Barbara J. Crowe, MMT, MT-BC, Director of Music Therapy at Arizona State University, has had a long-term interest in music therapy theory and the other uses of sound and music for health and healing. In this AMTA.Pro Symposium, Barbara provides an overview of some of the many sound healing practices and addresses their relationship to music therapy. She also provides guidance about  working collaboratively and positively with individuals from some of these other disciplines.


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Sound Healing and Its Relation to Music Therapy

Barbara J. Crowe, MMT, MT-BC

Discussion Outline


I. Music is a pervasive human behavior and has been a part of human cultures for over 250,000 years

II. The idea that sound/music is a healing force is a very, very old idea

III. In ancient hunter/gathered cultures, sound/music was intrinsic to ritual/worship/healing

  • ritual, magic, worship and healing were all the same thing
  • music was a mysterious force that influenced behavior and brought Divine intervention for healing
  • sound and music for healing is basic to human consciousness

“Big” idea about sound/music for healing

I. Music therapists don’t own sound and music for healing.

II. There are many approaches to sound/music for health and healing.

III. All have one meta-idea in common.

  • “Music/sound is good for us. “
  • There are many, many ways in which that meta idea can be expressed, including music therapy, sound healing, music healing, recreational drumming, therapeutic bedside playing (harp therapy), vibroacoustic therapy.

IV. Music therapy is a well-developed profession that engages the client in an experience of music as the therapeutic agent.

  • The musical experience is the agent of change, not music as an object external to the client.
  • In music therapy, experience of music does not occur in isolation.
  • Music therapy recognizes the importance of the relationship of the client and therapist, the client and music, and the three-way relationship of the client and therapist interacting with the music (Bruscia, 1998)

V. Other approaches have a different fundamental philosophy.

  • Sounds and sound elements are direct healing agents
  • Sounds and sound elements act on energy system, body structures, brain chemistry and structure, etc

Sound healing/music healing

I. Sound healing is a term that “umbrellas” a vast group of approaches.

  • loosely organized and not well developed as a profession
  • numerous schools and approaches with a great deal of conflict between them
  • education and training varies widely as to type and length of training

II. Sound healing approaches believe the sound itself impacts functioning

  • looking for what mechanism is creating the change
  • often uses ideas from Eastern philosophy and medicine
  • entrainment – from rhythm and pitch
  • process of mutual phase locking where vibrations tend to come into synchronization over time
  • used to entrain brain waves, hemisphere functioning, energetic pulses, etc.

III. Examples of approaches to sound healing.

  • use of particular instruments, timbre
  • use of tones and toning
  • use of intervals based on the philosophy of Rudolf Steiner and the importance of intervals and tone

IV. Overlap between sound healing and music therapy

  • early work of Nordoff-Robbins used the Steiner interval system to develop their Creative Music Therapy approach (Aigen, 1996)
  • example of a music therapy technique based on a sound healing principle
  • discussion of use of musical form, dynamics, and vocal techniques
  • discussion of vocal body scanning method

Categories of Sound Healing

I. Vocal techniques, including scanning and vocal empowerment

  • enriching the voice
  • resonance therapy -removal of emotional blocks
  • possible similarities to music therapy techniques e.g. Diane Austin and Vocal Psychotherapy; Sylvia Nakkach and Vox Mundi

II. Toning

  • repetitive vocal sound using elongated vowels and few consonants over a long period of time
  • discussion of traditional and contemporary chanting traditions
  • toning used to create an altered state of consciousness, relaxation, alter brain waves, impact energy system

III. Chanting is the repetitive singing of short songs or phrases (Keyes, 1973)

IV. Another technique is the projection of sound into the body or energy field.

  • instruments of different timbre, e.g. multiple medals, bamboo flutes
  • rattles and shakers for altered state of consciousness
  • drumming for altered state of consciousness, brain waves, entrainment

V. Listening technologies

  • Listening devices and technologies, e.g. computers, computer programs, specialized listening systems
  • Foundational work of Dr. Alfred Tomatis, French ENT doctor who believed the voice cannot produce what the ear cannot hear
  • modifications of Tomatis Methods (Davis, 2004)
  • Paul Madaule
  • Billie Thompson, Enlisten computer program
  • Ron Minson, Dynamic Listening System
  • SAMONAS – referred to as music therapy and often offered in OT offices
  • The Listening Program, home-based sound-therapy program for ongoing auditor stimulation

VI. Rhythm and percussion are techniques in sound healing.

  • brain shifting through percussion (Jeff Strong)
  • energy work with percussion (Flatischler, 1992)
  • drumming for health (e.g. HealthRhythms)
  • rhythmic entrainment

VII. Monroe Institute is a listening technology with audio programs developed by Robert Monroe, a sound engineer.

  • highly researched commercial products for various purposes (e.g. weight loss, quite smoking, relaxation, etc.)
  • used to synchronized brain waves between the hemispheres to promote altered states of consciousness, out of body experiences, and super-learning
  • audio programs are created from music with frequencies embedded within the music – a different frequency in each ear. This creates a beat frequency that entrains the brain waves of each hemisphere.

VIII. Music healing is based on the concept that sound combination in the music is itself is a healing agent.

  • Many musicians compose and record their music with intention to be used for healing.
  • Examples include Steven Halpern (1978; 1985) and Chuck Wilde.

IX. Vibrotactile stimulation is another music healing method.

  • application of musical vibrations to the body (Skille, 1992; Wigram & Dileo, 1997)
  • examples include musical acupuncture, Cymatics, Vibroacoustic Harp Therapy, radionics

X. Environmental hospital music is recorded music composed specifically for various areas of hospitals, hospice, nursing homes.

XI. Therapeutic Bedside Practitioner is a technique used in hospitals, nursing homes, hospice.

  • based on concept that playing of harp and other instruments at the bedside awakens “the healer within.”
  • musicians match the mood, affective, resonance frequency and breathing rate of the patient.
  • improvisation of music based on patient’s characteristics or playing of familiar music in a key that matches the resonance of the patient.
  • group has established the National Standards Board for Therapeutic Musicians and are seeking Board Certification.
  • specific programs include Music in Health and Transition (MHTP), International Harp Therapy Association, Harps for Hospice, Musical Thanantology, International Healing Musician’s Program, Harp for Healing

Relationship of Music Therapy to Sound Healing/Therapeutic Bedside Musician

I. All approaches and disciplines using sound and music in health and healing are moving toward professional development

  • development of professional ethics and standards of practice
  • development of professional organizations, ie. National Standards Board for Therapeutic Musicians, Sound and Music Alliance (SAMA)
  • moving from workshop-based training to University-based training programs, ie. California Institute for Integral Studies
  • developing credentials
  • supporting research projects

II. Music therapy does not own sound and music as a healing/therapy modality.

III. Questions to clarify the role of these emerging disciplines

  • What do we do? What do they do?
  • How are they different? How are they the same?
  • What is unique about each approach?

IV. Next step is to educate ourselves, the public, consumers, administrators about all disciples.

V. The disciplines can develop service delivery models using a variety of approaches for the benefit of the patients.

VI. The most productive approach is to work toward collaborative efforts.

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About the AMTA.Pro Symposium Speaker

Barbara J. Crowe, MMT, MT-BC has her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in music therapy from Michigan State University. She has been the Director of Music Therapy at Arizona State University since 1981. A past-president of NAMT, she was the recipient of the AMTA Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005. She is the author of three books, including Music and Soulmaking: Toward a New Theory of Music Therapy. She has a long-term interest in sound and music healing practices and is a founding member of the Sound and Music Alliance (SAMA), an organization being formed to encourage communication and collaboration between all the disciplines and approaches utilizing sound and music for health, healing and therapy.

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Neither the American Music Therapy Association nor its Board of Directors is responsible for the conclusions reached or the opinions expressed in any of the AMTA.Pro symposiums.