The sound meditation is an integrated practice that combines a shamanic ceremonial setting with an Eastern emphasis on breathing exercises and visualization. Specific musical instruments played during the meditation allow participants to use sound as a therapeutic tool to disconnect from discursive thinking and delve into a transcendental state. The goal is to enable participants to disengage their undesirable habitual patterns and to empower positive cognitive change.

Most of the instruments I use are overtone-emitting instruments such as gongs, Tibetan singing bowls, bells, metallic discs, etc. These instruments have been used in meditation and sound healing for centuries in many cultures and continue to be used.

What are overtones? Sound emitted by musical instruments, the voice, or any other source is very complex and can be thought of as an infinite sum of waves of different frequencies. The pitch, or tone, that we hear and identify has various components. These components are the fundamental frequency and the overtones, or harmonics, and sometimes called harmonic overtones, which are the natural parts of that pitch. The relative strength or weakness level of these overtones determines the tone color, or timbre, of the pitch allowing us to distinguish the sound of a note played on a flute from the sound of the same register note played on a violin, or distinguishing one person’s voice from an other. The fundamental frequency is much louder than the harmonics which is why we hear it as a single pitch. These overtones start to become clearly audible to our ears when we hear the sound emitted by metallic instruments such as gongs, Tibetan bowls and other overtone-emitting instruments.

The harmonic overtone series is a serious subject of study for not only musicians but also for mathematicians and physicists who are specialized in acoustics which is the study of sound and sound waves. All the notes of scales, modes, and harmonic systems in the world came out of the harmonic series. This series is an inexhaustible set of probabilities, and a blueprint for sound production.

Westerners often note that some of these overtones from these instruments sound quite foreign and out of tune to them. Here’s why: In the 16th century, the West created a tuning system that we still follow called the equal temperament, which essentially divided the musical octave into 12 equidistant half steps (the half step is the distance between a black and the adjacent white key on the piano). Most ancient musical cultures in the world did not adopt this system that we’ve become so used to in the West. So what’s unique about the sound meditation is that participants are immersed in the sounds of nature’s true harmony.

At the beginning of every sound meditation, whether it’s for an individual, or a large or small group, I share various findings from my research with participants about sound’s therapeutic properties and psychoacoustic[1] power, overtones, the instruments I use, as well as explaining to them their role as active participants. The aim of each talk is to give participants context to better understand what they’re about to experience, to gain awareness, and to use sound as a useful tool.

[1] Psychoacoustics is the study of the perception of sound. This includes how we listen, our psychological responses, and the physiological impact of sound on the human nervous system.

photos by Joel Barhamand