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First for Women on the Go magazine
Alumni Connection - Winter 2003 magazine - Cambridge College
The Harp Therapy Journal

The following interview was granted to First for Women on the Go magazine and excerpts from it were published on February 24, 2003, Volume 15, Issue #7.

Q - WHY is it that toning, chanting, singing and just plain vocalizing have all kinds of physical and emotional benefits like increased alpha/theta brain waves, release of endorphins, lowered cortisol and other stress hormones, etc?

A general, or holistic, way of looking at it, and a more straightforward one, is that music (singing, etc) affects our emotions, and emotions, in turn, effect our body. These physiological, psychological and cognitive-behavioral effects of music on emotion-and our bodies/brains-have been researched by monitoring changes in our autonomic nervous, and immune systems; pulse rate, hormonal output, blood pressure, EEG (deep brain, and brain mapping), brain wave activity (EKG), EMG (electromyograms), beta-endorphin blood levels, MRI scans, ACTH (adrenocorticotropic hormone) and many other subjective (such as State/Trait anxiety tests, questionnaires, patient interviews), and objective measures. Some of the physiological responses that music can evoke are heart rate, blood pressure, brain waves, and muscle contractions. There is also evidence that music effects changes in various biochemicals such as endorphins, cortisol, ACTH, interleukin-1, and immunoglobin A, all of which effect our immune system.

Let's take endorphins, for instance.

(First, a quick look at my "Whys" chapter in the Tao of Music (page 303) applies perfectly here. The question of "Why?", as phrased above, cannot be resolved as many of these issues are relative, plus there are many theories — some contradictory — regarding "why" music has this vs. that effect.

Back to endorphins. Under certain conditions, listening to music can stimulate the release of endorphins. How? (better "how" than "why?"!). Endorphins trigger emotional responses in our limbic system. The limbic system is composed of the thalamus, hypothalamus, pituitary, amygdala, hippocampus, and other subcortical structures. In order, these organs are involved in relaying sensory information, regulating our autonomic nervous system, releasing hormones into the bloodstream, effecting behavioral reactions, storing memories, and regulating incoming sensory information, such as music. All of these structures are linked together, as well as interconnected to the brain. The limbic system has a great deal to do with emotional experiences. It has many opiate receptors, or nerve endings that are sensitive to endorphins, among other chemicals. In short, when we listen to music, sing, chant, tone, etc., these experiences can trigger various mechanisms in our limbic system, releasing endorphins, and helping us to feel better.

Practical, bottom line version: Bottom line: it doesn't matter "how" or "why." Singing, chanting, toning, humming, whistling, all help to release endorphins, which helps us to feel better!

Let's look at brain wave activity, which is typically measured through an electroencephalogram (EEG). The purpose of EEGs is to measure the activity of neurons that lie just below our scalp, or, more specifically, it measures general states of arousal. This is where a number of electrodes are attached to the ears, and on the scalp over the frontal, parietal, occipital, and temporal areas. The frequency components measured by the EEG (brain-wave activity) include:

Delta (.5 - 4.0 Hz), this is the "deep sleep" rhythm
Theta (4.5 - 8.0 Hz), which corresponds to dreaming states in general
Alpha (8.5 - 12.0 Hz), better known as a sense of "relaxed alertness"
Beta ( 12.5 - 32.0 Hz), which is full awareness

The brain-wave state most typically associated with music (musical activities, including singing, chanting, toning) is alpha. For the most part, soft, relaxing music can result in decreasing alpha waves which leads to a relaxed state and a sense of "relaxed awareness." Some studies, however, show that alpha actually increases during music listening, particularly among musicians. So, as with everything else, it depends on the individual. There is very little research done with music and other brain-wave states. Additionally, however, brain-wave research mostly focuses on listening to music, not singing/chanting/toning.

Another, more general way of answering this question is that, in addition to the limbic system, music effects our emotional systems by stimulating:
" Autonomic Nervous System (ANS)
- this is composed of two divisions: sympathetic and parasympathetic
- the sympathetic helps to energize the body by stimulating our heart rate, adrenalin secretion, and a number of neurotransmitters, and converting glycogen for energy.
- The para- SLOWS DOWN heart rate

" The reticular formation (r.f.).
This is located in our brain stem and takes input from every sensory organ throughout our bodies. Fibers extend from it, which connect with our cortex, limbic and motor systems. From the r.f., we get secretions of norepinephrine (which triggers emotional arousal), and dopamine (which triggers feelings of pleasure). By effecting the r.f., music helps to promote those secretions.

More generally, activities such as toning, chanting, and singing, can help to bring oxygen into our systems, recharging our cells with fresh oxygen, which helps to increase blood circulation and strengthen our immune systems as well as helping us to feel better in general. Sort of like "lubricating" the system. Singing can also help us to feel more positively, which in turn releases hormones that can effect the body and mind. Chanting and toning help us to become more "centered," or balanced, slowing down our thought processes and helping us to put mental concerns in perspective.

This helps to calm us down and look at daily problems more objectively and realistically, rather than reacting to events by panicking or obsessing. When balanced, we can look at an event as a "challenge," rather than an "obstacle." We can look at potential solutions more objectively and emotionally detached. As I mention in the Tao of Music, music helps to cut through the "Psychological noise" (p. 281) (daily barrage of worries, fears, expectations, negative self-messages) that get in our way of finding solutions. In a sense, chanting / toning / singing can help to "wash away our concerns" in a similar way that a windshield wiper helps to slush away incoming rain so that we can see more clearly and proceed safely.

Music can also provide a "safe place," or an "auditory oasis," where we can "escape" to when things are going badly. Singing in the shower can help us to release the day's pressures, or get us ready for them, cleansing our internal minds of pressures and distress by releasing cumbersome, stressful vibrations through our voice. The "white noise" of the shower helps to block out our singing (or helps us to believe that others can't hear us) which "gives us permission" (allows us) to sing from the gut and express our feelings. Through singing, also, we are free to voice any number of otherwise "forbidden energies," under the guise — or protection — of "a song" (i.e., "art!"). When Billie Holliday sang "Strange Fruit" in the late 1930's, she was able to express a universe of pent-up frustration that was shared by millions of people who had no opportunity to safely give voice to those feelings outside of its musical confines.

Messages expressed through song can run the gamut of human emotions and experiencing. From Lesley Gore voicing that it was "her party and she would cry if she wanted to" in the early sixties, through hymns like "We Shall Overcome," and "Give Peace a Chance," to the more current expressive tensions in rap music, singing helps us to express ourselves, bond with our peers, and share cultural, political, spiritual, and emotional events that form our personal histories and define us.

Teenagers, throughout the years, have been able to do much the same, expressing their feelings of anger, fear, frustration, confusion, sadness-as well as happiness, joy, exhilaration, excitement-through songs. Singing contemporary songs and keeping current with constantly changing music styles helps to unite young people, giving them their unique cultural identities, while at the same time distancing them from their elders (parents, teachers, authority figures) by, in essence, setting musical boundaries. Singing and toning help us to release pent-up energies so that we can re-group, and return the silence back to ourselves. Once silenced we can then refuel our positive energies. Chanting helps us to continually replay, or recycle, those positive energies like an internal massage.

Other vocalizations, such as humming, whistling, overtone singing, or even chatting about positive events can serve to release stress and refuel us with positive vibrations. These activities help us to "fine tune" ourselves much like we can tune a musical instrument, or a car's engine, so that they will sound and run more smoothly and effectively. In effect, we can think of "toning" as a tool we can use for "tuning" ourselves!

Toning can be very effective in a number of situations. I have worked with many people who use toning to lull themselves to sleep, to get through scary moments such as a turbulent airplane ride, to relax before and during a test, to focus before athletic events, and to help their bodies to enact their own natural healing processes in situations ranging from simple headaches to dissolving blood clots.

Toning can be quite simple. You can find a pitch or tone you feel comfortable with, relax, take a deep, but comfortable breath, and s-l-o-w-l-y release the tone by making a sound such as "hummmmm," or "ahhhhhhhh," or "ohhhhhhh…" for several minutes. The purpose is to release tension through one's breath. One can alter these by forming, and releasing, different vowels and feeling how each tends to massage different parts of the throat, jaw, face, head, and chest.

Chanting is another technique that many use for self-healing, relaxation, meditation, and recharging oneself. It is essentially an extension of vowel sounds, which resonates, or "massages," our skin and skeletal structures. There are various forms including Sanskrit, Vedic, Tibetan, Native American, Gregorian and countless others. As with singing and toning, chanting makes use of the breath, helping to replenish our selves with clean, fresh oxygen, while expelling tension and stress. Additionally, these activities help to detract our attention from chronic worrying, giving us a respite from daily distress or current problems all of which help to reduce heart rate, brain wave activity, blood pressure, and other symptoms caused by stress. One can also "chant" selective affirmations to help us to deeply integrate any number of self-messages, or positive vibrations, we want to immerse ourselves in. Some of these can be, simply, "peace," "love," "joy," "I am," "heal," etc.

Q - How does it work in the body?

See above.

Q - Can you suggest some simple ways to start using your voice more in everyday situations? Just some examples of how to get back in touch with your own voice as you go through your day. (I.e. sigh whenever you feel stressed, etc.)

I think the very best, and most effective way to "get back in touch with our own voice" is to raise our overall Sound Awareness, which is a technique that I discuss in my books and which serves as the cornerstone to all of my Sound Psychology workshops. In essence, "raising our Sound Awareness" simply refers to becoming more aware of how sounds — in general, and music — in particular, effect us and our environment. It is a way of tuning into our Sound Ecology. The first step toward raising our Sound Awareness is to listen to our inner dialogues, the messages we give ourselves. When engaged in conflict, do we become defensive? Angry? Confrontational? Or do we give ourselves messages that help us to calm down, draw from past experiences and make responsible choices? When engaged in self talk, are our inner messages self-destructive or nurturing? Do we bombard our minds with endless quandaries and double-binds, or do we find words that help lead us to solutions and productive pathways? How often do we reward, support, and reassure ourselves with comforting self-statements, self-praise for a job well done, or even for good intentions? How long do we hold on to negative messages, anger, fear, hostility, resentment, frustration? The only way to "hold on" to these destructive feelings is to continually repeat mantra-like statements that continue to fuel the negativity.

Getting in touch with our own voice, then, must begin with increased Sound Awareness. It can then follow with simple greetings such as, "good morning," "beautiful day," simple supportive statements such as, "thank you," or expressed respect for others such as, "please," or "after you!" From there it can naturally flow into positive phrasing of daily situations. Finding the harmony within relationships or even within brief encounters. Joining in with the rhythms of the people and world around us.

A higher level of attaining a sense of "oneness" with ourselves, voice included, can be attained by surrounding ourselves with positive, lively but soothing vibrations from the moment we awaken and on through various periods of our day. This can begin by awakening to pleasant, soothing music, or the sound of a non-intrusive "alarm," such as a "Zen clock," which gently taps a bell according to the time set each morning. Rather than beginning our day by tuning into the daily news being broadcast on television, welcome the morning and get "in tune" for the day by surrounding yourself with, again, soothing, lively music of your choice. If you drive to an office or other work place continue your "music bathing" in your car, toning, singing, humming, whistling, or chanting songs, sounds, or affirmations of your choice along the way. If music is allowed at your work place, continue to benefit from its effects there. Then, again, on the drive home, use the process of *Entrainment to help to rid yourself of daily tension and get back in touch, or "in tune" with the type of vibrations which you want to feel. *(Entrainment -p. 317 in The Tao of Music — is the process by which we surround ourselves with vibrations that reflect our current feeling or mental state, and use music of choice to gradually get us to a vibrational state that resonates with where we want to be. For example, when feeling sad, we would begin by listening to sad music, and proceed, gradually, by playing music that is increasingly more positive and replenishing). In my book, "Nurturing Your Child with Music," I give examples of entire "Musical Days," suggesting different types of music, and musical activities, that we (parents, caregivers, teachers) can all use to help ourselves and our children-from infancy through adulthood-throughout each part of the day.

The "right" songs to sing, "correct" chant to utter, or "best" music to listen to is simply the type of music that you feel you need at that particular moment in time. Whether it's The Beatles, Sinatra, Mozart, Coltrane, Hank Williams, or Marvin Gaye, the choice should always be yours.

Q - How about a physical exercise (it can be very simple) to help you access your voice?

The #1, most essential exercise anyone can do to access one's voice is: conscious breathing. Taking deep, natural, flowing breaths that reach down into the belly and are released fully, much like a yawn. If you want a good role model for breathing take some time and watch a baby breathe. If you want a good role model on how to express your inner voice without straining your voice, or exhausting your lungs, listen to a baby. Babies can cry, holler and scream for extended periods of time without becoming hoarse or damaging their vocal equipment. Whether crying, screaming, gurgling, laughing, or purring, they have no learned agendas that get in the way.

People caught in the excitement of a sporting event "let go" of their energies by voicing their pleasures and displeasures. This is similarly done during acts such as lovemaking, lifting weights, chopping a tree, or when engaged in any other activity that allows us to release our energies through sound in natural, effortless, unplanned ways. As I discuss throughout the Tao of Music, feeling empty after a release of energies can be a positive, or a negative feeling depending on how those energies are released…on our intention. A good, healthy, natural cry helps to empty our sadness, leaving ample room for replenishing energies. A "forced" cry, on the other hand, can leave us feeling confused, distraught and unbalanced. Hollering out when calling out to someone, or to express unity during a sporting event can similarly leave us feeling "empty, in a good way." Conversely, screaming at someone, or at an event, simply because we may feel it is the "right thing to do," or because "others may be expecting it," again, tends to promote a sense of emptiness that leaves us longing for expression.

Simple Exercises
As you go through your daily activities, engage in simple, natural vocalizations. Hum a favorite tune as you go for a walk, or take a few moments every hour or so to stretch and bend your body as you release tension both physically and aurally.

Compose soundtracks for your daily activities. Make up little tuneful ditties, singing or humming "la-las" or "da-di-da's" rather than searching for words or lyrics.

If you get a tune in your head, sing, hum, tone, or whistle it out. Chances are, some aspect of your self is in need for that tune's vibrations at the moment. Don't fight it, or try to block it out, flow with it and allow it to resonate through you.

Take time once in a while to engage in song, or vocalizing activities, accompanied by natural, free flowing rhythmic dancing in the privacy of your home. We all did it as children, spinning, gyrating, letting go.

Invite your partner, friends, children, to join you in sing-a-long sessions. Kareoke provides a wonderful "excuse" for those who need one. The goal is release, being in the moment, and releasing.

Sing in the shower. The moist air is wonderful for your larynx, the acoustics are ideal and the "sound masking" provided by the shower sounds help to remove or minimize inhibitions.

Sing as you drive. Turn on the radio, tape, MP3, or CD player, and try matching harmonies with favorite pop songs. Sing along with the lead, then play around with the melody, try to find and explore unique and complementary variations on potential harmonies to the tunes.

Singing simple vowels, consonants and sounds
There are five vowel letters in the English language: a-e-i-o-u. There are over 100 variations on these vowel sounds, however. Beginning with the sound of "a," take a natural, deep breath and release it through various explorations of "a" sounds:

"a" ("ay") as in "lay, pay, ray, say, way."
"a" ("ah") as in "ahh, arch, calm, bar, bath"
"a" ("ab") as in "cab, dab, jag, shag, brag"

The same can be done with all the other vowels and their variations:

"e" as in "bee"
"e" as in "heh"
"i" as in "eye"
"i" as in "bib"
"o" as in "oh"
"o" as in "awe"
"oo" as in "good"
"oi" as in "boy"
"ou" as in "how"
"u" as in "you"
"u" as in "tub"

Choose a favorite tune and play around with the melody, superimposing sound variations — as above — in place of the lyrics. By substituting random sounds that are released comfortably and naturally, you are allowing yourself to flow with the melody, without restraining or limiting yourself by focusing on-or struggling to remember — the "right lyrics." Your only limitation is how much you want to enjoy yourself.

Simpler still: Humming
Explore sound resonance and reverberations by humming, naturally and unrestrained. Begin with a smile, follow with a deep, comfortable breath. Follow with the three primary "humming positions" of the mouth. First, close your lips and utter a subtle, "mmmmmmmmm." Play with it. Savor it. Closer your eyes and imagine your favorite flavor dancing on your tongue, palate, gums. You can move from this into open vowels by adding sounds such as "aahhh" ("mmmmmaahhh"), or "ayyy" ("mmmmmayyy"), or "ooohh" ("mmmmmmmoohhh"). Variations of these sounds make for excellent activities to try with children as one can play with imitating various animal sounds.

The second "humming position" involves lightly pressing the tip of the tongue against the ridge at the front of the roof of the mouth, and producing the sound, "nnnnn." For the third position, use the rear part of the tongue, raised and pressed lightly to the soft palate, and arched toward the back of the roof of the mouth. This leads to a rather nasal sound such as "ngn-ngn-ngn" all of which can then be complemented by opening of the mouth and adding vowels as above.

Chanting Exercises
Chants, as I mentioned above, can be thought of as "musical affirmations." With chants, however, you get the extra advantage of putting your favorite affirmations to music, benefiting from musical characteristics (rhythm, tone, melody, harmony) in addition to the messages behind the affirmative words or phrases you select.

Choose a favorite affirmation, or construct one that will help send a message to your unconscious mind, reminding you to heal, be calm, be happy, regenerate, balance out, be at peace, feel harmonious, etc. Make sure that the message is positive, supportive, and self-reassuring. Complement the "lyrical message" with complementary uplifting, lively and joyful sounds/melodies. As always, start off with a smile and deep, natural breathing.

Phrases are best if simple and direct, such as: "I feel peace…" "I am happy…" "I am healing." Variations can be explored such as: "I am happy…happy I am…" "I am healing…I am health…healing flows through me…healthy I am…" "I am at peace, peace flows through me, peace is within me…" etc.

Regardless of the message, as you chant, focus on the reverberations of the primary theme (health / healing, peace, joy, prosperity) and allow it to flow, echo, and resound throughout you. Visualize it spiraling around-through-and within you, engulfing and enveloping your full being with intertwining blankets of sound. With each breath, breathe in the "sound possibilities" that exist all around us in nature. Allow these positive vibrations to flow in, massage your internal organs, and flush out (sing/chant out) any lingering negative vibrations (stress, fears, confusion, worries, etc). For the brief time during which you engage in these exercises allow yourself the space to be totally and fully present in the healing / peaceful / joyful mode as best you can.

Q - Can you talk a little about the power of the OM sound/chant and give simple instructions on how I would try it for the first time?

The "Om" (or "Aum") is thought by some as the primordial source of all sound and silence. Priests and monks in India, Tibet, and Sri Lanka, as well as many other cultures, believe that the "Om" is a sacred sound. The sound of "Om" comes closest than any other to "the primal sound" that resonates within the earth's core. In the Upanishards there is a quote that states that, "the essence of word and sound is OM." There is a Vedic metaphor that states: "Om is the bow, the mind is the arrow, God or Brahman is the target…strike the target!" Swami Sivananda Sarasvati also indicates that "OM is the inner music of the soul…"

Many cultures believe that humming, toning, chanting, speaking and/or meditating the sound "OM" is directly connected with the correct method of breathing.

In voicing the "OM" sound, take a deep, "belly" breath. Form the "O" sound across your lips, and allow the sound of the "ooo" to be released through your lips as you exhale. Flowing into the "M" sound, allow it to vibrate for as long as you are comfortably capable. Extend this sound as long as you can, allowing it to smoothly, and naturally fade away. The sound should begin "in the head," descend down through the chest, into the belly, eventually filling the whole body, which will begin to echo or vibrate with the sound of "M". Think of the "OM' as a place where "the breath" flows into "the word" and the two come, flow, and blend together. Additionally of note, the Hebrew and Christian word "Amen," has its origins in the word "OM."

There are also CDs, such as "Om Mani Padme Hum" by MC Cannon, "The Ultimate OM" by Jonathan Goldman, and "OM (Bilateral alignment) by Frank Natale, that allow one to practice the sound with the aid of guided recordings containing musical and sound variations. The album, "OM" by John Coltrane, is based on variations of the "OM" sound or theme, exemplified through a number of sound variations and textures. This album, however, is one that mostly caters to Jazz connoisseurs and lovers of avant garde music.

Q - "Why is it so powerful?"

OM is considered to be one of the four great mantric "seed syllables." (the others being AH, HUM, and HRIH). These contain the four basic Sanskrit vowels of o, a, u, and i, respectively. As such, various societies and cultures believe that these four sounds encompass the primordial sounds of the universe. There are also writings that indicate that these vowels have cosmic connections, corresponding to the vibrations of certain planets (O to Venus, U to Saturn, I to Mars, and A to Jupiter).

A well known six-syllable Indian mantra is "Om mani padme hum." This translates, loosely, into "Hail to the jewel in the lotus!" This contains the seed-syllables OM and HUM.

Perhaps the reason "why" OM is so powerful, then, is perhaps because of its connections to the "primal sound" that resonates through all beings, connecting us to ourselves, our environments, and the universe.

Q - I LOVE the list of songs in your book! Can you give us a smaller list (say 5-10 pop songs or albums) for someone to listen to/sing along with when they're feeling down and need a pick-up?

The thing about "lists" is that they are all relative to the individual. The lists (musical menus) throughout all of my books are chosen through combinations of research, popular tastes, and in attempts to provide sound-musical diversity in attempts to help readers to expand their current repertoires. That said, recommending a particular list that would serve any number of people outside of oneself is really impossible. There are two primary recommendations.

(a) Use Entrainment techniques, and that's En-TRAIN-ment, not "EnTERTAINment!"(although that would probably work as well!)

With Entrainment, one would get in touch with the feeling that one is experiencing at the moment, say, sadness, then identify the feeling state where one would like to be, or move toward, say, feeling happy. A musical Entrainment sequence can then be put together to help one move from the sad to the happy state. Begin by surrounding yourself with songs (that you can listen to and/or sing) that reflect your CURRENT state (i.e., sadness). These could be any number of songs/tunes which YOU identify as reflective of your sad state. The range is endless. Play/sing these sad tunes for about 12-15 minutes (i.e, 3-4 songs). You then create a "musical bridge," which you use to help you to cross from the sad to happy state. This musical bridge best works when you use songs that help you to move out of your sad feelings — songs that are moderately lively, uplifting and upbeat, but are not quite providing the FINAL state, the goal (happy), where you want to be. After 12-15 minutes of this musical bridging, you are usually now ready for surrounding yourself with the type of upbeat, lively, happy sounds that reflect where you want to be: "happy!" I cite various samples in the Tao of Music (pages 8-27), with many menu samples for moving out of a depressed state. Again, however, it is best that one read these guidelines, and use them as a "guide" to put together a personal Entrainment sequence of preferred songs. Moving onward throughout the book I cite other Entrainment sequences to assist with other emotions such as anger, anxiety, stress, physical pain, sleeplessness, struggling with control issues, etc.

(b) The other choice is to simply allow yourself to emote, musically, through favorite songs that flow naturally from your feeling state. When sad, most of us are typically not "in the mood" to listen to, or sing, "happy" songs. Allow yourself to wallow in the luxury of some sad songs that reflect your feeling, as above, and then move forward and upward. This is a more "unconscious" or less purposeful form of Entrainment. The bottom line is to use songs that YOU feel are necessary at the moment that will help you to fulfill your current goal (i.e., become happy!).

My favorite, most popular example is asking people (who ask this question): "when you are hungry, what are the 5-10 'best' foods to eat to help you feel satisfied?" Although my reply is typically "chocolate, pizza, or roast beef with provolone," this may not be most people's response. As you see, the choices are endless and highly individual specific!

"The list," then, includes every song, composition, tune, etc., that has ever been written, and those which each of us tend to compose when in need of "sound support."

A very important note, however, is that these are techniques that can be used by people experiencing temporary, "normal" states of sadness. These techniques on their own are NOT recommended for individuals suffering from clinical depression. In effect, I strongly recommend that such persons seek professional consult with trained, licensed clinicians with a specialty in their area of concern.

Q - Thank you for sharing your time and knowledge!

My pleasure!


The following interview was granted to Cambridge College for their Winter, 2003, Alumni Connection magazine.

- An Interview with Dr. John M. Ortiz

Q: How did you get interested in this particular area of therapy?

A: I've always been a musician. I grew up playing in pubs and bars, and I always noticed the effect that music had on the audience. If we played upbeat, rowdy music, we noticed that people would become excited, or rowdy. If we played ballads, they would tend to settle down, and relax. In other words, the band could essentially dictate the mood of the crowd by the music we played. As far as personal use, I realized that, whenever I was sad — for instance — I could take out my acoustic guitar and play "sad" music, which would help to "entrain" me out of my sad mood and into a happier one. After college, I just naturally began to use music and sound in different ways as part of my practice, not knowing there was a scientific basis for the techniques I was using.

Years later, when I went to Penn State for my doctorate degree, I began to realize just how much research had been done in a number of related areas, such as Psychomusicology, the Psychology of Music, Music Therapy, and the creative arts in general. After initially wondering if I would find enough research in the area, before long, my concern began to shift to whether I would actually be able to incorporate the vast amount of material that already existed in the field. In the end, my doctoral dissertation included fifty pages and over six hundred articles from peer referenced journals that dealt with the study of music and its effects on behavioral, cognitive, and affective functions.

After earning my doctorate I began to incorporate music as an adjunct to various areas of my clinical practice. For instance, I found music to be a truly valuable resource to use in pre-therapy (in the waiting area to help people relax, to mask unwanted sounds), during therapy (establishing relationships, trance induction, guided imagery, entrainment, group work, metaphors, as a contextual cueing tool), and post-therapy (cognitive rehearsal, behavioral programming, affective exploration). In general, I found music — and sound — to be extremely helpful in helping many patients struggling with clinical (depression, self-esteem, anxiety, anger, hyperactivity), personal (time management, grief and loss issues, procrastination, education, motivation, exercise, creativity), and social (communication and listening skills, relationships, romance, control & power) issues. In essence, the universality of music in general makes it quite complementary to just about any therapeutic modality — cognitive behavioral, transpersonal, client-centered, choice and reality theories, object relations — and I find it invaluable when working with children, adolescents, and cross-cultural populations.

After a few years of developing a number of techniques that borrowed from the literature, as well as my developing experience, I began to offer workshops in the use of some of my techniques which I called "Sound Psychology," referring to the use of both "sound and music" as well as the implications of "sound health." After encouragement from a woman attending one of my workshops I decided to put together a book, compiling all of these ideas, and it turned out as "The Tao of Music: Sound Psychology." Actually, my book came out on the same day as the somewhat similar, but much better known "Mozart Effect," by Don Campbell. Since the publication of our books, there have been several other similar books published on this subject, which speaks volumes about the quickly rising popularity and acceptance on this area of study.

Q: How effective is sound psychology on extremely ill or mentally disturbed patients?

A: The use of music with mentally disturbed patients is primarily the scope of trained music therapists, and their work is remarkably effective. Sound Psychology, on the other hand, is designed for the public in general, and people with moderately maladjusted issues, like the ones I mentioned above. In essence, the types of populations that counseling psychologists typically serve in clinical practice. At Cambridge College, my course is primarily designed for educators. When I teach around the country the material I present is always different. I always modify my courses and workshops depending on the target population and the audience needs, whether they are dentists, physicians, educators, mental health professionals, business or industry workers, or laypersons. I've actually had people hear me lecture in conferences, where I may present two completely different seminars on subsequent days, who've attended both sessions, expecting to hear the same material twice, and instead what they get is two completely "Sound Psychology" workshops. One may be "Sound Psychology" for dealing with Asperger's Syndrome or other Autism Spectrum Disorders, and the other for enhancing motivation in nursing homes, brain compatible activities, trance induction, dealing with insomnia, or a number of other things.

Q: The concept of entrainment is so intriguing. You say in a recent interview in The Harp Journal that, "even the harshest, most irritating types of sounds can be used effectively in combination with various techniques, such as Entrainment." In another example, you say that you have found that it is often easier to connect with certain populations, such as teenagers, by having them bring in music with elements they personally prefer … to work from as a starting point."

A: You have to talk to a child where he or she is at. You cannot address a six-year-old as if she or he were 12-years old, and vice versa. Entrainment is a very flexible, useful and simple technique that can be used by people in lots of situations. Entrainment is just one of many procedures that I use to teach how music (and sound) can be adapted to approach a number of educational, clinical, social or other challenges. Still, you have to be careful with the use of music as a therapeutic tool. Again, what I practice is "sound psychology," not music therapy. In essence, I use music — and sound — as adjuncts to my clinical, teaching, and consulting practices. Music therapy is a related discipline, but a science for which one earns a specialized degree and certification.

For educators, there are myriad ways of using music. Music can be used to help teach courses across the entire curriculum — math, spelling, reading, language, history, geography, art — as well helping with language development, creativity, exercise and in just about any area one can think of. In clinical practice, when one works with adolescents, for instance, it is rare that they come in and open up to you in session. With music you have a tool that can be used to create communicational bridges, develop a positive alliance, show support and interest in their lives, and to learn a lot about their thoughts and feelings that they would not offer directly. In social settings, music backgrounds can help people to relax, or become excited, which leads to increased interactions, loosening up of inhibitions, and increased comfort. The uses and implications are endless.

Q: You mention sound psychology for working with mature adults.

A: One of the things I do through my practice is consult in nursing homes, where residents are generally within a particular age range. One of the things that I encourage is for the staff to use music that reflects the population's median age. When using music, it's typically helpful to try and use tunes with which the population is familiar, tunes to which one can relate. But, again, this depends on one's goal. However, in most cases nursing homes continue to use the same tunes that they've been relying on over the past 20-30 years. You have to change and adapt with the times and modernize your approaches to working with people.

Q: How were you introduced to Cambridge College?

A: There was this lovely woman, Marianne Everett (Senior Faculty-BA/ED). Marianne met me at a book fair when my first book, The Tao of Music, was released. She said, "we'd like to have you come and teach a course." She later shared my book with Mahesh, who called me personally and asked if I would consider teaching a course and I was absolutely delighted. That was in 1998. Since then, I have taught my sound psychology course over the past five years, and my cross-cultural rhythms course, which I developed directly as a result of the students' request for a course on diversity and music, for two.

One of Cambridge College's most popular professors, Dr. John M. Ortiz is on the Senior Faculty of the National Institute of Teaching Excellence (N.I.T.E.). He is also Director and Founder of The Institute of Applied Psychomusicology. Dr. Ortiz is a pioneer in the field of Sound Psychology and author of the groundbreaking works on the subject, "The Tao of Music: Sound Psychology," (1997), and "Nurturing Your Child with Music: How Sound Awareness Creates Happy, Smart and Confident Children (2000). A musician, composer, and martial artist, Dr. Ortiz is also composer of the Pulse Entrainment CD series, which includes "The Soothing Pulse," a Top Ten, Audio Selection for the Book of the Month Club (1998-1999). At Cambridge College Dr. Ortiz has taught "Sound Psychology," and "Cross-Cultural Rhythms." Some of his other courses include "Reaching and Teaching Adolescents," "Asperger's Syndrome and Autism Spectrum Disorders," "Music and Trance Induction," "Integral Psychology," and "Brain Compatible Learning."


Dr. Ortiz her performed extensive research on the historical and theoretical precedents for sound healing in counseling, clinical, and medical literature extending back over 2,000 years. He is convinced that the evidence is abundant that music possesses a wide range of characteristics that can be used for the prevention and amelioration of various ailments, as well as general well-being.

Personally and professionally, he has found that the combined application of music, sound, and Eastern philosophy as adjuncts to psychology and education can be extremely beneficial in helping people to better deal with day-to-day demands. He defines Sound Psychology as the ways in which we can each choose to use "sounds in general, and music in particular, to consciously affect our lives."

The use of techniques such as entrainment, rhythmic synchronicity, and sound awareness, in conjunction with more traditional clinical approaches, helps people to manage the stressors encountered in daily life.

Entrainment involves a merging with the pulse of music, as in the "iso" principle, a process by which one's immediate mood can be matched to the mood of the music and then gradually moved into a more constructive direction. This involves creating and listening to musical pieces programmed in an ascending hierarchy, from melancholy, sad songs — for instance — toward very upbeat, fast-moving music. In this case, the sequential use of increasingly active musical vibrations is almost always effective in assisting the individual with moving out of the depressed condition and realizing their desired cognitive (e.g., alert, hopeful) and affective (i.e., animated, more confident) states."

Rhythmic Synchronicity is a process through which music may be used to develop a "shared complementarity, or harmonious, rhythmic relationship" between two or more people by creating an ambience that will enhance collaborative social interactions.

Raising Sound Awareness involves the art of listening, striving to eliminate the common habits that block real listening. Some of these include anticipating what a person "should" be saying, assuming we know what someone is going to say, or hoping that the other person will say something that we particularly want to hear. Others include "tuning into the underlying sound beneath the message" by paying attention to the personal filters of the other person; avoiding listening "in the future," or hearing "in the past." In cross-cultural, or, "diversity," situations, sound awareness can relate to enhanced attentiveness to voice tones, connotations, accents, inflections, or volume in order to avoid misunderstanding, or misinterpreting another's intended message.

To quote Dr. Ortiz,
"The physiological and psychological effects of music as a healing art are well documented throughout the literature. The potential benefits that can be derived from the conscious application of music and sound extend far beyond those described throughout this article. These range from controlling our auditory environments, facilitating learning and enhancing our immune systems, to improving memory, reducing pain, and designing creative time management and exercise programs. In effect, it is important that we not lose sight of the fact that music is a nurturing, and powerful vibrational energy that has been part of us from time immemorial."


The following interview was conducted by Ms. Sarajane Williams, Editor and Publisher of The Harp Therapy Journal, and appeared on the Fall 2002 issue, Volume 7, # 3.

To contact Ms. Williams, or information on this journal please email:, or visit:

An interview with John M. Ortiz, Ph.D.

1. Tell us about how and when you became aware of and involved with the use of music as a tool for healing.

On the very first page of the introduction to my book; Nurturing Your Child with Music, I cite a quote that was my mother's first notation on my baby book. It read:
"My darling little boy seems to love music above all things…he quiets instantly when music is played, turning his head in the direction of the radio or phonograph. His breathing relaxes and he smiles at me, as if thanking me for turning it on for him." Years later, during my teen years, I played music in a rock band. Whenever we would play to an audience, I would notice how the type of music we played seemed to dictate the mood, tone and activity level of the crowd. It was obvious that ballads would quell chaos, and upbeat numbers would stimulate the listeners. More personally, during those early, difficult times of transition, music — the ultimate, non-judgmental, impartial ally — was fortunately always available in times of joy or loneliness, relaxation or despair. As difficult as adolescence tends to be for many of us, I can't imagine having gone through it without the musical support of the "British invasion" and Motown. From very early on, then, I began to realize that music was a wonderful resource that would allow us to set a personal pace and emotional perspective, and adapt both spiritual and cognitive sets that would better facilitate the flowing of our natural, healing resources.

2. How do you use music in your psychology practice?

In many ways, and, by music, I always mean "music and sound." When I speak of "Sound Psychology," which is a sort of the notion that the theories and concepts in my books are based on, I refer to the ways in which we can each choose to use "sounds in general, and music in particular" to consciously effect our lives. As such, these ideas can be used to help us to "tune in" to ourselves, make genuine connections with others through attentive listening and conscious dialogue, and also become more aware of environmental, cultural, social and other aspects that contribute to our collective being. Narrowing the scope to the actual use of music in practice, however, I generally use it as a creative adjunct to traditional clinical approaches. To start, I sometimes use music as background to help set a positive, comfortable ambience before, during and even after a session. When people come to see us (psychologists, therapists) for therapy they are typically struggling with issues that are, at some level, causing a rhythmic "dis-synchrony" in their lives. Music can be used to assist them in settling down and becoming more receptive to the support and guidance they can obtain from a session. It can be used as a "prescriptive" resource, where various forms of music are explored and recommended to assist with initiating behavioral change, for exploring developmental traumas, cognitive focusing, emotional processing, inducing trance, improving self-esteem, and to address countless other issues we typically see in clinical practice.

3. In all of your research, what elements of music, if any, have you found to be the most beneficial in the therapeutic process?

At one level or another, I have found that essentially all musical elements can be beneficial in the therapeutic process. The soothing, calming effects of Baroque, Classical, Romantic and other "serious" music have been well documented. The effectiveness of clear, natural tones — such as those from acoustic instruments — is also well known. But even the harshest, most irritating types of sounds can be used effectively in combination with various techniques, such as Entrainment. If a person presents with a certain type of rage, anger, or frustration that sounds like a chaotic bagpipe, or out-of-tune, screeching violin, it is sometimes easier for them to identify with that type of sound — or feeling — as an external manifestation of their anger, than with the clear tune of a chime or bell. You can then use that discordant quality to entrain, or connect, with their feeling state, and progress from there. In another example, I have found that it is often easier to connect with certain populations, such as teenagers, by having them bring in music with elements they personally prefer, which seems to capture the "essence of their issue," to work from as a starting point. With populations from "foreign cultures," and by this I mean "any culture that is essentially outside of our scope of experience," working with a diversity of rhythms, tempos, accents, and musical variations can be extremely helpful. Music is a marvelous way to learn about a person's inner nature that cannot be expressed through words, facial expressions, body language, or other means of expressive communication. More general, however, there are positive elements in all music forms: jazz, rock, pop, soul, new age, reggae, country and western, big band, cajun, latin, etc., depending on our needs, socio-cultural backgrounds, and intention.

4. Have you found specific sounds or timbres of instruments to be beneficial?

(You can probably combine # 3 with #4 above!)

5. Do you have any comments about the harp as a therapeutic instrument?

Over the past few years, as "Sound Awareness" and its relation to healing practices has become more openly recognized and accepted it seems that the harp has been very widely revered as a therapeutic instrument. During my research for my books, and my "Soothing Pulse" CD series, I interviewed hundreds of people regarding "music and healing" related experiences, practices, and preferences. The harp was one of the instruments most commonly mentioned, in spite of the fact that, compared to other instruments, public awareness of the harp in general is somewhat limited. Although, to be played, all instruments have to effectively come into contact with some part, or parts, of our bodies, playing the harp has the advantage of functioning as a "musical hug." While working on my first book, The Tao of Music, I was working with an elderly woman who was developing arthritis, as well as struggling with a deteriorating mental condition, and — not surprisingly, depression. Among other things, I suggested she take up the harp, which I felt would address her issues from a holistic, multi-sensory perspective. Shortly afterward, she reported greatly improved dexterity, a sharpening of her mind, and lifting of depression. With harp playing, one can look at it as a literal "stroking in" of positive, clear tones, by one's own active engagement with the instrument, which are brought into the body, and resonating out negative, distressful, or otherwise noxious feelings and vibrations. In essence, it helps to recharge and recycle our natural, harmonious energies.

6. What effect does the rapport of the therapist / musician with the listener have on the outcome of a musical "session?"

Like in all social situations, the natural, face to face rapport that can be established between therapist / performer and listener cannot be overemphasized. As many studies have substantiated for some time now, the initial impression between two individuals produces a most impacting, enduring perception that becomes exponentially more difficult to alter as the relationship progresses. This is highlighted by the fact that some established schools of counseling are based on the notion that "the relationship" is the cornerstone, if not "the agent of change" in itself. In terms of a musical performance, most people who have witnessed a favorite artist performing live — at fairly close proximity, say, within the first five rows of a concert hall or pub — will tend to prefer the rainbow of energetic vibrations that flow like a reverberating pulse, joining listener to performer, over any recorded experience. Whereas a musical experience can help to move, or entertain, a musical encounter enhanced by personal rapport can much more effectively serve as a transcendent, or transformative experience.

* What effect does music have on building rapport between the listener and the therapist?

This was the very issue that I approached for my doctoral internship — "The Facilitating Effects of Soothing Background Music During an Initial Counseling Session" — study at Penn State University back in 1991. For this particular study, I chose "largo movements from string concertos by Baroque composers" as music that was the most widely accepted by our culture, according to research findings, as having "relaxing qualities." The study was set up to help determine the extent to which this type of music, used as background, would effect an initial counseling session. More specifically, we looked at how music affected verbal and non-verbal dimensions, empathy, personal characteristics, world views, personality patterns and other factors considered "facilitative" within the literature. What we found was that music not only facilitated communication and verbal interactions, and effectively reduced state anxiety, but that it also significantly enhanced a client's perception of the counselor's levels of expertness, attractiveness and trustworthiness, all essential for developing early, positive working relationships.

7. How do cultural expectations affect the experience and / or behavior of the listener?

In every way. However, there are at least two ways of approaching that question. First, if you mean "expectations of how music from a particular culture will sound, or the effect that music may have based on those expectations," then we are often in for a let down. Quite often, music that has been marketed to "represent a particular culture," will be based on some romantic, or outdated notion of what "that culture sounds like." Another errant expectation can come from very limited experience with a particular culture to which one may attribute a particular "sound or feel," based on limited, or biased, personal experience. Going to a Caribbean island for a three day vacation, for instance, means that we will mostly be exposed to music that the tour establishments feel should be associated with that culture, based on past marketing, movie soundtracks, popular musicians from that culture, etc. After the vacation, once we return home, the common response is to forever associate the type of music we heard during our three-day vacation as representative of that culture. As I mentioned earlier, early impressions die hard!

Second, if you mean how "expectations based on our own cultural upbringing may affect our experience and behavior" then, the answer is typically: quite a bit! However, these can be widely convoluted by our current mental and emotional attachments, and past experiences, with those types of music. If one was brought up in a culture where music was "to be listened to," rather than a festive stimulus that was irrevocably to be accompanied by dance and merriment then those old, contextually cued connections will typically come surging forward. When our "cultural music" is played, we will react by passive listening. On the other hand, if our own personal associations to the culture, or music which it represents, has been effected by any number of reasons we could very well react in ways very differently than those which may be expected, or dictated by cultural decorum. In either case, as I discuss in the Tao of Music, life flows more comfortably whenever we are able to flow with as few expectations as possible!

8. How does music enhance associations and communication patterns?

Think of two social gatherings, one with, and another without music. Think of the differences in terms of rhythms between individuals, the tempo of the conversation. Flow, volume, pace, and a host of other characteristics are quite readily swayed by music. In one way, a music background serves as a sort of "mental buffer," a blanket of sound that gives us a sense of comfort through a feeling that others cannot hear our personal conversations, so the messages tend to be a bit more personal, communications more open. The music, of course, also tends to set a certain pace, with faster music stimulating louder, more rapid conversations, and slow music having the reverse effect. Other ways it effects our associations is by triggering old memories and other associations we have with the particular music being played, emotions the melody brings forth, or mental images that a lyric may promote.

9. What is your vision for the future in terms of using music as a therapeutic tool?

The use of music as a therapeutic tool goes back to our earliest ancestors. Music plays all around us bringing joy, companionship, and movement to our lives, enhancing creativity, energizing our bodies and echoing throughout our primordial souls. From a bio-neurological perspective, it effects our pulse, respiration rate, heartbeat, blood pressure, brain wave activity, and many other mental and bodily states that can-and have been — objectively measured by science. On the same day that my Tao of Music came out, several other books (including The Mozart Effect) were published that, in very similar ways, set forth very similar premises from closely related perspectives. Coincidence? I don't think so! My take on that "phenomenon" is that when a certain percentage of the population is ready to embrace a particular modality, direction, or notion, a new paradigm begins to flourish. So, as of now, the musical floodgates have been opened and new pathways, ways of looking at music as an adjunct to healing practices, have been introduced. I think that the next, "quantum leap" will be more in terms of continually increasing "Sound Awareness" to an all level, all quadrant integration of music emphasizing the unique similarities that resonate across our diverse cultures and environments. Since everything throughout our universe, including ourselves, are, in essence, manifested vibrations, the closer we come to sharing a common pulse the healthier we will resonate as one.

10. Any additional comments?

Music is God's way of coloring sound!


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