岸, 本, さ, …” and all others as the basic unit of language, music uses the following:

            – C = Do

            – D = Re

            – E= Mi

            – F = Fa

            – G = Sol

            – A = La

            – B = Ti/Si

These are the basic notes of music and are called pitches, it corresponds to a certain pitch or tone. This then gives the basic sound of music. The combination of these pitches makes the basic sentences or words of music called the scales or mode.

The scale or scales make up the words or sentences of music; it makes music more understandable. Even with the spoken language, pronouncing the letter “b” alone will not mean anything; unless there would be a prior agreement that it stands for something on its own. In the English language, when one continuously pronounces the letter “b” one will not be understood by others. This defeats the purpose of language and communication of being able to convey ones thought. But if the letter “b” is paired with another letter (i.e. “e”, “y”), then it starts to have meaning. This goes as well with musical notes. When trying to converse with music and if one uses only a single tone, there will be very little emotion or none at all. Musical scales are the words and the sentences of music and these are some of the major scales or modes and what tone does it frequently land on:

            – Major Scale (C, D, E, F, G, A, B)

            – Minor Scale (C, D, Eb, F, G, A, B)

            – Pentatonic Scale (C, D, E, G, A)

            – Blues Scale (C, D#, F, F#, G, A#)

            – Japanese Scale (C, Db, F, G, Ab)

The major scale is the most common among all the scales. Here almost all of the seven notes are used to create a song or feeling. The general mood of the scale is happy, since it does not deal with sharps or flats that could break the continuous motion of the music. The Minor scale is next to the most common scale that is used. It differs from the major scale by having a flat on the third tone. Generally, when the minor scale is played, it gives out a feeling of loneliness. Pentatonic Scale is a scale that uses 5 specific notes. It has a characteristic of being played most usually in fast paced music fluid type of music. Since the pitches are consistent and avoids half-steps when moving to the next pitch. Blues scale is the scale or the set of notes blues or jazz artists usually thrive on. The blues scale may give a feeling of loneliness or being down, but still could maintain a steady upbeat rhythm. The notes in the Japanese scale are the only notes that are used in traditional Japanese and Chinese music. These are the general feelings these scales convey.[10] It is not imperative that these are the scales that should be used if a composer wants to convey the mentioned feelings; these are just the predominant scales that are used.

            There are other numerous symbols in writing music, some examples are:

            – G Clef , F Clef

            – Sharp (#), Flat (b)

            – Whole Note, Half Note, Quarter Note

            – Whole Rest, Half Rest, Quarter Rest

            – Adagio, Allegro, Presto

These are just some of the symbols in music that connotes, the octave or how high or how low the pitches should be played. It also tells the reader how fast or how slow each not should be played and of course it tells us how fast or how slow does the reader have to rest or stop before playing the next note. Adagio, Allegro, Presto and other Italian concepts tell the reader the feel of the music, if it would be lively, sad, scary, etc.

Healing Music

Traditional medicine or alternative healing is starting to gain adore from people again. From the discovery of modern medicine, people preferred modern medicine to that of alternative healing. It was only late that alternative healing is being accepted as another way of healing. Most often than not, people resort to this kind of healing because of the negative side effects of modern medicine. Others may also be scared or could not afford the risk to go under the knife and would instead look for other ways to get better. Along with alternative healing is the healing music. It was observed that almost all alternative healing or wellness centers do have background music; this music is said to aid to the person’s healing process. Healing music in wellness centers are not all the same. It depends on the healing method and the knowledge of the healers that they think would best aid in healing. Most often, based on experience music played in wellness centers, play around with instrumental music.

Healing music has been with us for ages. It is the part of our traditional healing culture. It is part of culture that conveys emotions but still, different people have arbitrary emotions on one certain music. The following examples are healing music across Asian cultures.

First is a healing music inspired by the Chinese season of fall:

                        Chinese Healing Music (Fall2-Part1)[11]

It says, that this music is a form of healing music and depicts the fall season. The Chinese cultural influence of this music is very evident. The use of traditional instruments by the composer gears away from modern music today, like the use of synthesizers and other electronic instruments to create music. The music’s steady flowing pace also makes the music feel calm and serene. The beat is slow and does not progress to a fast pace which could probably make the listener agitated. I use this music to sleep. It makes me dream of happy dreams. The only drawback is that, I could not wake up early.

Arbitrariness in feeling and style in music is also present in healing music. The cultural background from where the music is coming from influences how composers create their music. Even though some cultures use traditional musical instruments, there will still be differences in tempo, style and what the composer perceives as a music for healing. Take for instance an Indian healing music that makes use of the “veena” or “vina” to create this wonderful music:

Classical Indian Music for Healing and Relaxation by Music for Deep Meditation[12]

This music actually has a different scalar movement. It has a faster pace compared to that of the previous. But the absence of heavy percussions makes it relaxing, though agitating at the same time. I listen to this music on a loop whenever I need to work on something with ease, it keeps me alert but at the same time calm.

            With all the traditional healing music, there are those that come from a more modern perspective and influence. These are the New-Age type of artists who incorporates modern technology in the making of a traditional art. Most artists who create and are inspired in making modern healing music are healers as well of a newly found ways of healing. Take for instance “Reiki”, a newly established form of healing has its believers create their own music:

                        A Place to Dream by Llewellyn[13]

A Place to Dream is in the Aeolian mode or most commonly known as the major scale. It has an uplifting disposition but kept its calming feature by not incorporating percussions and fast beats. It also maintained fluid ascension of tones. But if you will notice, this type of music uses a lot of synthesizers, which is electronic by nature. Some of the instruments used are inspired by nature but are actually modified or created by a synthesizer. When I listen to it, it gives out an image of the divine or me ascending towards the heavens. I personally use this type of music when I perform Reiki healing on someone.


There are a lot of modes or scales of music in nature. Some I believe have not yet been discovered; implementing them in music can make a lot of difference. Healing music is an art and a part of culture that has not yet been studied fully, most especially the ones that have been created for centuries ago.  The language of healing music basically tries to calm us down by taking away the usual fast beats of music. It incorporates modes of music that has a more steady and fluid temperament and movement from one tone to another. There will be minimal exposure of flats and sharps that would be heard, as this will cut the fluidity of the music. Fluid motion, and absence of heavy percussions is the language healing music that tells us to relax and calm down.


Banhi, Rosella (personal interview, 2010)

Barnard, Alan. (2004). History and Theory of Anthropology. Cambridge University Press.

Cell Press (2009, March 20). Language Of Music Really Is Universal, Study Finds.ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 19, 2012, from­/releases/2009/03/090319132909.html

Haviland, William; Prins, Harald; McBride, Bunny; Walrath, Dana. (2011). Cultural Anthropology: The Human Challenge (13th ed.) California, USA. Wadsworth Cengage Learning

Mcgee, R. Jon and Warms, Richard L. (2008). Anthropology Theory: An Introductory History (4th ed.) USA. McGraw Hill Inc.

Moore, Jerry (2009). Visions of Culture: An Introduction to Theories and Theorists (3rd ed.) United Kingdom. AltaMira Press

Woolhouse, W.S.B (1835). Essays on Musical Intevals, Harmonics, and the Temperament of Musical Scale. London. J. and C. Adlard, Bartholomew Close


Clayderman, Richard. Moonlight Sonata Sonata No. 14.  (Beethoven, Ludwig. [1801], Original).

Freire, Marcos. Chinese Healing Music (Fall2 – Part1). Celestial and Five Elements Music (CD)

Govindarajan, Gayatri. (2009). Indian Music for Healing and Relaxation (produced by Inner Splendor Media). Music for Meditation. New York.

Llewellyn. (1998). A Place to Dream.


[1] This stems from my personal experiences. How family member/s criticize Anthropological studies.

[2] page 33; (Barnard, 2004)

[3] page 108; (Haviland, Prins, McBride, & Walrath, 2011)

[4] pg.108; (Barnard, 2004)

[5] page 61; (Haviland, Prins, McBride, & Walrath, 2011)

[6] Interview on Culture; (Banhi, 2010)

[7] page 393; (Haviland, Prins, McBride, & Walrath, 2011)

[8] (Fritz, et al., 2012)

[9] (Beethoven)

[10] (Woolhouse, 1835)

[11] (Freire)

[12] (Govindarajan, 2009)

[13] (Llewellyn, 1998)


About mylauvenwierds

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