Sound healing has been around for centuries; however, modern neuroscience is only just beginning to get a glimpse of its potential.
The earliest culture to use the power of sound for healing was the Aboriginal culture. They used the ‘yidaki’, which is now known as the digeridoo to heal all forms of illness, and to mend broken bones and torn muscles. This instrument and the frequencies it emits have been used in the healing arts for over 40,000 years. The ancient Egyptians used vowel sounds in chant form. The Egyptians believed that the sounds they chanted were sacred, and to honor this distinction, their written language contained no vowels. The sistra, a rattle type instrument used by Egyptian priestesses is now known to generate ultrasound, which enhanced its healing abilities. The ancient Greeks used the flute and the lyre as healing instruments, and Pythagoras was able to use and identify musical intervals using a single string instrument known as the monochord. [They] believed that music was a contributing factor in good health, and even called [the] method of sound healing “musical medicine.” Later, many eastern cultures returned to the use of a vowel chant, which was used both for healing and to enhance spiritual experiences. Metal gongs were created and used for healing purposes in the area that is now known as Tibet. Because gongs contain the entire spectrum of sound, they are perfect for healing applications.
In the 450 years that followed, the use of sound healing waned, and was almost non-existent until 1936, when the modern era of sound healing began with the discovery of ultrasound and its medical properties.
Gerald Oster, a biophysicist, made a discovery in the 1970s that continues to impact the world of sound healing. By playing a tone in one ear, and a slightly different tone in the other ear, he found that the difference between the two sounds created a third, internal tone—known as a binaural beat. This work fostered the process of brain-wave entrainment, and it is believed that binaural beats sync the brain waves in both hemispheres of the brain through this process. Brain-wave entrainment has been met with some skepticism, but a 2008 review of 20 studies showed it to be an effective tool for stress and pain management, headaches, and pre-menstrual syndrome, and supported that it could be used to treat cognitive functioning deficits. The studies also supported the use of brain-wave entrainment to treat behavioral problems. Sound healer Jamie Bechtold maintains that while recorded music is fine, live music is even better—in that you can feel the vibrational aspects of it more.
Dr. Jeffrey Thompson began experimenting with sound and its effects on both the brain and body in 1981. In 1988 he founded the Center for Neuroacoustic Research where he discovered that different frequencies target differing densities in the body.
Jonathan Goldman is also a pioneer in the modern era of sound healing. He has studied with masters in both spiritual and scientific aspects of sound. Like the ancient Egyptians, Goldman uses the chanting of vowel sounds to spiritual ends. He believes that sound itself can change the world. In his book, The 7 Secrets of Sound Healing, he points out that both modern science and ancient mystics agree that everything is in a state of constant vibration. He points out that the way vibrations interact with one another has less to do with their actual frequency, but instead is impacted by intent—pointing out the importance of our beliefs, feelings, and thoughts. Goldman also establishes the importance of silence in sound healing—maintaining that louder is not necessarily better when it comes to using sound therapeutically.
Kelly Howell, another pioneer in sound healing promotes the idea of hemispheric synchronization through the use of sound in her book, Brain Power: Improve Your Mind As You Age.
Using sound to support whole-brain thinking allows the mind to be sharper, more focused, and more lucid, she maintains. Her company, Brain Sync produces harmonically layered and precisely tuned sound waves—previously referred to as binaural beats—to gently balance the brain. The sound healing techniques she proposes in her book have been praised by experts in the area of brain health—including American psychiatrist and brain disorder specialist, Daniel Amen among others.