The biological effects of frequencies to which we are constantly exposed have been researched over the last several decades, but considerably disregarded as therapeutically useful by the medical community. Although several studies suggest that emotions evoked by music may be useful in health care, alleviating stress and nociception in patients undergoing surgical procedures as well as in cancer treatment, little is known about the mechanisms by which these effects occur. It is generally accepted that the mechanosensory hair cells in the ear transduce the sound-induced mechanical vibrations into neural impulses, which are interpreted by the brain and evoke the emotional effects. In the last decade, however, several studies suggest that the response to frequencies and music is even more complex. Moreover, recent evidence has emerged that cell types other than auditory hair cells respond to audible sound. Additionally, many studies show unique biological effects of music frequencies on certain cell cultures.1, 2, 3, 4 We now know music or audible sounds (frequencies) can modulate physiological and pathophysiological processes.
Science has proven that everything in the universe vibrates and resonates with a distinct unique frequency. A singer can break a glass by singing at a certain pitch. The frequency of that tone matches the natural frequency of the glass, shattering it. This is an example of resonance. Resonance is a phenomenon that occurs when a given system is driven by another vibrating system or external force to oscillate with greater amplitude at a specific preferential frequency. Resonance can occur when an object is vibrated at its natural frequency or naturally occurring frequencies, which is possible by music or chanting. The technique of repeated chanting during healing sessions is the best example of resonance, where the music played creates a resonance interference pattern resulting in a healing effect, attributed to the supernatural. Similarly, when people meditate together or recite a prayer or hymn, they initiate a non-local resonance, a process which may result in a positive effect due to focused attention. Brain regions associated with attention and sensory processing have been found to be thicker in those who meditate and chant daily in comparison to persons who do not, and the thickness of these areas has been found to increase with the number of years of meditation practice. Music can be stimulating, but depends on structural features such as tempo, pitch, frequency patterns, etc. which can be broadly categorized as pleasant or unpleasant by the listener. Continuous chanting can activate the oscillators and bring about a creation of a standing wave within the body, which apparently enhances the natural vibrational frequency of the body due to the presence of the same set of vibrational frequencies as the chant.
Music is made up of several frequencies and these frequencies are the key to understanding the physiological effect it creates on the overall system. When these vibrations resonate at a particular frequency or frequencies, it results in an interference pattern which can be constructive or destructive. Several frequencies are known to create constructive patterns within the brain which can enhance brain functioning and neuroplasticity. The following article discusses selective frequencies of music and their effect on physiology and emotion.
The Solfeggio tones or frequencies have a history that dates back centuries. Solfeggio, also called “Solfege” or “solfa,” is a system in which every note of a scale is given its own unique syllable, which is used to sing that note every time it appears. This six-note diatonic musical scale was credited to Guido d’Arezzo, a Benedictine Monk, around 1,000 A.D. to teach his students how to sight sing plainchant repertoire. Prior to his system, the chants were passed down by rote and it took the monks nearly a decade to learn all of them. With only minor changes, we still use Guido’s system of sight singing and musical notation today. In a sense, Guido is the father of modern ear training and sight singing.
Guido developed this six-note ascending scale that went as follows: Ut, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, and La.
A familiar example of the use of these tones and frequencies: the Gregorian Chants that Gregorian monks would recite during meditation, believed to bring about spiritual awakening when the frequencies were sung in harmony.
Solfege was used extensively by singers throughout history to learn chants and songs more easily. “Ut” was changed in 1600 in Italy to the open syllable “Do”, at the suggestion of the musicologue Giovanni Battista Doni. A seventh note, “Si” was also added sometime afterward (from the initials for “Sancte Iohannes”) to complete the seven-note diatonic scale. In Anglo-Saxon countries, “Si” was changed to “Ti” by Sarah Glover in the 19th century so that every syllable might begin with a different letter.
Today we know the Solfeggio scale as seven ascending notes assigned to the syllables Do-Re-Mi-Fa-So-La-Ti. A major or a minor scale (the most common scales in Western classical music) has seven notes, and so the Solfeggio system has seven basic syllables. The original scale was six ascending notes assigned to Ut-Re-Mi-Fa-Sol-La. Thus, the Solfeggio “frequencies” are based on an ancient 6-tone scale. Each frequency of the 6-tone scale is believed to have a certain mind-body effect that is physical, spiritual, and emotional. Sound is an excellent method for evoking a deep stimulation at a cellular level as sound can travel five times faster in water than air.
The A C Major scale is made up of these seven notes: C, D, E, F, G, A, and B (often continuing to a C, an octave above the first one). If we were to sing this major scale on solfege, the C would always be sung as “Do”, the D would always be sung as “Re”, and so on. The whole scale looks like this in Solfeggio:
C D E F G A B
do re mi fa sol la ti
In other octaves – for example, an octave above or below – the Solfeggio syllables stay the same.
There are two kinds of Solfeggio systems: “fixed Do” and “movable Do”. In a movable-do system, the note to which is assigned the syllable “Do” is the main note, or “tonic,” of the key and scale that we’re in. For example, if we were in D Major (instead of C major like before), D would be sung as “Do”, with E being sung as “Re”, F# being sung as “Mi”, and so on. This system is most common in the United States and Canada, although it can be found in conservatories in other countries as well.