The Science Behind Sound Healing

You’ve felt it before.  The immediate shift in chemistry when a certain song comes on.  Music can melt away tension or elevate us into ecstasy in a matter of moments.  But how does the magic work? 

Brain signals are transmitted through frequencies, much like music through a radio.  Studies show that these signals, or “brain waves,” correlate to particular states of consciousness such as focus, relaxation, meditation, and sleep [1].  Generally speaking, slower brain waves are associated with more relaxed meditative states, while faster ones correlate to alert and active states.

Scientists are now discovering that brain waves can be modified by externally produced sound frequencies through a process called entrainment—when the frequency of one object synchronizes with the frequency of another [2].  This means sound can be used to tune brainwaves to specific frequencies and achieve desired states of mind [3].  Additionally, separate brain cells are often tuned to different frequencies resulting in chaotic and disharmonious thought patterns, but when subjected to one external frequency, such as the sound of a gong, they can synchronize to resonate in unity [4].


“As above, so below”

— Hermetic Axiom


Entrainment is actually a phenomenon that occurs throughout the universe and was first described by Dutch physicist Christiaan Huygens in 1673 when he observed two pendulums operating at different tempos when placed in close proximity would spontaneously begin to pulse at the same rhythm [5].  With effects extending beyond the brain, numerous studies have shown that other biological processes such as speech patterns, physical gestures and heart rate are influenced by auditory entrainment [6].  For Example, slow wave sound vibrations have been shown to exert a tranquilizing effect with a reduction in blood flow rate when applied directly to the body of vibracoustic therapy patients [7].

The healing power of sound has long been known, if only intuitively, but the emerging principle of entrainment is a fascinating concept, the implications of which scientists are only just beginning to uncover. 


“These properties of sound medicine—entrainment, harmony, and homeostasis—represent the rational and spiritual foundation for a new movement in the healing arts and sciences.” — Mitchell L. Gaynor M.D., Oncologist and Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine at Weill Medical College of Cornell University


Cited Sources

[1] Will, Berg E. Neuroscience Letters. 2007 Aug 31;424 (1):55-60. Epub 2007 Aug 6. Brain wave synchronization and entrainment to periodic acoustic stimuli.

[2] Niedermeyer E. and da Silva F.L., Electroencephalography: Basic Principles, Clinical Applications, and Related Fields. Lippincot Williams & Wilkins, 2004.

[3] Burkard, R., Don, M., and Eggermont, J. J., Auditory evoked potentials: Basic principles and clinical application. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2007.

[4] Wang XJ (2010). "Neurophysiological and computational principles of cortical rhythms in cognition". Physiological Reviews 90 (3): 1195–1268. doi:10.1152/physrev.00035.2008. PMC 2923921. PMID 20664082.

[5] Matthews, Michael R. (2000). Time for science education: how teaching the history and philosophy of pendulum motion can contribute to science literacy. New York: Springer. pp. 124–126. ISBN 0-306-45880-2.

[6] Gaynor, Mitchell L. (2002). The Healing Power of Sound: Recovery from Life-Threatening Illness Using Sound, Voice, and Music.  Shambhala: Boston & London. pp 69-71. ISBN 978-1-57062-955-6.

[7] Hooper, Jeff. (Nov 2 2001) An introduction to vibroacoustic therapy and an examination of its place in music therapy practice. British Journal of Music Therapy, Vol 15, pp 69-77