The history of sound healing and music therapy

The history of sound healing and music therapy

There are many theories how sound healing evolved, and it is difficult to put an exact time and place to when and where it originated from. Instruments like gongs, drums, didgeridoos, monochords and singing bowls are all considered to be archaic instruments, stemming from early human history. They probably came into existence at the same time as modern humans – the evolution of music and Homo sapiens cannot be separated from each other. Archaic instruments are usually defined as those producing sounds or tones rather than melodies.


“These sounds have the ability/capacity to, by circumventing our rational consciousness, enter into deeper levels of our physical bodies, but also into our psyche,” writes Dr Otto-Heinrich Silber in his book Klangtherapie! (Sound Therapy). “If we are ready to receive these sounds, to open ourselves to them and allow them to enter deeply, they unfold their properties as an ur-structure, an archetype reaching to the subliminal, to the primordial substance in us,” he explains.


This knowledge was understood by many ancient cultures and used in various ways. In the countries of the Middle East, from the cities of Edirne in western Turkey to Damascus and Cairo, the so called dar al shiffa existed, meaning ‘house of health’ or ‘house of cure’. The historic approach to healing was indeed holistic and one of the methods for healing being music. Unfortunately, these places of ‘cures’ were discarded or lost over the centuries. However, one such place still exists in part and was converted into one of the most fascinating museums I have ever visited. The dar al shiffa in Edirne opened its doors to patients as early as 1488 (others existed already earlier since 1100 and applied music therapy). The hospital had its own stage where on certain days of the week musicians would play specific instruments, sounds and rhythms for patients with various ailments. Centuries of research into music therapy, undertaken before and after this time, were put to paper and applied widely (see photo with sound prescriptions).


Combined with the music stage was also a water fountain. It was well understood that the calming sound of the water would relieve and relax patients and, while designing and building the hospital complex during the period 1484-1488, special attention was made to the acoustics. It is a shame today that perhaps only the most progressive and elaborate projects would receive such attention from an architect. The adoption of modern technology nowadays is often deemed a sufficient substitute for the vernacular.


In a period when the mentally ill were burned across Europe, in Edirne music, sound and smell (yes! they used aromatherapy too!) were used in the treatment of both mental and physical illness.


If you are curious to learn a bit more about sound healing and its application, I invite you to join my next retreat from 30th April to 5th May 2022 in Suryalila Retreat Centre in the Sierra de Cadiz in Andalusia, Spain. All information can be found on my website.

Immerse yourself in healing sounds, get carried away on a soft cloud of sounds from big powerful gongs, gentle wind chimes and soothing tones of Tibetan singing bowls. The retreat will offer a lovingly curated mix of invigorating and restorative yoga classes, sound journeys, and workshops on how to use Tibetan singing bowls on yourself and others. Also, a gentle introduction to healing voice techniques. And this year's edition of the retreat comes also with an Ecstatic/Conscious Dance Night. After these 6 days/5 nights, you will leave feeling blissfully relaxed, but also equipped with new knowledge of how to use sound to help yourself and others let go of stress.


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