In Therapeutic Music – that is, music intended to effect positive change – the most beneficial music for the recipient is often unfamiliar to them. There are several reasons for this: unfamiliar music presents a “clean sheet” so the recipient can go on their own inner journey in response, free from previously held associations with a piece of music. In addition, the musician avoids unwittingly choosing music that holds negative associations for the client, which could easily negate any potential therapeutic benefits of the music.
In addition, an important aspect of Therapeutic Music is that the musician takes their cue from the recipient as to what to play. The musician intuits the needs of the recipient at the start of the session and begins with music that they believe best answers these needs. They then watch for signs as to how the music is being received – changes in breath rate, facial expression, bodily tension, signs of agitation or relaxation, for example – and will alter the music accordingly. This could mean making changes to the tempo, volume, texture, rhythm, pitch, harmony or other variables. There is much more scope to make these changes to unfamiliar music in a musically satisfying manner than there would be for a familiar piece of music.
The unfamiliar music can be anything the client does not know: obscure Medieval, folk or classical melodies are all used. But the ultimate freedom to respond to the recipient is to be found in improvised music. I would estimate that 70-80% of the music I play in a therapeutic setting is completely improvised. It is possible to use any mode, but therapeutic musicians, myself included, have found that the Ancient Greek modes provide a really effective framework. So much so that these modes have begun to be referred to as the Seven Healing Modes. Each of the modes has its own emotional signature and, generally, at least one will stand out as the right mode for the recipient at any given time. Mostly, I take the recipient on a journey through several modes, transforming the emotional landscape as we go.
The Seven Healing modes
The modes under consideration here originated in ancient Greece, each mode being rooted on a different string of the diatonically tuned Greek lyre. To ancient Greek ears, each mode suggested the characteristics or group temperament of a certain tribe – Phrygians, Lydians, Dorians, for example – and this is how each mode got its name.
These modes passed into the Medieval European church, but due to a scribal error, their names were assigned to a different mode than had been used by the Greeks. It is the Medieval naming system that is use today. The modes themselves, remain the same.
The modes and their root pitch are:
For Videos of the Modes Go to Modal Improvisation in Therapeutic Music Part 2