By Vaughan Jones
For many people who regularly meditate, receive holistic treatments, practice yoga or simply create time to relax for their own well-being, the use of relaxing or inspirational music can play a useful role.
By masking unwanted external noise (perhaps from family members or neighbours), uplifting music can help to create a restful ambiance so that distracting sounds don’t disturb the listener, whilst they are trying to focus on stillness or receiving healing.
From the point of view of a therapist, playing soothing music in a treatment room can help the client feel that they don’t need to talk to break the silence and can help the flow of the treatment. Many specially composed healing albums also have the music conveniently written in timed 5 or 10 minute tracks, which allow the practitioner to keep track of the session without continually looking at the clock. During meditation or yoga, it can also be helpful to how much time has passed.
So what makes good meditation music?
It seems fairly obvious that gentle, uplifting music is most appropriate, without lyrics or words (unless for a guided meditation). ‘Dark’ chords, harmonic tension and sudden changes in tempo would also not be ideal, nor would anything too emotional that might stir and influence the feelings of the listener.
Relaxing or meditation music needs to have an almost neutral quality – providing a background ambiance that is calming and serene, without causing the listener to actually fall asleep!
Any tunes which are too catchy or memorable might be ideal in a pop song, but prove distracting during meditation, so a successful composer of New Age music would usually keep things fairly straightforward, with gentle shifting harmonies.
Classical or Baroque music is preferred by many, with instruments such as guitar, harp, cello, flute and piano being some of the most popular choices for classical relaxation albums.
During a healing or meditation session, the listener may enter the process from full consciousness and gradually become more profoundly relaxed as the minutes pass. For this reason, well planned out albums of meditation music can reflect this by opening with grounded, richer textures and becoming progressively more sparse and ethereal to match the calm, receptive state that the listener is hopefully ascending into. Towards the middle of the album, the music should be at its most spiritual, gradually returning to ‘earth’ towards the last few tracks, when the listener will be returning to everyday waking life.
Natural or synthetic?
Other popular albums for use during meditation or therapies are recordings of natural sounds such as waterfalls, ocean waves and birdsong. These can help evoke a feeling of calm as if surrounded by nature, and many new age composers use them to good effect.
For other people, music is preferable and although plenty of albums are written and recorded for synthesizers, there are many listeners who dislike anything artificial when meditating, preferring to hear the sound of real instruments, played by real musicians.
Some composers use a mixture of synthesizers and live instruments, and it is also possible to buy specially composed New Age music written for and played by real orchestral instruments – this has the benefit of the rich, natural textures found in classical music, yet because it has been purposefully composed with healing in mind, it will be uplifting, positive and calming, with each track allowing the listener to gradually enter a more progressively calm and tranquil state before gently returning to a refreshed and energized state at the end of the session.
As with everything, it’s possible to tire of even a favorite album and any massage or Reiki practitioner who has endured the same music all week can begin to find the music repetitive. With a wide variety of meditation and relaxation music available now through book shops or for instant download, it’s best to find several uplifting albums and vary these to avoid monotony. By experimentation and remaining mindful of our body / mind’s response to each piece, the pieces of music, which most resonate with an individual will soon start to become apparent. What works well for one person may not greatly help another.
Vaughan Jones studied music at the Royal College of Music in London before going on to a career as an orchestral violinist and chamber musician. He has composed an album for download called Music for Healing, Relaxation and Massage which is written for and recorded by a real string orchestra with flutes, harp, oboe and cor anglais. Vaughan believes that by using a live orchestra rather than synthesizers, the natural vibrations and harmonies of real instruments can be healing in their own right.