This article will explore the role of music in hypnotherapy. I will look at tempo, scale, instrumentation, timbre and form in order to examine the part that each of these elements can play in facilitating effective trance states. By understanding these things, it can provide a rich array of resources that the practicing hypnotherapist can draw upon.
I was interested to discover the term magnetism had been associated with the early exploration into hypnosis. For me personally, music is magnetic, a resonant and vibrant energy that is as much kinesthetic as it is auditory, particularly in performance. We are drawn to it and draw from it to illicit a variety of feelings and desired states. It wasn’t until I began to study hypnotherapy that I discovered fully that music could provide many opportunities to enhance hypnosis, if used purposefully and thoughtfully.
So what makes it so powerful?
We have an innate association with sound that informs us of the world around us long before we can see it, but even as grown adults the true nature of music can still remain intangible. We all have the ability to experience it even if only through vibration, but it is a transitory effect only. It comes and it goes. Maybe this is why we attach so much attention to it, why we find it so expressive, and just why it has the ability to trigger such things as memory, time and place. Or why we choose its forms to represent such human emotions as sadness and anger, confusion or happiness. Ultimately, music is a language we understand and we can use its voice as a narrative to engage both the conscious and subconscious mind to beneficial effect through careful consideration of its parameters.
Tempo can roughly be described as how fast or slow a piece of music is. Classical Composers began to indicate precise metronome measurements during the 19th Century, as a way of ensuring that their music was rendered in the manner in which they intended it. They understood the significance. Tempo is important to us as hypnotherapists also, as one of our key roles is to help people relax. In a relaxed state, our hearts may beat roughly somewhere between 60 to 100 bpm. Using music that falls within this range can induce a relaxed response, as our heart rate will gradually and naturally align itself closer to the tempo of the music.
This is known as entrainment, and is the physiological response our bodies enact in order to synchronize to such external events.
You may have experienced it when tapping your foot along to the beat of a song. It’s the reason why action scenes in movies will have high tempo music to excite us, or that many genres of electronic dance music typically feature 120bpm and over.
Scales are used to organize pitch and to define the relationship of one pitch to the next. Pitch can best be described as how high or low a sound is, and scales are usually organized from the lowest to the highest pitch. There are many different scales throughout the world. Our Western tradition of Tonality has 12 pitches and both a Major and Minor scale, a Raga performed in the Classical Indian tradition will use a scale or Sargam that can have as many as 24 pitches. This is one of the reasons why music is so diverse. Some scales such as the pentatonic scale would seem intrinsic. As infants, this is one of the first scales we adopt naturally; it is to be found in nursery rhymes and lullabies, in the music of the blues, and across many cultures and ethnicities including African, Chinese, Native American, Celtic, Inuit and more.
As hypnotherapists, we invite the client to explore his or her own subconscious world, its imagery and illusion. Musical scale is representative, and once recognized can be used to enhance suggestions of both place and time as can the inherent qualities of the instrument itself.
Instrumentation and Timbre
I’m sure you could recognize the sound of the bagpipe, and whether you love it or loathe it; I imagine it conjures up certain mental images for you. What about an instrument you may be less familiar with, perhaps a Hammered Dulcimer? I use this example because although you may not know the name, you have probably heard it in film or TV (Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings and many others)
How about the African thumb piano or Mbira, popular in car commercials, I imagine it is because the sound captures our imagination. It evokes images of African cultures and if my quirky blue hatch can survive on the wild windswept savannah, it should be good around Wellington. On a more pertinent note, (pardon the pun) the Mbira is typically tuned in a pentatonic scale.
Musical form is how we organize sound over a period of time. Just like scales, there are many different kinds that can be used to engage us in different ways. I touched on it earlier when discussing our ability to vocalize pentatonic scales as infants, but musical forms such as lullabies often still resonate with us as adults. There is something comforting and immediately familiar about them, which makes them all the more powerful and creepy when they turn up in a Stephen King movie.
Repetition in music is a form that at times can seem irresistible. Since man began to form tribal societies, repetition has been used in ceremonial needs such as initiation, ritual and sacrifice. We utilize it today in such contemporary genres as trance, which aims to lock the listener into a perpetual pattern, a loop that blurs any sense of beginning, middle or end. How hypnotic is that? Other simple but effective forms such as the Classical ABA structure can be effective in prescribing a musical journey or story in which an introduction is made, we are taken away on an adventure, and safely brought back home via a repetition of the initial introduction.
There are many possibilities for hypnotherapists that may reveal themselves when we begin think about music in these ways. I’m sure many hypnotherapists have great success when using music alongside their practice, and possibly many others see no need for it at all. My only intention is to share my knowledge of music and to reveal these opportunities as they become more aware to me. I believe if we can integrate the world of music more closely to that of hypnotherapy, it can benefit us all.
Barry Holt. Hypno-musicologist – Wellington.
Suggested tracks – further listening.
Erik Satie – Trois Gymnopedies.
Claude Debussy – Girl with the Flaxen Hair
Gustav Holst – Venus from The Planets Suite.
Bill Evans – Peace Piece
Steve Reich – 6 Marimbas
Music performed on:
The Korean Kayagum
Kalimba or Mbira – African thumb piano
Kora – African Harp
Shaukuhatchi – Japanese Flute