Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Practice: Purposeful Music

photo by Patricia Herlevi
I woke up this morning with thoughts about how I've used music at various times in my life.  While I mainly focus on the healing aspects of music in the guise of sound healing and music therapy on this blog, consider that we heal ourselves by bonding to others, by feeling excepted by a peer group (as in the case with rock and pop music), as a form of identity, as courting ritual, and educational purposes.  We also still use music for ritualistic purposes.

If your soul purpose is to heal your mind, soul and body with music then sound healing and music therapy will work best.  If you are working on raising your vibration then sound healing and listening to higher vibrational music such as Mozart, Bach, Brazilian samba, etc will help you reach this goal.  But if you're trying to bond with your teenage son or daughter, then pop, rock, and hip-hop might be the best approach, unless your teenager listens to jazz, classical, and traditional music (a good chance they don't). 

I recall bonding with my two best friends in junior high with soul music.  At the time we enjoyed listening to Stevie Wonder and Earth, Wind & Fire, and the other popular African-American artists of the late 1970's.  The music we listened to combined funk, jazz, and pop, defining us, and also uplifting our spirits, even if we didn't know that at the time.  In college, I remember sitting in a friend's dorm room, late at night, three people bonding over Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of The Moon," and while no one would consider this album uplifting or health-inducing, I'll never forget the closeness that I felt to my friends while we listened to that music together.

Rock music has its place such as bonding with your peers.  But, if you need music to help you feel as a strong as an ox in completing heavy labor, then try old work songs, which were made for that purpose.  I read a study that mentioned that the back beat in rock music is unhealthy for the heart.  So I would use caution in using rock music to speed up your natural rhythms to help you complete a hard labor task such as roofing or construction work.  But you might try something closer to the old slave songs of the American South such as gospel or early blues, but not rhythm and blues.  You might even try Cajun music, the more upbeat variety, but not sure how that will play out.

We've all used music for a purpose such as teaching a child or an adult the ABC's and grammar or as I mentioned earlier for courting.  And many of the ways we use music today go back to ancient times.  Yet, in ancient times, the people were mindful of how they employed different types of music.  They had music for marriage rituals, for funerals, for specific gatherings, work, education, and entertainment purposes.  And we still do today, but what is our level of consciousness?  We are after all, living in an era with too much white noise and music unfortunately appears as audio wallpaper in too many places, including our homes.

We have religious music, music to usher in a new season, love songs, cathartic love songs, ditties to help us learn a language, and music for just about everything we do, but again what is our level of consciousness? My concern is that we are losing many of the old music traditions especially work songs as we move from physical labor and deeper into the technological age. And even the music that is popular today has that high tech feel to it, so removed from the natural rhythms of our bodies or the earth.  If you're going to listen to high tech music, at least balance it with a more organic music played on acoustic instruments. Listen to a song played on a single acoustic instrument or symphony played on traditional orchestra instruments.

So the practice this week is to keep a music journal but not so much for emotional and physical responses to music.  I want you to focus on the songs you choose to complete a certain task, the songs you listen to for relaxation, the songs you choose when you drive, when you ride the bus, when you meet with friends, and other situations in your life.

The second part of this practice involves research a type of music that was used for a particular purpose such as a Scottish weaving song or a slave song.  You can also look into sea shanties, ballads, epic poem songs, and lullabies.  If you don't have any of this type of music in your home, time to head to a library and a music library if you have access.

By the end of this week, you will have raised your music consciousness another notch or two.  If you have anything to report, feel free to leave a comment here or send me an e-mail.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Practice: Music Meditation

Depending on what level you find yourself, meditating with music can foster a relaxed body and a clear mind when done right.  Let's start with the beginner's meditation and end with an advance music meditation.

Beginner: First thing you need is a piece of music performed on one instrument such as a piano, flute, or guitar with a duration of 3 to 5 minutes.  If you get easily distracted try listening to the piece of music on low volume through headphones, otherwise listen to the music on another type of device.

Similar to breath meditation, you'll employ a singular focus, this time on the music itself.  Ask yourself is the music falling or rising, ascending or descending or are you listening to clusters of notes? Is the music soft, slow, fast, and hard around the edges? Listen for dynamics, tempo, tone, timbre, and emotions. Do you connect with the performer or do you only notice the music? Do you connect with the composer.

Next, what images come up into your mind? Don't cling to the images or feelings, just let them pass through. Are you experiencing nostalgia from a familiar piece of music? Again observe the thoughts then let them go. Then when you have completed your 3 to 5 minute meditation, write down your observations in your music journal.  This process takes practice.  Your mind will wander and you might feel restless.  Keep returning your mind to the music. Keep practicing until you reach the point where you notice nothing but the music and your physical and emotional responses to it.

Intermediate meditation: Now choose a piece of music (jazz, classical, traditional or sound healing), with two or three instruments, with a duration of 10 minutes.  Follow the steps in the beginning meditation, but expand your focus to include how the instruments interact with each other.  Do you feel the music conversation? What emotions come up? Can you connect with your natural rhythms, (heart beat, pulse, breath)? Do you sense your pulse speeding up and slowing down with the music? How long can you keep your focus and intent on the music? When you complete your meditation write down your observations in your music journal.  Experiment with music representing different tempos, timbres, and genres.

Advance meditation: Now choose a piece of music (classical is best) that last 20 minutes.  Choose a complex piece of music with an orchestra and at least 3 movements representing different tempos such as with a concerto.  Experiment with different composers and see if you can connect with them through their music.  What does this music say to you? Do you feel pains in your body? Does your breath speed up, slow down, do tears rush to your eyes, or laughter to your lips? Follow your heart beat and your pulse as the music speeds up and slows down.  Do you observe your body entrain to music? Where do you feel the resonance in your body?

If you work with sound healing tools or toning, end with this practice.  Then pull out your music journal and record your experiences with the music meditation.

With any type of meditation or healing practice, if difficult emotions or challenging situations come up, seek the help of a professional sound healer, music therapist, or other type of healer.