Judith A. Music, M.Ac., Lic.Ac., Dipl.Ac. & C.H. (NCCAOM)




          After several years of practicing sound and crystal healing as an intuitive healer, I noticed that an increasing number of my clients wanted help with specific physical diseases, some of which were quite serious.  I felt unqualified, to say the least, to take on that level of responsibility.  I decided to learn, in a supervised clinical setting, how to treat “real” diseases in a way that resonated with what I was already doing.  Richard Gerber’s Vibrational Medicine, especially his discussion of acupuncture and sonopuncture (pp. 198-199), inspired me to study Chinese medicine.  I believe that Chinese medicine provides sound healers with a compatible and comprehensive model for understanding disease processes and for applying sound in directed therapeutic ways.


            Chinese medicine evolved from early shamanic spiritual practices, and its fund of knowledge has been enriched over the millennia by the natural observations and empirical tests of countless physicians.  The holistic nature of Chinese medicine grows out of Chinese cosmology, which describes human beings as the fulcrum of heavenly and earthly qi.  Bodily, mental, and spiritual activities can be understood in terms of energetic functions of qi, which we can influence via acupuncture points.  “Evil” qi enters through these points; healers use the points to expel the evil qi, to strengthen the internal systems, or sometimes to exorcise “ghosts”.  Truly, Chinese Medicine is a vibrational medicine. Traditional stimuli to the acupuncture points have included stone and metal needles, cauterization (heat therapy), herbal medicine, meditation, qi gong, martial arts, nutrition, and massage.  The Chinese were using magnets for healing at least as early as 970 CE. (Needham, Vol. 4, Pt. I, pp. 245-236)   Some contemporary Chinese medicine physicians now use low level lasers, mild electric currents of electricity (microstimulation and electroacupuncture), and ion pumping cords.  A very few practitioners have begun to use color and sound generating devices on acupuncture points.


What the Ancients Said


            Although Chinese medical books (ancient or modern) do not discuss “sound healing” per se (except to list “tones” in Five Phase charts), music and sound have played an important role in Chinese cosmology and philosophy since the earliest written records.  Unfortunately, the Classic of Music was lost in the systematic “Great Burning” of books in 213 BCE.  What remains of early writings, however, unequivocally asserts that music plays an essential role in the health and wellbeing of nature, the state, and the individual.  Since cosmology and natural and political philosophy are deeply imbedded in Chinese medical theory, confirmation of the healing power of music and sound in the Classics legitimizes this area of research.


            Perhaps the Li Ki (Books of Rites, dated between the 4th and 1st centuries BCE) says it best:


Earth sends its power upward, heaven sends its power downward. …Thus music represents the harmonious interaction of heaven and earth. If this interaction is not in accordance with the seasons, no life will ensue. …This is the nature of heaven and earth.  Music and ceremony reach up to the high heaven and embrace the deep of the earth (respectively).  They (music and ceremony) are effective in the dark and the bright and are linked with the worlds of spirits and gods.  Their height may be called the highest, their extent the greatest distance, their depth the deepest, and their breadth the widest.  At the Grand Beginning (of the world) music emerged and ceremony enhanced the completion of things.  The unfolding of ceaseless motion manifests heaven, that of motionless stillness manifests earth. All things between heaven and earth spring from the change between movement and stillness. (Kaufmann, p. 37) …[Music] guides toward the exact meaning of relations.  Ears and eyes become acute and perceptive, the forces of blood and energy become orderly and calm.  Attitudes and manners  [customs] become proper and there is peace in the world. …Therefore, if a great person promotes ceremony and music, heaven and earth will provide strength.  Heaven and earth will unite, dark (yin) and bright (yang) will combine harmoniously.  The winds of heaven will breathe gently and earth will bring warmth.  Heaven protects and earth nourishes (all things).  Plants and trees will grow abundantly, twisting shoots and terms will burst forth, the feathers and wings will begin to move and horns and antlers will spread out.  The animals will arise from hibernation, the feathered ones will settle on their eggs, the hairy ones will give birth to the young, the ones carried in the womb will not perish and eggs will not be damaged.  If everything goes in this harmonious manner, music has achieved its aim.  (Kaufmann, pp. 40-41)


In the Spring and Autumn of Lu Pu-wei (c. 239 BCE) we learn that


            The origins of music lie far back in time.  It arises out of Proportion and is rooted in the Great One.  The Great One gives rise to the powers of darkness and light.  The powers of darkness and light undergo change; the one ascends into the heights, the other sinks into the depths; heaving and surging they combine to form bodies.  If they are divided they unite themselves again; if they are united they divide themselves again.  That is the eternal way of heaven. …The bodily shape belongs to the world of space, and everything spatial has a sound.  The sound arises out of harmony.  Harmony arises out of relatedness.  Harmony and  relatedness are the roots from which music, established by the ancient kings, arose.  (Tame, p. 39, italics mine) [This passage beautifully describes the remarkable film Hans Jenny made of vibrating liquids and powders over 2000 year later!  See Jenny]


            It is a truism of Chinese medicine that all disease arises out of the imbalance (disharmony, if you will) of yin and yang. It seems to me that the above passage makes clear that music can harmonize yin and yang by virtue of matter’s (and, by extension, the body’s) relationship to space and sound.


            Joseph Needham (Vol. 4, Pt. I, pp. 131-141) spends nearly eleven pages of prove that “early Chinese ideals of the nature of sound were based upon the concept of chhi [qi].  Why not use the qi of music to regulate disharmonious qi in our bodies, minds, and spirits?



Chinese Music


            Music was “invented” by the legendary emperor, Huang Di (the “Yellow Emperor”) in the 27th century BCE.  Acting on Huang Di’s orders, Ling Lun traveled west to Kunlun and found a special bamboo grove in the valley of Hsieh-chhi.  “Cutting one between the nodes …, he blew it, and took its fundamental note (kung) to be that of the Huang-chung tube.  Blowing again, he said ‘This is good enough’, and proceeded to make all the twelve pipes.  Then at the foot of the Juan-yu (i.e., Kunlun) mountains, he listened to the singing of the male and female phoenix and divided the pitchpipes accordingly…, the male notes making six and the female also six.  Indeed the Huang-chung fundamental (kung) is capable of generating the entire (series). …(Upon his return) Ling Lun … was ordered by Huang [Di] to cast twelve bells in order to harmonise the five notes so that splendid music might be made.”  (Needham, Vol. 4, Pt. I, pp. 178-179;  Needham follows up this passage with a theory that the Chinese actually received these pitches from Babylon.)


            These twelve bells or/and pitchpipes probably comprise the twelve lu. A 3rd century BCE document calculates the interval by applying the cycle of fifths.  (Pian, et. Al, p. 261) (By the way, the fundamental pitch, huang-chung, changed 35 times between 1122 BCE and 1911 CE.)  (Wong, p. 250).  It comes as no surprise that each lu belongs to a specific lunation and one of its corresponding environmental aspects.  Huang-chung, for example, “corresponds to the eleventh moon.  It is the phase of the moon determined by the Winter solstice, characterized by intense cold.”  (Chao, p. 14)


            There were also one or more pentatonic scales and a heptatonic being used as early as the 4th centure BCE.  The five notes of the pentatonic scale, or their relative intervals, were called kung, shang, chio, chih, and yu.  Each of these five notes corresponds to one of the Five Phases.  Furthermore, “by 120 BCE the Husi Nan Tzu book gives us an explicit statement not only that the five notes are named …,  but that in combination with the twelve absolute pitches of the fixed gamut, sixty ‘mode-keys’ can be formed.” (Needham, Vol. 4, Pt. I, p. 161)  To achieve a heptatonic scale two new tones, called pien, which means “change,” were placed between the third and fifth notes and after the sixth note of the pentatonic scale.  (Chao, p. 18)


            Although there is evidence that the early Chinese had knowledge of tempered scales, just intonation prevailed until Chu Tsai-Yu published his formula for eequal temperment in 1584 CE.  (Needham, Vol. 4, Pt. 1, pp. 165-169, 220-223)


            The number eight figures heavily in Chinese music, as well.  To begin with, there were the eight traditional sources of sound:  metal, stone, silk, earth (clay), gourd, skin (drumheads), wood, and bamboo.  M.P. Chao finds a relationship between the generation of the lu and the eight trigrams of the I Ching:  “Beginning from the first sound [Huang-chung], one has progressed from fifth to fifth or group of eight chromatic sounds. …Each fifth comprises ‘Eight Symbols,’ which compose the Long and Short lines representing the eight objects, namely :  Sky, Lake, Sun, Thunder, Wind, River, Mountain, and Earth.”  (Chao, pp. 16-17)


            Modern archaeology in China has recovered early texts that have been considered irrevocably lost for over a thousand years, as well as very ancient bells, flutes, sounding stones, and other instruments.  The 1977 discovery of Bronze Age bells inscribed with musical notation provides the “Rosetta Stone” needed to recreate nearly exactly the tones the ancients spoke of.  ( see Falkenhausen, 1993, and So, 2000)



Chinese Medical Theory


            The Theory of Yin and Yang informs all aspects of Chinese medical theory.  As a binary system it yields surprising descriptive and dynamic power from its five principles:  1. All things have a yin and a yang aspect.  2. Any yin or yang aspect can further be divided into yin and yang.  3. Yin and yang mutually create each other.  4. Yin and yang control each other.  5. Yin and yang transform into each other.  Musical application could include major and minor keys, and struck/unstruck sounds.


            The remaining theories we’ll consider derive from Yin and Yang Theory.  Most healers have heard of the Five Phase (or Element) Theory, which is used with various permutations all over the world today.  Other clinically useful theories of special interest to sound healers include the cyclic theories of the Ten Stem, the Twelve Branches, the Chinese Clock (the circadian movement of qi through the body’s twelve main channels), and the Eight Extraordinary Vessel (EV) Theory.


            Five Phase Theory describes the dynamic relationships of the seasons, the emotions, the flavors, the organs, the senses, human sounds, and so forth.  Each Phase has a relationship with other Phases in which they engender, control, overpower or become overwhelmed by each other.  Five Phase Theory offers clinically useful tools for diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment strategies.  Each of the twelve main channels (six yin and six yang) of the body has a point that corresponds to a Phase, and each channel itself belongs to a Phase.  The Five Tones have been considered an integral part of Five Phase Theory (and therefore medical treatment?) since earliest times.  Virtually all modern sonopuncture is based on this theory, as we shall see later.


            The yin and yang aspects of the Phases actually create two interlinking phases.  For example, Wood can either be Liver (yin) or Gallbladder (yang).  This augmented Five Phase Theory is called the Ten Heaven Stems Theory.  Each of the Five Phases, as we have just seen, has two Stems, named with a vegetal theme.  Stem 1 (S1) represents the yang aspect of Wood and is called “jia” (“tender buds split pods”).  S2, the yin aspect of Wood, is called “yi” (“the seedling grows up day by day”).  S3 and S4 represent Fire, and so on around the circle.  (Liu, pp. 36037)  Each yin channel has a point that links it directly to its yang channel, and vice versa.  This is known as the “Guest/Host Relationship,” a sometimes clinically useful point combination in acupuncture.  Perhaps a sound healing application could make use of major and minor keys of the Five Tones.  Or, the female lu (derived mythologically from the female phoenix) could treat the yin channels and the male lu could treat the yang channels.


            Five Phase Theory also generates the Twelve Earthly Branches Theory.  Earthly Branches correspond to the twelve lunations of Chinese cosmology.  Wood/Spring, Fire/Summer, Metal/Autumn, and Water/Winter each has a yin and a yang Branch.  Because Earth is the Center (and earlier Five Phase charts actually puts Earth in the center of Four Directions), its Branches interweave among the other four phases, and its branches are conventionally designated as B2, B5, B8, and B11.  “Both Stems and Branches …imply the growing, thriving, declining, and dying of all living beings in the universe and the development and transformation of all natural phenomena.”  (Liu, pp. 36-38)  


            The Chinese Clock employs twelve two-hour segments, and each segment corresponds to a yin or a yang channel.  Qi  begins its daily circulation in the Lung channel at 3 a.m., then enters the Large Intestine channel at 5 a.m.  Every two hours thereafter, qi circulates through the following channels, in order:  Large Intestine, Stomach, Spleen, Heart, Small Intestine, Bladder, Kidney, Pericardium, Triple Heater, Gallbladder, and Liver.  This daily circulation of qi through the body is useful in diagnosing and treating disharmonies.  For example, if a patient complains of frequent awakening or insomnia between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m., the clinician would pay particular attention to a pattern of Lung disharmony.  During each two-hour segment, specific points become particularly “alive” for tonifying weakness or dispersing repletion in that channel.  Might the twelve lu have a relationship with the twelve main channels or to the cycles of the Branches and the Chinese clock?


            The Ten Heavenly Stems join the Twelve Earthly Branches to form a cycle of 60.  (Beginning with a progression of S1B1, S2B2, and so on, it takes six cycles of Stems and five cycles of Branches to come back to S1B1.)  These cycles of ten, twelve, and sixty can refer to annual, monthly, daily, and two-hour time periods.  Although Stem/Branch theory has wide application in the Chinese worldview (astrology, for example), there are specific medical applications as well.  Vital Qi and Blood circulate according to these rhythms.  Acupuncturists sometimes base treatment strategies upon what channels are replete or weak at any given moment.  Perhaps the sixty mode-keys described in the Huai Nan Tzu quoted above could be of use here.


            Eight Extraordinary Vessel Theory might prove to be a particularly rich interface between the body’s qi and music/sound.  These vessels are thought to provide the matrix for growth and development from the union of heavenly and earthly qi (at conception) and early childhood.  (Matsumoto and Birch, pp. 8-18)  Afterward, they possibly serve as reservoirs of qi.  The Eight EV’s have their own constellations of symptoms and very specific treatments using only eight acupoints.  Each of the eight points has a traditional association with a Trigram of the I Ching.  Remembering Chao’s discussion of the musical fifths’ relations to the Trigrams, we might think in terms of applying those associated tones to the corresponding EV point.  Or, reasoning that eight sources of sound might affect the original sources of qi circulation in the body, we could select music emphasizing drums, bells, or other appropriate instruments.



Current Practices


            There are some contemporary practitioners of Chinese medicine who use sound; and there seem to be three major methods.  Sonopuncturists apply sound directly to acupuncture points (using machines or tuning forks).  Others compose prescriptive music (usually pentatonic for a Five Phase application) for an auditory healing “bath.”  The third method involves teaching the patient specific vocalizations which may be combined with qigong movements. 


            The earliest modern practitioner of “sonopuncture” seems to be a Mr. Leplus, a Frenchman whose invention “transmits to the desired point a vibration at audible frequency and both tonifies and disperses, better than massage and the same as moxa.”  (Soulie de Morant, p. 207; originally published in 1955)


            Other machines have been developed for this purpose.  Jean Lamy invented the “phonophor” in the 1960’s, the retired osteopath Irving Oyle used a basic ultrasound machine (Oyle, pp. 41-48), and recent researchers are modifying electroacupuncture devices to vibrate to specific frequencies.


            Most other sonopuncture methods use tuning forks on acupoints.  Jean Lamy, Hans Cousto, Samuel McClellan (see R. McClellan, pp. 169-178), Fabian Maman, Acutonics TM, are prime exemplars.


            Recordings of healing music based on Chinese medical theory (almost exclusively Five Phase theory) are now proliferating.  In addition to Samuel McClellan’s “Music of the Five Elements” series (3 volumes; Spirit Records), Wind Records distributes several sets of music from China.  These recordings provide an auditory bath of the healing sounds and rhythms.


            Perhaps the most widely practiced method of sound healing in Chinese medicine is the Taoist practice of tonifying and clearing the internal organs with “The Six Healing Sounds.” (M. Chia, pp. 65-106)


            Researchers in China are experimenting with applying specific tones and rhythms to acupoints while simultaneously playing healing music.


A Call for Further Research


            In 1978 Chinese archaeologists discovered a large set of bronze bells in the tomb of the Marquis Yi of Zeng (died ca. 433 BCE).  Bronze Age bells found so far have only political or ceremonial inscriptions, but “totally unprecedented and still virtually unparalleled in the archaeological record, the inscriptions on these bells provide a full and systemically coherent record of musical theory.”  (Falkenhausen, p. 5)  In addition to providing this vital theoretical information, the bells were in good enough condition to have replicas cast.  Thus, by sounding the replicas, we now have access to at least reasonable approximations of perhaps the original Five Tones and Twelve Lu. 


            Other, more esoteric but maybe fruitful areas to explore, include bird and other animal songs (remembering the phoenixes), DNA music, and possibly string theory.  This should be fun!