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Dr Bruce Copley

By Dr Bruce Copley

Reprinted from the South African Journal of Natural Medicine
Issue 10, 2003, pgs 52 – 53.

As healing through sound occurs in almost limitless forms and combinations, writing a short article on this topic can at best, only constitute the tip of the proverbial iceberg. What follows is an attempt to enlarge the tip of this huge “sound healing iceberg” and to encourage interested readers to take the plunge and personally experience the many short and long term benefits of healing sounds.

  1. Dr John Desmond a psychiatrist has reported that many orchestral conductors who are exposed to classical music are actively conducting well into their nineties. In stark contrast many rock, blues and jazz musicians burn out, die violently, diseased or at a relatively young age. He also discovered through kinesiological muscle testing that skeletal muscles tested significantly stronger with serene harmonious music compared to jarring driving compositions. This finding was apparent even when the subjects wore special sound blocking ear-phones. It appears that the body itself can distinguish between beneficial and detrimental sound vibrations.

  2. Different musical instruments playing the same note can be easily distinguished because of the different harmonics(under and overtones) that each produce. If filters are used to block out all the harmonics leaving only the fundamental note, you would not be able to tell the difference between for example a violin and a trumpet. It is these harmonics that are the healing properties of sound. Vocal harmonics or overtones are often described as sacred sounds probably because they work on the etheric body.

  3. Appropriate sounds are harmonious, well ordered and balanced and common expressions such as a “sound mind” , “sound principle”, “ sound thinking” and of “sound mind and body” echo these desirable qualities.

  4. While pure sound tends to expand consciousness and open the mind, music which is structured sound, hones in on the psycho-physical and in particular the emotional level.

  5. Sound and music therapy are widely practiced all over the world. A list of professional practitioners including a number of South Africans is provided in the insert.

  6. Jonathan Goldman the acclaimed American sound therapist had an extraordinary experience in a Mayan temple in Mexico in 1987. In a pitch black subterranean vault his guide asked him to tone vocal harmonics and to his amazement the room become faintly illuminated and returned to darkness when he stopped. He had inadvertently used vocal harmonics to create fields of light.

  7. Pythagoras the Greek philosopher and father of geometry (6th century BC), designed a simple instrument called the monochord composed of a single string stretched over a piece of wood. He discovered a precise mathematical system inherent in sound and claimed that the study of one vibrating string would reveal all the secrets of the universe from the micro to the macrocosm.

  8. Quartz crystals act as transducers of energy which means that they have the ability to take one form of energy such as pressure and convert it into a higher form of energy such as electricity. They are acousto-luminescent and can convert sound waves into light.

  9. The overtones of all musical sounds progress from the physical into the spiritual world. This is why music is virtually always part of religious services where the purpose is to raise the vibrating rate of those in attendance upward through a series of overtones to a spiritual level.

  10. Therapists are beginning to recognise that when sound is used and integrated with colour, water, movement, crystals and/or aroma, the healing effects can be greatly enhanced and accelerated. Elizabeth Mudge a Cape Town based alternative therapist is a pioneer in this exciting new field of holistic health and wellness. By immersing the body in water and then introducing music into it, she creates “liquid sound”.


Kay Gardner an innovative USA sound therapist, offers the following practical advice for people wishing to fully access the healing power and impact of music :

  • The INTENT of the musician is important. Ideally it should focus primarily on healing and relaxing its listeners and should not be driven by the ego, commercial interests or other attachments or addictions. Use your intuition and deep listening to establish the intent behind the music.

  • There are 8 MUSICAL ELEMENTS that should be considered. Although each is healing in and of itself, combinations generally produce the best results.

  • DRONE: A long, uninterrupted sound or set of sounds which underlie the music. The didgeridoo, tamboura, organ or chanting are examples of such sounds. These directly affect our physical bodies in either specific areas or throughout the body. The effects can be greatly heightened by visualising the drones going to tense, painful or blocked areas of the body.

  • REPETITION: This is any musical phase which is continuously repeated so that the listener knows what to expect and can become comfortable with it. The sounds are accepted without judgement and this allows the mind to become receptive, open and very relaxed in a short space of time.

  • HARMONICS: Also called overtones these naturally occurring sounds always accompany any basic note or sound. Like rainbow colours created when white light passes through a prism, these beautiful sounds become progressively higher and softer as they move above the fundamental note. Referred to as “unstuck sound”, harmonics are the most mystical of all musical elements and they balance and integrate mind, body and spirit. Vocal harmonics abound in Tibetan, Mongolian and Gregorian chants.

  • HARMONY: The emotional content of music is contained in its harmonies. When they are simple their effect is soothing and relaxing and particularly suited to meditation, centering and visualisation. Complex and dissonant harmonies on the other hand are used to challenge and stimulate the emotional realm and address blockages and traumas.

  • RHYTHM: We are rhythmic beings and always respond either consciously or unconsciously to outside rhythms irrespective of whether they are audible or not. The function of rhythm in healing music is to duplicate and regulate healthy body rhythms such as heart , breathing and brain wave rates. Drumming and other percussive instruments have the ability to significantly increase or decrease body rhythms. As the instrument of the heart the drum is widely believed to have great healing potential. Indigenous people say that when they hear the drum they come running because it makes their blood rush like a swollen river. They believe that the great drum is steady and maintains the beat of life, that there is no rush, that it is always in the now and that each beat is as important as the one before and the one to follow. Group drumming is becoming increasingly more popular throughout the modern world because of its enlivening and healing effects. I wonder how many smiles this has evoked in indigenous peoples and our ancestors.

  • MELODY: Melodies are built on sequences of musical tones called scales, modes or ragas. They have the ability to take us away from our physical senses and elicit powerful visual journeys and fantasies. Melodic music can induce states of timelessness, expanded consciousness, enhanced imagination and sublime bliss. Melody is frequently used in the treatment of pain and life threatening diseases.

  • INSTRUMENTAL COLOUR: Each musical instrument has its own unique timbre or tonal qualities and these influence us in different ways. String instruments and the French horn for example affect our heart centre tugging on our heart strings, drums, the tuba, the didgeridoo and the bassoon resonate most in our bellies and diaphragms which are the emotional and psychic centres, The clarinet and oboe work on the throat area or centre of communication while bells and bowls predominantly vibrate the head or crown area. The most effective instruments for the entire body are those with the fullest range of sounds with the concert harp being the best example of this.

  • FORM: This refers to the structure underneath all the elements and it determines the direction in which the listener goes when hearing the music. The direction may be linear as in a folksong where there are a number of different verses with a chorus accompanying it. The other form is cyclical where a theme is stated, another is heard and then the original theme is restated. This is considered to be the most healing form because it imitates the ebb and flow of the natural order. Holotropic Breathwork the brainchild of psychiatrist Dr Stanislav Grof, uses music and elevated breathing to create a very powerful psycho/physical/spiritual healing experience. This exciting new transpersonal psychological approach aptly described as an “adventure in self discovery”, incorporates three forms of sequentially structured music ; pulsating/rhythmic music to stimulate and ground the body, journey music to engage and support emotional and dramatic states and finally expansive/meditative music to contain and integrate non-ordinary states of consciousness and awareness.

Understanding the elements of healing music enables us to become more mindful of the impact music does and can have on us. By carefully listening to the quality of sound, the healing element content, musicianship and the musicians’ intent, we can confidently select appropriate healing music for both ourselves and others and in so doing create at least for a time, a little heaven on earth.

Dr Bruce Copley, a former Wits University Professor of Human Movement Studies and recipient of the prestigious British Association Medal for exceptional scientific research, has pioneered a revolutionary holistic method of education and training known as Cogmotics. Described as a real-life version of the teacher played by Robin Williams in the award-winning film Dead Poet’s Society, Bruce’s unique ‘particitainment’ style has been internationally acclaimed. His fresh and simple approach to holism is grounded in his own awakened awareness and fuelled by a passion to rekindle in others the freedom and fullness that is their birthright. Bruce, who pioneered corporate drumming in south Africa, uses a remarkable array of skills and activities to create unforgettable learning experiences for people ranging from pre-schoolers to senior citizens. As a serious advocate of holistic benefits of sound, Bruce has developed didgeridoo playing skills that have enabled him to evolve this ancient 40 000-year old monotone drone tube into a versatile multi-octave musical instrument.

For further information please Contact AAHA Learning.

Professional Practitioners: