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SOUND THERAPY 101 - A Foundational Exploration of Sound Therapy

By John Stuart Reid

In 1997, during acoustics experiments in the Great Pyramid, what seemed like a miracle occurred. John Stuart Reid had walked (or more accurately crawled) into the pyramid in severe pain, due to a back injury sustained three weeks earlier, but within 20 minutes of beginning acoustics experiments, which involved making sound in the King’s Chamber, all the pain left him. It never came back. So began his 20+ year quest to discover how he was seemingly miraculously healed. This foundational article begins with the historical perspective of Sound Therapy before discussing present day research and defining the related disciplines of Music Therapy and Music Medicine. The next article in this series, Sound Therapy 201, discusses the biological mechanisms that underpin Sound Therapy and Music Medicine, including a description of how John Stuart Reid was left pain free after 20 minutes immersion in low frequency sound.

Several ancient cultures used the seemingly magical power of sound to heal, but sound therapy had almost disappeared in the West until 1927 when Professor R. Wood and his assistant, Loomis, discovered ultrasound—high frequency sound—and its medical properties.1 With this discovery, research burgeoned and it is now established fact that ultrasound has powerful medical properties including its use in breaking up kidney stones and even shrinking tumours.2,3,4,5 In hospitals and sports injury clinics, in all parts of the world, therapeutic ultrasound is used to support or accelerate the healing of soft tissues and broken bones. A year later, in 1928, Professor Erwin Schliephake, a German scientist who began his career at Physiological and Physiological-Chemical Institute in Leipzig, discovered that audible sounds created therapeutic effects. His research work led to a Mr Lindacher developing the “Novasonic”, a hand-held device that emits mainly low frequency sonic vibrations and is still in manufacture today.6

Professor Erwin Schliephake and the Lindacher “Novasonic” device inspired by Professor Schliephake’s research

In the 1960s, English osteopath, Dr. Peter Guy Manners, developed a Cymatic Therapy device that proved to be effective for the support of a wide range of ailments. The name of his device was inspired by the work of Dr. Hans Jenny, the Swiss medical doctor who coined the word

“cymatics” to mean visible sound, Dr Manners having met Dr Jenny in Switzerland. John Stuart Reid interviewed Dr Manners at his clinic in Bretforton. England, and learned that the frequencies used in his cymatic device were the result of research carried out by a team of German physicists employed under the Nazi regime. An elderly German physicist gifted research documents to Dr Manners in the late 1940’s, following the end of World War II. Dr. Manners held several awards, including the Dag Hammarskjold Merit of Excellence for benefits to humanity and Academie Diplomatique (De La Paix), as well as the Diploma of Honour in Bio-energetic Medicine (Moscow) for his contribution to research and development of bio-magnetic medicine. He died in 2009 but a few years before his death he arranged for US-based company, Cymatherapy International Inc, now Cyma Technologies Inc, to take his work forward. They are one of several organisations who have developed audible sound devices to support a wide range of physical ailments.7, 8, 9 The companies have documented many cases in which their sonic therapies benefited individuals. Audible sound is intrinsically safe and cannot be “overdosed,” while ultrasound, if not properly applied, can cause severe internal burning.

Dr. Peter Guy Manners in his Bretforton Clinic (Image credit: courtesy of Elizabeth Bauer)

The Aboriginal people of Australia are reported to have used their “yidaki” (modern name, didgeridoo) as a healing tool for thousands of years and one tradition holds that its primordial sound created the world and everything in it. Stories passed down through many generations of their

culture tell of healing broken bones, muscle tears and many kinds of illnesses using their enigmatic musical instrument. To our knowledge no medical studies have been conducted in which the yidaki’s healing power has been tested, although its acoustic output is in alignment with some modern audible sound therapy devices, particularly in its emitting low frequency sounds, so it is not surprising that it has healing properties. Some studies of the benefits of playing the yidaki instrument have been conducted, one of which is a paper in the Journal of Rural Health concluded that yidaki playing alleviated the symptoms of asthma in school children.10 Another study, reported in the British Medical Journal, concluded that it helped sleep apnea.11

A yidaki, ancient musical instrument with therapeutic benefits. (Image credit: Dan McGarry)

The idea that sound (in the form of music) can be given as a therapy in support of illness is a concept espoused by Pythagoras of Samos, 2,500 years ago. One of his biographers, Iamblichus, reported that Pythagoras believed that music could be used in place of medicine and that it contributed greatly to health.12 According to the Isocrates (436– 338 BC), and other writers, Pythagoras of Samos, (circa 570 – circa 495 BC), travelled in Egypt 13, 14, 15 and absorbed knowledge from their priest-scientists. Pythagoras later founded an intellectual community on the island of Croton, Italy, and Iamblicus tells us that his followers numbered 218 men and 17 women, all named individually, to whom he gave lectures during the day and evening. One group of his followers

were known as the ‘Acoustici’, which means ‘to hear’, and from which the English word ‘acoustic’ derives. At that point in history the Egyptian civilization had already spanned more than three millennia, their culture was advanced and their knowledge of astronomy, engineering, mathematics, medicine, music and many other subjects was well developed. While Pythagoras is credited with the invention of the monochord, which he used for investigating harmonic intervals–its single gut string tensioned by a fixed weight, a scientific instrument rather than for creating music–the ancient Egyptians had been making and playing musical instruments since pre-dynastic times, a period stretching back millennia before Pythagoras’ visit. Therefore, it seems likely that Pythagoras would have absorbed knowledge of musical intervals during his Egyptian travels.

Pythagoras of Samos

It also seems reasonable to hypothesise that Pythagoras’ use of “music in place of medicine” was inspired by knowledge acquired from the priest-scientists he encountered during his travels in Egypt. The Egyptians built sanatoria (hospitals) in all major towns and there is some evidence that one of their methods of healing involved sound, since the mere sounds of words was considered a potent and creative force in Egypt, as noted by R.A. Schwaller de Lubicz, in his book Sacred Science 16. Apart from their known use of vocal sound and conventional musical instruments such as the drum, harp, flute, lyre and

tambourine, the Egyptians also employed ‘sistra’, a type of rattle with metal discs, which emit significant levels of ultrasound in the 40 to 60 kHz range. The Dendera Sanatorium features small healing chambers that would have had excellent reverberative qualities due to their parallel facing walls and flat stone surfaces, in which instruments such as the sistra could have been used to good effect. Such small chambers would have had similar acoustics to modern day tiled bathrooms. Each healing chamber featured a basin containing water that had been poured over a statue of one of their healing gods, charging the water with healing energies, which was then imbibed.

Dendera Sanatorium. Note the small healing chambers.

Research into the benefits of placebo has shown the belief in a prescribed ‘medicine’ can have as much efficacy as an actual medicine, if the patient believes it has healing qualities.17 The placebo ‘medicine’ created by pouring water over the statue of a healing god may have contributed greatly to the wellbeing of the Egyptian patients.

Women playing sistra instruments alongside a harpist. Sistra are a rich source of ultrasound.

At Deir el-Bahari, on the west bank of Thebes, an 18th dynasty chapel was dedicated to Amenhotep son of Hapu18, a deified healing saint closely associated with Imhotep—who is largely recognized under the title 'physician' and responsible for designing Djoser’s sublime Step Pyramid complex at Saqqara. Imhotep's repute was so great that 1,500 years after his death the Greeks identified him with their healing god Asclepius. Imhotep and Amenhotep-son-of-Hapu were the only two commoners deified in the history of ancient Egypt and were usually worshipped together in the same Egyptian healing temples18 . Acoustics research conducted by the author strongly suggests that the Egyptians designed their chapels to be reverberant in order to enhance sonic-based ceremonies; the chapels at Deir el-Bahari, where the sick made pilgrimage, have strong reverberant qualities and therefore it seems reasonable to hypothesise that sistra and other musical instruments, along with vocalisations, played a significant role as a healing modality in such healing chapels. The Indian culture also has a long and rich history of using sound for healing illness, stretching back around 3,500 years.19 In the Vedic period, (1500-600 BCE) specific mantra chants were prescribed for specific maladies. The Ayurvedic practitioner was called “vaidya”,

meaning a person of profound knowledge, who held a magical power over gods through their mantras, using this power for healing purposes.20 Therapeutic ultrasound has been used in hospitals and sports injury clinics, worldwide, for decades to accelerate healing of soft tissue following major physical traumas, 21, 22, 23, 24 even though the underlying biological mechanisms are poorly understood25. It seems possible that the ancient Egyptians utilized the therapeutic qualities of ultrasound thousands of years before it was re-discovered by western medicine. The fact that the ancient Egyptians had experimented with the design of musical instruments for millennia does not in itself imply a focus on controlling the acoustic environment in their sacred spaces, but many textual indicators suggest that reverberance in their temple chambers was desirable, perhaps even essential for their rituals. (See the web site, Egyptology section, for textual indicators).

Music Therapy, Music Medicine and Sound Therapy

The clinical discipline of Music Therapy focuses on, for example, supporting patients with depression or relieving anxiety during the pre and post-operative phases of a patient’s hospitalization. It is generally defined as an intervention in which “the therapist helps the client to promote health, using music experiences and the [patient/therapist] relationships developing through them.”26 Many studies have been conducted that demonstrate the efficacy of Music Therapy,27 but now, interest is growing in the field of Music Medicine, which, as its name implies, focuses on the demonstrable benefits of music as treatment for specific health challenges; one definition is, “listening to music [for the purpose of healing] without the presence of a therapist.” 28 In other words, the beneficial effects that the music alone creates for the patient, regardless of the presence of a therapist during the “treatment.”

A Cochrane analysis of twenty-six Music Medicine clinical trials with a total of 1369 participants, titled, Music for stress and anxiety reduction in coronary heart disease patients, concluded that “listening to music may have a beneficial effect on systolic blood pressure and heart rate in people with coronary heart disease and appears to be effective in reducing anxiety in people with myocardial infarction.” The same report mentioned, “Listening to music may reduce pain and respiratory rate and appears to improve patients’ quality of sleep following a cardiac procedure or surgery.” 29 A study by the University of Belgrade School of Medicine, led by Dr Predag Mitrovic, involved 350 patients diagnosed with a heart attack and early post-infarction angina in Serbia. Half were randomly assigned to receive standard treatment while half were assigned to regular music sessions in addition to the standard treatment. Researchers fine-tuned the music selection by working with the patient to determine the optimal music tempo and tonality, therefore, the initial stage the study would technically be classed as music therapy, while the major part of the study would, today, be classified as music medicine since the participants listened to music at home, without a therapist. Participants who listened to music reported less anxiety and less pain sensation than participants who received the standard treatment alone. Dr Mitrovic concluded, “Sedative music was more effective than treatment in decreasing anxiety and pain in patients with HT [hypertension] and EPA [post-infarction angina]. Patients with HT should have the benefit of using sedative music as an adjuvant to medication during EPA episodes”.30 Johns Hopkins Medicine also acknowledges the role of music in addressing illness and indicates a range of illnesses they aim to treat with music, including, Huntington’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease and Dementia.31

McGill University in Montreal is also conducting studies in Music Medicine. In a meta-analysis of 400 studies, Dr. Daniel J. Levitin and Dr. Mona Lisa Chanda found that music improves the body's immune system function, reduces stress and was found to be more effective than prescription drugs in reducing anxiety before surgery. They also found that listening to and playing music increases the body's production of the antibody immunoglobulin A and natural killer cells, the cells that attack invading viruses, and boost the immune system's effectiveness as well as reducing levels of the stress hormone cortisol.32 Many other Music Medicine trials are ongoing around the world, including a scientific study instigated by the General Society of Authors and Editors (SGAE), in Madrid, Spain, an organisation with thousands of musician members. Their study aims to demonstrate, quite simply, that music heals; the research program has begun at the University Hospital, Madrid, in Intensive Medicine, Neonatology and Rehabilitation Services. Neurology, Hematology and Cardiology departments will soon be incorporated into the study, which seeks to verify how live music can have positive effects on physiological and biological parameters.33

Musicians playing to patients in University Hospital, Madrid, part of the SGAE study

As mentioned above, while Music Medicine is typically defined as “listening to music without the presence of a therapist”, our CymaScope lab research that focused on the effects of music on blood, described in the next report of this section, may indicate the need for an expanded

definition of Music Medicine. In brief, our research points to the need for the entire physical body, or a specific part of the body, to be immersed in specific single frequencies (which would be termed Sound Therapy as distinct from Music Medicine), and at a specific sound pressure level. Such sonic immersion may provide additional measurable and beneficial physiological effects, as distinct from the benefits associated with listening to music via headphones, speakers or via live music performances. While it seems natural that live music performances in hospital wards can lift the spirit of patients and may have measurable beneficial biological effects, clearly it may be impractical to ‘administer’ in busy clinical settings, whereas providing recorded music or individual sound frequencies for patients would be, by comparison, eminently practical.

Pythagoras of Samos

We hope that this article has provided helpful foundational knowledge of Sound Therapy and Music Medicine. To further expand your knowledge of these subjects, see our article: Sound Therapy 201, the biological mechanisms.


1. Therapeutic ultrasound: some historical background and development in knowledge of its effect on healing: 2. Dyson, M. Mechanisms involved in therapeutic ultrasound. Physiotherapy 73(3):116-120, 1987. 3. Dyson, M., Luke, D.A.: Induction of mast cell degranulation in skin by ultrasound, IEEE Trans. Ultrasonics. Ferroelectrics Frequency Control UFFC-33:194, 1986. 4. Hogan, R.D., Burke, K.M., and Franklin, T.D.: The effect of ultrasound on microvascular hemodynamics in skeletal muscle: effects during ischemia, Microvasc. Res. 23:370, 1982. 5. Pilla, A.A., Figueiredo, M., Nasser, P., et al: Non-invasive low intensity pulsed ultrasound: potent accelerator of bone repair, Proceedings of the 36th Annual Meeting, Orthopaedic Research Society, New Orleans, 1990. 6. Novasonic, 7. Cyma Technologies Inc: 8. Medsonix: 9. KKT International: 10. Didgeridoo playing and singing to support asthma management in Aboriginal Australians: 11. Didgeridoo playing as alternative treatment for obstructive sleep apnoea syndrome: randomised controlled trial: 12. Life of Pythagoras, Iamblichus, Taylor T. Translated from the Greek, p7. Inner Traditions. (Iamblichus was a Syrian philosopher who lived circa 325 to circa 245 BC, therefore, a period of 170 years separates Pythagoras’ death from Iamblichus’ birth.) 13. The Athenian, Isocrates (436–338 BC), in his book Busiris, mentioned Pythagoras’ travels in Egypt: Measuring Heaven: Pythagoras and his influence on thought and art in antiquity and the Middle Ages, Christiane L. Joost-Gaugier. 14. The Life of Pythagoras, Professor Moritz Cantor, Heidelberg, Germany. Open Court Magazine, Volume 6, Number 493, June 1897.

15. Pythagoras: His Life and Teaching, a Compendium of Classical Sources,Thomas Stanley, Ibis Press. 16. Sacred Science, R.A. Schwaller de Lubicz, Inner Traditions, Bear & Co. 17. Mind Over Medicine, Lissa Rankin, Hay House Inc, p7. 18. Ancient Egyptian Medicine, John F. Dunn, British Museum Press, p122. 19. Rituals and Mantras, Rules Without Meaning, Frits Staal, Motilal Banarsidass (Publishers) Delhi. 20. Physicians of ancient India, Anu Saini, 21. Dyson, M. Mechanisms involved in therapeutic ultrasound. Physiotherapy 73(3):116-120, 1987. 22. Dyson, M., Luke, D.A.: Induction of mast cell degranulation in skin by ultrasound, IEEE Trans. Ultrasonics. Ferroelectrics Frequency Control UFFC-33:194, 1986. 23. Hogan, R.D., Burke, K.M., and Franklin, T.D.: The effect of ultrasound on microvascular hemodynamics in skeletal muscle: effects during ischemia, Microvasc. Res. 23:370, 1982. 24. Pilla, A.A., Figueiredo, M., Nasser, P., et al: Non-invasive low intensity pulsed ultrasound: a potent accelerator of bone repair, Proceedings of the 36th Annual Meeting, Orthopaedic Research Society, New Orleans, 1990. 25. l%20Effects%20Overview 26. Bruscia KE: Defining music therapy, ed 2nd. Gilsum, NH, Barcelona Publishers,1998. 27. Brad J, et al. Music for stress and anxiety reduction in coronary heart disease patients. 28. Brad J, et al. The impact of music therapy versus music medicine on psychological outcomes and pain in cancer patients: a mixed methods study. 29. 30. 31.




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