Sound Health: Music as Medicine for the New Millennium, Part I

by Lily G. Casura

Copyright © 2002 by Lily G. Casura. All rights reserved.

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend in the first annual international conference of the “Music for Healing and Transition Program,” held at Seattle University and featuring speakers from across the U.S. The conference’s decidedly holistic mission was to “explore live music and resonant sound in healing as it applies to wholeness in body, mind and spirit.” Of particular interest to readers will likely be the work of composer and sound researcher, Joshua Leeds, and Dr. Arthur Harvey, who researches the effects of music on the mind and body. In this article, we’ll take a look at Joshua Leeds’ work.

Joshua Leeds’ name may be familiar to some readers from his collaborative work with Andrew Weil, M.D., on the 1997 recording, Sound Body, Sound Mind: Music for Healing, or his earlier work with Louise Hay. He’s also the author of several books, including Sonic Alchemy and The Power of Sound. Joshua Leeds is a composer, music producer and sound researcher who lives in the Bay Area, and presented a workshop on the topic of “Psychoacoustics for Musicians, Therapists and Educators.” He also closed the conference with a keynote address on “Music and Sound: Frequency Medicine for the 21st Century.” In addition to his own work writing, speaking and recording, Leeds teaches seminars on psychoacoustics for healthcare and education professionals as well as musicians, producers and recording engineers.

(Update: In 2008, Weil and Leeds joined forces again to publish “Relax and De-Stress: Music for Self-Healing,” an audio CD.)

Leeds has an extensive background of several decades in various aspects of sound, as a recording engineer, a composer, an author, a sound researcher, and most recently, something of what he would call a “sonic activist,” raising awareness about noise pollution and the importance of being able to have your own personal sonic space. He’s done some exceptionally interesting work in the new field of psychoacoustics, studying the effects of sound on brainwave function, and then using his composing, recording and producing talents to produce recordings that optimize these findings.

Leeds says humorously that he first heeded the call of Apollo, ancient Greek god of music and medicine, years ago. Musicians, he claims, are “frequency doctors.” Body pulses (heart, breath, brainwaves and craniosacral fluid all have them) all speed up or slow down to match an external, regular pulse — that’s rhythm. Everything emits sound, he says, but we can’t always hear what that is. And through resonance, one sound can create another. “When you’re creating music,” says Leeds, “you’re sculpting atomic material.”

Leeds was greatly influenced by the groundbreaking work of Alfred Tomatis, the French physician and ear specialist, often called “the Einstein of the Ear,” whose work Leeds discovered in 1986. (Tomatis passed away in December of 2001). Tomatis’ work demonstrated the ear’s importance to the human system, showing, for example, that the sense of hearing is surprisingly evident in utero, four and half months before birth, making it the earliest of the functional senses to develop. Much of Tomatis’ work centered on the importance of two tiny muscles in the middle ear, the Tensor tympani and the Staedipus, which he showed could be toned, exercised and retrained, for example in the case of hearing damage. Tomatis understood the importance of the auditory nerve, and developed ways to stimulate the ear to improve learning and behavior. The Tomatis Method, better known in Europe and elsewhere, has demonstrated success with difficult therapeutic and educational problems such as stuttering, autism, dyslexia, balance, motor control and integration by showing that they can in fact be controlled and improved by the ear.

Leeds found his work revolutionary and it spurred his interest in the brand-new field of psychoacoustics, the scientific study of the perception of sound.(Anna Wise, who worked with Leeds and Andrew Weil, M.D., on the Sound Body, Sound Mind series, specializes in music and its effect on brainwave states, is also a pioneer in this field, as are several others).

Collaborating with fellow musician Richard Lawrence, and the Arcangelos Chamber Ensemble, which Lawrence directs, Leeds in 1999 produced “The Sound Health” series, a set of eight CDS using “psychoacoustically refined arrangements” of classical music in a “therapeutic application of music and sound.” Leeds and Lawrence believe the selections, arranged by CD according to topic — concentration, relaxation, inspiration, etc. — can have an impact on health, learning and productivity, and they make use of sophisticated sound engineering concepts such as gating and filtration to accomplish their goals. (Listeners beware, though: this music is powerful stuff. I came home from the conference so intrigued that I listened to too much of it back to back and had to call my acupuncturist for help with what amounted to a self-induced sonic overdose. Now I’ll be careful to approach these enjoyable CDs with the respect they deserve — considering them music as medicine.)

(Update: In the ten-plus years since this article was first published, this collection of CDs has stayed in a favorite, go-to position and used frequently. It’s also the first music I make sure to sync to my iPhone or iPod. The collection includes: Music for Concentration, Music to De-Stress, Music for Inspiration, Music for Learning, Music for Motivation, Music for Productivity, Music to Relax, and Music for Thinking.)

The “Sound Health Series” is partway down the continuum between what Leeds calls “over the counter sound” and “prescriptive sound.” (The Weil collaboration CD, while still powerful, is towards the ‘OTC’ end.) A more recent series, produced by Leeds in collaboration with Utah’s Advanced Brain Technologies, is what Leeds refers to as more prescriptive sound. “The Listening Program” is “a music and sound stimulation method designed to train the auditory system,” according to the manufacturer, which adds that “this innovative program may be used by people of all ages to enhance listening skills and remediate auditory perceptual problems.” They suggest benefits may be found with “attentional problems, learning problems, central auditory processing difficulties, difficulty retaining information, sound sensitivities, and energy level and confidence.”

The Listening Program is also based on the work of Alfred Tomatis, and attempts to fully retrain the ear over the course of a several week period, by regular listening sessions with psychoacoustically engineered material. There’s also a training program for therapists interested in the method. (You can find out more information at the Advanced Brain Technologies website.) According to Leeds, the human ear, and any $100 set of headphones is all the equipment you’ll require to start your own journey into better sonic appreciation.

(He also had lots of interesting things to say about noise pollution, the importance of developing and maintaining your own clean sonic space, the effects of stress on middle ear dysfunction, and the mechanics of sound perception, which we don’t have room to discuss here. Leed’s books and his exceptionally thorough and comprehensive website can fill in many of the missing gaps.) He’s also scheduled to teach courses about psychoacoustics to various groups of practitioners in the San Francisco Bay Area this coming fall and spring.


[Next up: A look at Dr. Arthur Harvey’s work on sound and medicine.]


Joshua Leeds

Applied Music & Sound

PMB 716

1001 Bridgeway

Sausalito, CA 94965 USA

Tel.: (415) 339–1392

Fax: (415) 339–0545



(Joshua Leeds is the author of The Power of Sound: How to Manage Your Personal Soundscape for a Vital, Productive, and Healthy Life [Inner Traditions Press International, Inc.] and Sonic Alchemy [InnerSong Press], and teaches sound seminars on psychoacoustics for healthcare and education professionals, as well as for musicians, producers and recording engineers. Leeds also worked with Andrew Weil, M.D., on Sound Body, Sound Mind: Music for Healing and various material with Louise Hay.

Advanced Brain Technologies, LLC

P.O. Box 1088

Ogden, UT 84402 USA

Tel.: (801) 622–5676

Fax: (801) 627–4505


(Check the website for locations of British and European offices as well.)

(Advanced Brain Technologies carries the Sound Health Series: Music for Concentration; to De-Stress; for Inspiration; for Learning; for Motivation; for Productivity; to Relax; for Thinking. It also carries “The Listening Program” CD series.)

The Music for Healing and Transition Program, Inc.


(They train and certify music practitioners, and hold an annual international conference in music for healing and transition. Graduates of the program are called “music practitioners.”)

Alfred Tomatis, M.D.

French physician and educator. Author of numerous books, including The Ear and Language, and The Conscious Ear: My Life of Transformation Through Listening, and founder of the Tomatis Method, which has shown promise in treating autism, dyslexia, and various learning disorders.

Tomatis Centers


Anna Wise

The Anna Wise Center

1000A Magnolia

Larkspur, CA 94939

Tel.: (415) 925–9449

Fax: (415) 925–9355



Wise is the author of The High-Performance Mind: Mastering Brainwaves for Insight, Healing and Creativity [J.P. Tarcher] and Awakening the Mind: A Guide to Mastering the Power of Your Brainwaves [J.P. Tarcher]

Note: This article does not constitute health advice, merely educational information. If you want to make effective and appropriate healthcare decisions, consult your physician or credentialed healthcare practitioner for advice.

Focused on using data as a tool in research & policy decisions. IWMF grantee. NASW-TX and Tableau Public award winner. UTSA, Harvard honors grad. Ph.D. student.

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