The phenomenon that music and sound can affect the general working of a human body, has been known since ancient times. Looking at the history of sound healing can shed light on how sound has always played an important role in society. The great Greek philosopher Aristotle, for example, mentioned in his famous work, De Anima, that the sound of a flute can lead to the arousal of strong emotions and purify the soul. The Pythagorean temperament which is based on a stack of intervals called perfect fifths, each tuned in the ratio 3:2 is widely used in sound healing today. The Greeks recognized the association between music and healing by designating a single god, Apollo, for both. Greek physicians used flutes, lyres, and zitters to heal their patients. They used vibration to aid in digestion, treat mental disturbance, and induce sleep.
The ancient Egyptians, too, used music for healing. In their medical papyrus texts they describe chant-like incantations for healing the sick and musical incantations and a certain kind of instrument that generated an “ultrasound” for healing.
Shamans around the world have used the repetitive beating of drums to transcend themselves and their patients to an altered state of consciousness, capable of imparting mental and physical wellbeing. The earliest undisputed records of shamanistic methods date back to thirty thousand years ago. For a long time in human history, the practice of medicine and healing was the domain of religious and spiritual authorities and although it has been superseded by modern science, in one way or another, the tradition continues to date.
Vedic philosophers in ancient India used chants and monosyllabic words, called Mantra, to calm the senses and mind. The theme runs throughout the religious and spiritual world.
From the Jewish Kabbalists to the Sufis and mystics of the Muslim world, sound and music have been an important part of not only achieving spiritual transcendence but also healing the mind and body. Physical healing in these practices, however, is often secondary — almost a byproduct — to the primary goal of achieving spiritual enlightenment and a sense of bliss.
Pythagoras, the great Greek philosopher and mathematician, was probably the first one to adopt an organized approach to using sound as a healing apparatus, with what he called musical medicine. Working around 500 BCE, he and his disciples would use melodies composed to treat psychological conditions like depression, aggressive behavior, and anger.
The history of sound healing shows us that throughout our thousands of years of cultural existence, sound has been a part of the healing process.