Music, Meditation, Cognitive Benefits
I the early days of my experimentation with synthesizers, I encountered
patterns of sound that produce meditative experiences, acoustic illusions, mind
clearing, and some very annoying experiences. At the same time I was
experimenting with brain biofeedback using sound to reveal brain waves. The
basic idea was that amplified brain waves could be evaluated by frequency and
amplitude, desirable goals established and a sound signal would inform the
subject when his or her brain waves were in the desired range. The most common
goal was to achieve slow, symmetrical sine waves from each cerebral hemisphere;
the frequency range of about 8 to 12 hertz was called alpha. One feedback that
was popular involved a white noise generator whose amplitude was modulated by
the alpha brain waves. Your would hear shush shush shush.
White noise is in
itself of great interest. White is a color metaphor – white light includes all
the visible light frequencies and white noise contains all the audible range of
sound frequencies. White noise is inherently relaxing and is often used to mask
other noises in acoustic spaces. I accidently discovered that my experienced
subjects responded most favorably to a test wave generator that modulated the
white noise at 6 to 8 hertz. They thought that they were listening to their
brain waves. They described a sense of calm, peace and a clear mind and left the
session feeling good.
For many years after, I would treat myself to white noise relaxation and
other sound experiences that left me feeling calm and clear. I began to refer to
mind sweepers – sound experiences that left you feeling refreshed and ready to
tackle complex life problems. I began to appreciate that the listener can be a
very creative person in the mix of composer-performer-listener. Too much music
is tyrannical and leaves no room for the listener to create their own
experience. The essence of healing music is not just a calming or soporific
effect, but an opportunity for the listener to participate and create. This
opportunity requires space between sounds, slow gradual transitions and nuanced
understanding of the brain processing of sound.
I discovered that JS Bach's counterpoint, probably the most
elegant expression of well considered complexity, if presented with clear
definition of interacting voices, becomes a delightful form of brain exercise.
My Counterpoint for Genius series is a collection of albums that has evolved
over several years though experimentation with a number of transcriptions of
Bach pieces, many from the religious Cantatas, mixed with different voicing and,
different tempos and transpositions. The goal is to produce delight and enhance
general intelligence in the listener.
- Some of the basic properties of brain sound processing that I utilize both in
music and in created meditative (aka healing) sound experiences are:
- The brain will produce a beating effect if two similar sounds are presented
to each ear (through headphones) with less than 2 Hz frequency difference. More
than 2 Hz and individual pitches are heard; the beating stops. The beating
effect is a powerful mind cleanser.
- Repeating sounds produce habituation (reduced interest in and acuity of the
sounds) and a learning effect. If a rhythmic pattern is repeated several times,
for example, and then you leave out some of the notes the missing sounds are
- Spatial sound processing is essential for survival. Moving sounds are of
great interest and renew alerting, orienting responses. This is excellent
cognitive exercise. The Doppler effect involves a decrease in pitch and a change
in timbre when an approaching sound passes by.
- Complex staccato passages with precise but low amplitude sounds are followed
closely by the temporal cortex. I am often amazed by how many notes in
interweaving layers my brain is willing to decipher. If the notes form
interesting patterns and move in space, they remain fresh and invigorating.
While repetition is good, too much can become annoying. Small variations in a
repeating pattern will avoid habituation and annoyance. The occasional,
surprising sound will awaken new interest.
Humans spontaneously synchronize movements to rhythmic
sounds. This ability is the basis for dance and for the group cohesion that
occurs during musical events. Monotonously repeating rhythms have trance
inducing value but also can induce habituation and loose their effectiveness.
Even slight variations or periodic interruptions tend to renew interest in a
The best melodies tend to be short and simple. They are
easily sung and can be learned with a few repetitions. Once a melody is
familiar, we tend to recognize it immediately when it recurs and feel positive
about the experience. Variations on the melody will also be recognized. The most
obvious variation is transposition ( Key change). Small variations in rhythm
will also be accepted but if the variation is excessive, the sense of
familiarity may be lost.
The Musical Brain and other topics presented at Persona Digital Studio
the book, The Sound of Music by Stephen Gislason.
Click the Download button to order the eBook from Alpha Online
Persona Digital Studio is located on the Sunshine Coast, Sechelt, British
All the recordings are arrangements, performances and recordings are completed in house by