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Psychoacoustics

"After silence that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music." Aldous Huxley (1894 - 1963)

Psy•cho•acous•tics / adjective:
A branch of science dealing with the perception of hearing and sensations produced by sound.
 
As a composer, whenever I create royalty free meditation music I always take the principles of psychoacoustics into account. Essentially, psychoacoustics is the study of the perception of sound, and the ways in which it affects you mentally, emotionally and even physically. You could think of it as a form of music psychology.
 
But what does psychoacoustics have to do with meditation and deep relaxation? Let’s find out...
 
The fundamental reason why we enjoy listening to music is because it is mood altering. Music can stimulate or sooth you. It can relieve stress and it can induce stress. It can elevate you or depress you.
 
Music can be extremely powerful in this regard. Have you ever been so touched by a beautiful piece of music that you cried? Have you ever cringed at the sound of fingernails being dragged down a chalkboard? Most people answer “yes” to both of these questions.
 
So if sound can have such a strong effect on us, then how can we use this to our advantage? What can the study of psychoacoustics teach us about creating music that encourages states of meditation and deep relaxation?
 
Some types of meditation music are certainly more relaxing than others. Some sounds are particularly hypnotic, some cause trance - like states, and some types of music, like those containing binaural beats, can even alter the frequency of your brainwaves in such a way that your mind is coaxed, quite directly, into a state of deep meditation.
 
Let's get to know what some of these sounds are and how they are used to create music for deep meditation...
 
 
Sonic Mantras
“Sonic mantras” are the name that I give to repetitive sounds that can be used in place of a traditional meditation mantra.
As long as they are tonally pleasing, repetitive sounds can really help to lull the mind of the listener into a state of deep relaxation and they are wonderful for hypnosis. Music that contains Sonic Mantras is what I sometimes call “true” meditation music, because it embraces the time-honoured technique of using mantras to induce a state of meditation. You can hear a brief example of music that contains a sonic mantra below.

Deep Within
For the best experience, listen at a soft volume and use high quality speakers or headphones.
 


Drones
The word “drone” may sound a bit dull and uninspiring to you, but drone sounds can be very relaxing and are most suitable for deep meditation music. A classic example of a drone-like sound that has been used for meditation for thousands of years is the sound of the “Om” mantra.

Om Mantra Chanting
For the best experience, listen at a soft volume and use high quality speakers or headphones.

In essence, drones include any sound that is:

1. Unbroken - the sound does not stop and start, and
2. Relatively unchanging in pitch.
 
Drone sounds are not usually melodious, and they have no discernable tempo, but they do have other important qualities that must be musically pleasing. For example, drones often have a “texture” that can be described with words like “smooth”, “fine”, “soft” or “coarse”, and a timbre that can be described with words like “celestial”, “warm” or “complex” just to name a few. The pitch of a drone must not be too high or the drone may become shrill and tiring, and it must not be too low or the drone may become imperceptible on some stereo systems.

A drone may also be made up of many layers of sounds, and when these sounds harmonize with each other they become deeply hypnotic and most pleasurable to listen to.
 
Drones may also be used to provide a hypnotic foundation to a piece of music that contains other elements such as chimes, nature sounds or instrumentation. Here is an example:
 
Hypnotic Winds
For the best experience, listen at a soft volume and use high quality speakers or headphones.
 
When it comes to meditation music, drones can extremely useful. Their constant, soothing tones seem to fill up all the space in your mind and wash away your thoughts. Unlike music that is melodic and dynamic, drones will not overstimulate your mind or distract you while you are trying to relax. On the contrary....drones can actually draw your mind into a very deep state of relaxation.
 

 
The Music of Nature
Since the dawn of time, we have been surrounded by the wonderful sounds of Mother Nature. It’s only been during the last few decades or so that man-made music has become commonplace…and along with it has come all the noise and cacophony of modern industry and media. We have become cut off from the sounds of our natural environment, and bombarded by sounds that create stress.
 
Listening to the sounds of nature reminds us that we are a part of a greater whole. The sound of birds in the morning, the sound of crickets in the evening…these are just some of the sounds that remind us that our life extends beyond the four walls that surround us at our home or office. The ebb and flow of waves on a beach, the sound of wind in the trees…these soothing sounds are innately peaceful, and listening to them can help reconnect you to "the bigger picture" of life.
 
Take a moment to appreciate just how relaxing the sounds of nature can be:

Gentle Thunderstorm
For the best experience, listen at a soft volume and use high quality speakers or headphones.


 
Brainwave Entrainment Music
I’m sure you have already heard of the word “brainwaves” and you may already know that brainwaves can be measured with a machine called an electroencephalograph (EEG).
 
When you are awake and alert, your mind operates at a higher frequency than when you are drowsy or asleep. An EEG allows us to measure these changes, just as it allows us to measure the brainwave frequency of a person who is in a deep meditation. With this in mind, we come to the whole point of brainwave entrainment music...
 
Certain sound frequencies, when combined in specific ways, can be used to alter your brainwaves so as to induce a state of meditation.
 
Brainwave entrainment is more simple than it might sound at first. Think of it this way...imagine you are holding two tuning forks of the same pitch. If you strike one of them and hold it close to the other, they will both vibrate at the same frequency. Brainwave entrainment or "brainwave synchronization" is similar to this. It relies upon the "frequency following" response, a naturally occurring phenomenon that explains how the human brain tends to change its dominant frequency towards the frequency of an external stimulus.
 
As you might expect, brainwave entrainment doesn’t just work with any old sound. To give rise to the frequency following response, specific types of sounds must be used. Here is a brief introduction to the two most common types of sounds for brainwave entrainment.
 
 
Binaural Beats
Binaural Beats or “binaural tones” are an auditory effect that is created in the brain when two tones of slightly different frequencies are played separately into each ear.
 
Your brain is very sensitive to small variations in the frequency of sounds, and to the way those sounds reach your ears. When you listen to binaural beats, your brain is subjected to an effect that it perceives as a constant fluctuation in the directionality of the sound.
 
The rate of this fluctuation can be controlled by the use of specific sound frequencies. For example, by playing a tone of 200 Hz in the left ear, and 210 Hz in the right ear, a fluctuation of 10 Hz is detected by the brain.
 
The difference between the two frequencies could be called a “sub harmonic” – a sound that is below the threshold of human hearing. However, this sub-harmonic binaural frequency may still be detected as a slight pulsing sound. This pulsing, or beating, is why we call them binaural “beats”.
 
Binaural beats cause the brain to adjust its dominant frequency to match the sub harmonic frequency of the beating sound. This is what is known as the “frequency following response”.
 
In order to control the way the frequencies reach your ears, music that contains binaural beats must be listened to with headphones.  Binaural beats make a wonderful addition to royalty free meditation music because they can actively induce a state of deep relaxation.
 

Isochronic Tones
Like binaural beats, isochronic tones are also used to stimulate the frequency following response.
 
In contrast to binaural beats, isochronic tones can be listened to without the aid of headphones. In essence, isochronic tones are simply a repetitive pulsing sound that encourages the frequency of your brainwaves to synchronize with the frequency of the isochronic tones. Much like the hypnotic effect of a pendulum clock, isochronic tones are a simple but effective way to encourage various states of relaxation and meditation. However, they can be a bit irritating to listen to (beep, beep, beep!) and as a result, I tend to avoid using them when I compose royalty free meditation music.
 


Meditation music - it's deep stuff!
Meditation music is sometimes regarded as being “simple”. Sure enough, most meditation music is not as complex as say, a full orchestral composition, but like many things in life that appear simple, there is often great care and finesse involved in crafting such an art form. As you have by now come to realize, meditation music can be a pretty deep subject!
 
Not only is meditation music something that you can appreciate on a sensory level, it’s exciting to realize that it can be created in such a way that it can have a very direct and powerful effect on the activity of your mind. It is with this excitement that I apply the principles of psychoacoustics to royalty free meditation music...to create the most deeply relaxing music possible.

 
Click here to browse our royalty free meditation music.
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