The Science of Sound
Brain States and Consciousness
The brain is a great mystery. The number of neurons or brain cells in the human brain outnumbers the number of stars in the known universe. That statement conjures up a compelling and complex number of possibilities.
Music and sound have been proven scientifically to shift the consciousness of the brain. It has taken me years of doing music to really understand how music affects people. It is very easy to come to this understanding when you are standing up in front of an audience and playing music for the sole purpose of moving an audience.
Even Johann Sebastian Bach in his heyday was using music to help people relax and shift consciousness. He was hired by the Russian envoy Count Kaiserling to write music that would help his insomnia. Bach composed the Goldberg Variations, named after Kaiserling’s harpsichordist, Johann Gottleib Goldberg. Years later it would be proven that largo musical movements (very slow movements) increase alpha activity in the brain. Alpha brain waves bring a relaxed state of awareness to the body. Alpha waves are very important, for if someone cannot bring their body to an alpha state, they cannot get to the deeper and slower brain wave levels in the body where rest and rejuvenation can occur.
Sound and Science
Within the scope of sound research, another science was born. Psychoneuroimmunology is the study of how consciousness and emotions affect the immune system. There have been many scientists who have done significant research on sound, and many of these people will be listed in the resource section of my website (under construction). Because of this research, doctors, hospitals, therapists and laypersons are using the technology of psychoacoustics all over the world. I feel that understanding the brain states is significant to understanding this science. Research shows that sound can positively affect our emotions, can increase intelligence, decrease stress, enhance problem solving and increase wellness. All of this is very possible. If we can open our perceptual box and begin to perceive the world in ways our mind has not been able to do before, our world shifts dramatically. Opportunities that could not have been seen, are seen. Ideas are born. Emotional blockages are released, and happiness and gratitude become more accessible.
Brain state is based on a cycle per second, or hertz system. Just imagine being on a pier by the ocean and seeing the waves come in and out. If you look at the top of one wave to the top of the next wave, that would be one cycle. We could then count how many waves there would be in one minute. But when you are dealing with electromagnetic pulsations, they happen so quickly that we have to deal in cycles per second instead of minutes.
Neurons and the Flow of Information
The brain cell itself has three parts to it: the dendrite, the soma body, and the axon. The dendrite receives incoming information from other brain cells (neurons) and passes it on to the soma body. The soma body takes in the information and integrates it, and then sends it on to the axon. The axon then sends it across the synapse to the dendrite of the next neuron. That process of receiving information and then sending it on creates an electromagnetic field that pulses. If you have ever been in a house and experienced a power surge and seen a light bulb get brighter and then dimmer when the power surge is over, this is a similar experience to what happens to the electromagnetic field in the brain. EEGs measure these fields of electromagnetic fields of groups of neurons or brain cells. This is what really allows us to look at different brain states.
The language of brain states is deciphered by a kind of measurement called an EEG, or electroencephalogram. This measures the electromagnetic fields produced by the neocortex, that surface area of the brain that is right underneath the skull. These electromagnetic wave fields pulse at different rates. Some pulse slowly, some medium, some fast and some super fast.
Levels of Consciousness
The slowest level of activity in the brain is called Delta. It is associated with sleep, ranging from .5 to 4 cycles per second. There is a lack of conscious awareness. People that are in a coma are usually registered at less than .5 hertz.
The next level is Theta. This is a very interesting state, being the state of visions and dreams. When someone is in theta, they have no awareness of the external world. What is lucidly real is your internal experience. This is a very important state in terms of developing brain potential. The range of theta is from 4 to 8 cycles per second.
The next brain state is the threshold between being aware of the external and internal worlds. This is called Alpha, ranging from 8 to 13 or 14 cycles per second. This is a significant state because one is relaxed but still is aware of the external world. This is an important state in stress management and also athletic performance. Professional athletes sometimes call this “the zone”, where they can watch themselves from a place of deep relaxation.
Alpha and Theta are very, very significant for someone doing sound healing or music therapy because pure sound without language can stimulate trance-like states of body and mind. Tom Kenyon refers to these brain states as the “magic window” because inner transformations can happen during these states, where self-healing and/or a psychological breakthrough can happen.
EEG readings above 14 HZ are in the Beta range. This includes K-complex, Gamma, Super-high and Ultra-high Beta. There is a high state of awareness of the external environment in Beta, ranging up to 150 HZ.
Perception and Perspective
It is important to remember we are never in just one brain state. Different EEG patterns can occur simultaneously in different parts of the brain. These different brain states serve very different functions, and give us very different perspectives of perception.
Neurologically, science has shown us that you can have ten people in the same room, but those ten people will have ten completely different perceptions of what is taking place. There are a number of different reasons why people may have such varying perceptions, but we know that both the number of neurological networks that are in the brain and the presence of emotional blockages can greatly affect perception. This is connected to the fact that humans have two very different brains.
Left Brain, Right Brain
The left brain coordinates the right side of the body, and the right brain coordinates the left side of the body. Science used to think that they were diametrically opposite, and that there was no interconnection, but now we know that the whole brain is involved with the act of perception. The left brain takes in sight and sound and allows us to understand language, and allows us to speak language. This hemisphere of the brain is logical, looks for sequence and is very analytical.
Fiery Dancers The right side of the brain does not speak. It has impressions. The right side tends to look for paradox, novelty and has more to do with the intuitive part of us that does not speak. Science has shown that this area of the brain becomes very enlivened when it hears sound and music. Research shows that when the right brain hears sound and music without language, it gets activated. In observing PET scans, which can be used to measure the glucose consumption of the brain, you can see a lot of activity when the right hemisphere hears sound. If we just exposed the brain to words, only the left side of the brain would light up. If we have music with lyrics, both sides of the brain become activated.
If someone were used to using only their left brain to perceive, they would be looking at the world through the screen of order, logic and sequence. If some event occurred that did not fall into one of these categories (because it leaned toward paradox or novelty), they might dismiss a potential opportunity because it did not fit into their expectations. Every day we make choices, and there could be opportunities we could be missing because either events do not have enough logic or order for us to recognize the potential of the situation, or we are not comfortable with something so perceptually “new” to recognize the possibilities within our grasp. When we use whole brain processing, our potential can become a reality.
There is a beautiful story of an inner-city teacher that had a class of students that not only all graduated from high school, but most of them went on to college and became successful, when most other students in that school did not have a high rate of success. The board of education was so impressed by this teacher, that they visited her to find out her “secret.” When they came to her classroom and asked about her special technique, all she said was, “I just loved them like they were my own.” When she opened a file and saw that there was divorce or drug addiction in the family, she did not add that to her perception of what the potential was for that student. And so those kids were able to meet the perceptual potential that she offered them. It is a wondrous example of how important our perception of other people (and of ourselves) is.
Bridging the Gap
How we biologically can build our perception has to do with the corpus collosum. This is the neural “highway” that literally connects the right and the left hemispheres of the brain. Research has shown no matter what your age or health is, you can build the neural networks in the corpus collosum. Building this band of neural fibers can allow for more creativity, better health, more intelligence and better problem solving. It is really the key.
Both the research and my personal experience indicate that working with pure sound is a joyful and effective way of reaching this goal. The crystal singing bowls are powerful tools for this because of the harmonics and overtones that are created. The incredible sounds emanating from the bowls allow your brain waves to slow down to the alpha, theta and sometimes delta levels where the body can rejuvenate and build those neurological networks AND allow emotional release to occur, so blockages can no longer hinder the person’s goals and dreams. Often people will “psychonavigate” in a sound healing session, visiting the past or future, and releasing old feelings that never had the opportunity to be felt.
The Power of Voice
The other vital sound healing tool is the human voice. I feel it is the medicine of the future. The human voice carries “essentic” waves, which are sound waves activated when we are touched or have an emotion. The voice can match feelings and allow them to be released from a practitioner to a client, and even more directly, any of us can use our own voice from the inside out to resonate with whatever needs movement and needs to be released. Some of the most powerful healing I have experienced was with one person singing and playing one crystal bowl. It is not always comfortable to release old blockages, but the long-term rewards are unquestionably worth it.
This is why I feel it is so important to understand the workings of the brain and mind so that we may expand our potential for growth and happiness. If there are more neurons in our brain than stars in the known universe, that allows for more possibility than we can probably imagine. The more we can imagine, the more we can expand our potential!
Note – I would like to acknowledge Tom Kenyon for his book Brain States and his CD series The Ultimate Brain, which are the sources for much of the information on this page.