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The Therapeutic Qualities of Music

Just as the supple hands of a seasoned body worker caress and ease away stress and strain from the physical body, the “right kind” of music clears the mind and opens the emotions.

January 21, 2011  By Schroeder Nordholt

Just as the supple hands of a seasoned body worker caress and ease away stress and strain from the physical body, the “right kind” of music clears the mind and opens the emotions. Music absorbs the thoughts and emotions of its creator and takes on the properties of those very thoughts and emotions, whether positive or negative. This is what makes music such a powerful medium in all our lives – our spiritual natures resonate with the deeper underlying emotions that connect us as humans and that the music embodies. Therefore, in effect, by working on the clients’ emotional body, music can partner with the practitioner, combining to create the perfect mind/body reconnection and optimized treatments.

Knowing just which tracks to play for each client is a combination of using the tips you’ve learned here and harnessing your instinct and experience.


Although this sounds obvious, the fact is, this is a challenging and sometimes complicated subject given the many variables in the field. Make no mistake: the “right kind” of music will vary from client to client, and even for repeat recipients.

How do you know where to begin when choosing the right music for a treatment session? How do you know which CD to play when each client walks through your door?


My aim is to help you discover how to do just that, by giving you some tools you can use. After performing a quick assessment of your client’s condition, you will feel more confident about choosing which type of music can best bring him/her back to a place of balance and calm.

Within the absolutely never-ending genre of relaxation or “new age” music, there are many elements, each with unique effects upon the listener. It pays well to have some knowledge about these elements, as they can profoundly impact clients’ overall massage experience, resulting in a positive and beneficial treatment or not.

For example, a relaxing drumbeat is going to have a certain effect on the listener’s heart rate, mental function and overall ability to relax. A solo flute playing long notes will have an entirely different influence. And, so forth.

Let’s take a beginner’s look at the inseparable relationship between healing touch and music. The following are some common elements found in relaxation music, and their effect traits.

First, we must define the word “texture” with regards to music. Texture has to do with how thick or thin the lead instrument comes across – as in how many notes are played, how busy or sparse they are, etc. It also refers to the quality of backing instruments and ambient sounds (for example, nature sounds).

The busier the music is – both lead and backing instruments – and/or the heavier the quality of the ambient sounds, the heavier the texture of the piece will be. Read on, to find some examples of lighter and heavier textures in music and how they might be harnessed to balance your client’s energies in a way that will complement your massage treatement.


Light acoustic guitar, sparsely played, light in texture

The vibrations of the strings of a guitar have a unique quality of entering the mid-level frequency range in the listener at an average frequency of 82 Hz. This results in a soothing effect around the heart and solar plexus areas, and can result instantly in the sense of release, unwinding and destressing.

Light piano, sparsely played, light texture
Played in a relaxing, yet masterful, manner, the piano will provide an instant effect of a sense of unwinding. The piano has a unique quality similar to that of an acoustic guitar, with the added benefit of its superior range in frequencies and depth in overtones. Overtones are frequencies inherent in regularly played notes on acoustic instruments. Although these tones are often undetectable by the human ear, the energy body, or emotional body, of the listener will become harmonized by them passively.

Piano and/or guitar, relaxing manner, thicker texture
For clients who don’t necessarily want to drift off completely – this music will be soothing and relaxing, but also engaging enough to retain the attention of the listener, thus enabling them to stay in their bodies. Artists to look for in this area are Fiona Joy Hawkins, among many others. Try Googling “relaxing classical piano” or “relaxing classical guitar.” These instruments played tastefully in a classical style can be incredibly effective in assisting clients to unwind. The potent combination of the very nature of the frequencies transmitted from the instruments themselves to the listener’s ear, and the living 3-D geometrical and mathematical structures of classical music, is unparallelled in its transformative potential.

The effects of the harp are going to be similar to those of the guitar, and the texture is usually very light. So this will be perfect for clients who need to escape from their current mind/body set – leave their body for a mini vacation in your care, in order to bring them back to a place of alignment and peacefulness. A popular source for great harp playing is Loreena McKennitt, a favourite for massage therapists, and also lesser-known harpist Kaia Nightingale.

This instrument is useful in ridding the environment of all kinds of disturbances and negative energies. The sitar embodies the rare trait of micro-tones – that is, notes between the Western 12-note scale to which most of our ears are accustomed. This can have the rare effect of breaking up blocked energy patterns in the listener – including yourself as the therapist – and can assist in releasing unwanted habits. It can bring all chakras or energy centres, into alignment very quickly and easily due to these rare sonic personality traits. A good source for relaxing sitar music is Stephan Mikes.

The flute is obviously an “air” instrument, and thus works in the higher sonic spectrum. This will serve well for clients who feel heavy and downtrodden. It operates at an average frequency of 261 Hz, which will resonate and positively affect the area of the head and even the energy emissions (mental and spiritual exhaust) in the space above it. The flute has a way of clearing the room of unwanted heaviness, replacing it with light frequencies, enabling a very effective massage treatment. Great flute players include Robbie Hanna Anderman, Paul Adams, R. Carlos Nakai and Tim Wheater. Of course there are many others.

The sax operates in the mid- to high-level frequencies – 103-207 Hz. This is perfect for blending the energies, and promotes reunification of the fragmented person. This instrument carries a vibration that may evoke a lot of emotion in the listener – greats such as John Coltrane and Dexter Gordon proved this wonderfully. Applied to the relaxation music genre the saxophone can very quickly soothe the listener into a sensory paradise.

These can alleviate both physical and mental stress very quickly, and provide a deeper sense of awareness and enjoyment. Frequency ranges depend on the actual instrument (cello, viola, violin, etc.), but when used together in a piece as an orchestral ensemble, as is often the case, the strings have a similar effect to the piano: they can cover the widest available range of frequency, thus providing maximum healing and relaxation benefits. If you do a Google search for “relaxing classical music” you’ll find lots to choose from.

The human voice is one of the quickest sounds in opening the chakras in the body for both the singer and the listener, cultivating an immediate space for healing and rejuvenation. The human voice is considered to be the “first” or primary instrument – connecting the singer and listener to something both primal and divine. Many artists “vocalize” with their voices, with few or no lyrics, or chant in an “enchanting” exotic language; popular examples of this chanting include Enigma and Deva Primal.

Light hand-drumming is very grounding – for people who seem to have little control of their emotions and are spinning in their minds. Perfect for soothing feelings of being overwhelmed and for coming “back down” to reality. Some of the Native relaxation CDs are perfect examples of this and are easily found using a Google search. New Earth Records has lots of this type of music.

Crystal bowls
The calming sound of the crystals and their pure sine waves open the chakras and create a balanced and restful ambiance for your clients. Crystal music can help facilitate optimum peace and relaxation. The sounds are created by placing moistened fingers on the edges of the revolving crystal bowls. Sometimes “ghost” notes and complex rhythmic beats occur; they produce a sound spectrum that features harmonic partials. This results in a sound that consists of a fundamental note plus a number of harmonic overtones. There are a number of artists who produce crystal music, including Yatri and David Hickey.

Perfect for the client who just wants to “unwind.” This type of music will carry a familiar pop vibe, yet be chilled enough make them say “aaaahhhh.” (But not in the dentist kind of way!!)

Clearly, it is becoming more important to offer a greater variety of music for an optimally effective and satisfying massage treatment. Clients are becoming more and more discerning with regards to the interaction between their treatment and the role music has to play. Just as we crave different foods without necessarily knowing why, our emotional and cell bodies crave certain types of music, and having different styles on hand and an understanding of the various elements in music and their unique effects, makes a huge difference.

This actually gives you an edge – when your clients realize that you have knowledge of the interactivity between music and massage at your disposal, they will be more apt to trust you and to return, and also to spread the word about the great RMT they have found.

Schroeder Nordholt is a seasoned musician, producer and composer. Currently he chooses music from around the world for the catalogue.

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