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The Science of Sound at Heartworks

A Brief Introduction

Dave Fisher, LMT

The science behind the use of sound at Heartworks is grounded in methods that have risen from various studies (Fabien, 1997, Thompson, 1999, Atwater, 1997) and workshops (Center for Neuroacoustic Research, Encinitas, CA, The Monroe Institute, Faber, VI) which explore the use of sound and healing within the human organism. The use of sound at Heartworks, and our physiological response to it, can be broadly divided into two categories: auditory and kinesthetic. Auditory perception involves the way we experience sound waves as they travel through air and engage the auditory systems of the ear. Kinesthetic perception involves the way our tissues, cells and central nervous system responds to direct vibrational stimulation.

Auditory Perception of Sound and Binaural Beats

We are bilateral beings, both hemispherically and physiologically. This has important implications concerning the way in which we perceive sound. For example, when a person listens to two different musical tones (beats) at the same time, one tone in the left ear, and a different tone in the right ear, a third "resonant" beat is experienced (heard) by the listener. This third resonant sound is neither of the two original sounds but instead is the experience of our brain attempting to interpret and synthesis the original two tones together (Oster 1973). This sets up an internal resonance which alters our current perceptual state and brings about a synchronous "cross-talk" between the left and right hemispheres of the brain (Foster 1990; Sadigh 1990).

In order to make use of this phenomenon in massage, specially designed musical sound recordings are played via two speakers that are positioned to the left and right of the client’s head. When this synchronicity of the hemispheres occurs, the results tend to be an internal state that is calm, relaxing and devoid of the usual "mind chatter" which engages much of our mental energies.

Kinesthetic Perception of Sound and Sympathetic Resonance

Sound, as experienced kinesthetically, can have profound effects on our neurological and cellular soft tissue systems. All of our organs, tissues, and even cells, vibrate at various complex frequencies. Fabien Maman, a French composer and bio-energeticist explored and documented the influence of sound waves on the cells of the body. He found that sustained pure tones had the ability to fully disrupt cancerous cells while invigorating healthy cells. He says, "the cancer cells show evidence of cell nuclei incapable of maintaining their structure as the sound wave frequencies attack the cytoplasmic and nuclear membranes." (Fabien, 1997)

Another way of understanding our physiological response to sound is sympathetic resonance. Briefly stated, whenever two or more objects vibrate at the same or similar frequency, they form a resonant system. (This, by the way, has some interesting ramifications in terms of the therapeutic efficacy of massage work between the client and therapist where the client and therapist become a "resonant system.") My goal within massage therapy is to identify those sounds and frequencies which will resonate the parasympathetic (relaxation) aspect of the autonomic nervous system of the client, and thus initiate and tonify our own internal healing resources.

For example, sound has the capacity to bring about states of calm or states of tension. Consider the example of dragging one’s fingernails across a chalkboard—a sound that very few people like to experience! Then consider the sound of the ocean surf and the soothing effect that its ebb and flow has upon our nervous system. This is a sound that most people love to experience!

In order to offer this kinesthetic experience of sound, my massage table has four transducers mounted under it. The transducers emit sound directly into the massage table to provide vibrational stimulation to the client. Because of the conductive nature of our fluids and bone tissue, vibrations we experience become a fully systemic experience. Everyone has her/his own personal resonant tonal frequencies (measured in Hz, or cycles per second) that induce our natural relaxation response. A set of tones which may elicit this relaxation response in one person may have the opposite effect for another. For this reason, Heartworks is developing a computerized system which directly measures each person’s physiological response to the "sound-scape" being experienced so that the sounds can be modulated to that individual’s resonant response, thus maximizing innate healing potential.


Christian Huygens, a Dutch scientist of the late 1600’s, observed an interesting phenomenon concerning pendulum clocks that were mounted on the same wall. He would start the motion of each clock’s pendulum at different angles and rates of speed. Very quickly, each clock began to change the swing of its pendulum until they all swung together, perfectly synchronized, at the same angle and rate of speed. If he moved one of the clocks to an opposite wall, this synchronicity did not occur between the recently moved clock and the clocks still moving together on the other wall. The vibrations on the shared wall created the means by which each clock "communicated" with the other, and thus they entrained themselves to the same beat pattern of movement.

Studies (Atwater, 1997; Rosenfeld, Reinhart, and Srivastava, 1997) have shown that we also experience this "entrainment" process. People, like the pendulum clock, have various rhythms (another way to look at vibration and bodily oscillatory movements, such as heart rhythms or brainwave patterns) that are continually in motion. By presenting our bodies with an appropriate external rhythm that vibrates our tissues as well as auditory system, we experience the same entrainment process as the Huygens’ clocks. (Hink, 1980)

By creatively utilizing these three aspects of sound vibrations – auditory perceptions of binaural beats, kinesthetic perception and sympathetic resonance, and entrainment – we have the key ingredients to effectively use sound to directly initiate our relaxation response , and all the innate healing responses of the parasympathetic nervous state associated with that state.


Atwater, F. H. (1997) "Inducing Altered States of Consciousness with Binaural Beat Technology." Proceedings of the Eighth International Symposium on New Science, pp. 11-15.

Atwater, F.H. (1997) The Hemi-Sync process. http://www.MonroeInstitute.org/research

Cade, C. Maxwell, Coxhead, Nora. (1979) "The Awakened Mind." (Element Books Limited: Longmead, Shaftesbury, Dorset).

Foster, D. S. (1990). EEG and subjective correlates of alpha frequency binaural beat stimulation combined with alpha biofeedback. Hemi-Sync Journal, VIII (2), pp. 1-2.

Maman, Fabien. (1997) "The Role of Music in the Twenty-First Century." (Tama-Do Press: Redondo Beach, CA), p61.

Oster, Gerald. (1973). "Auditory Beats in the Brain." Scientific American. Oct 1973. 23-32.

Rosenfeld, Reinhart, and Srivastava. (1997). "The Effects of Alpha (10-Hz) and Beta (22-Hz) 'Entrainment' Stimulation on the Alpha and Beta EEG Bands: Individual Differences Are Critical to Prediction of Effects." Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, Vol. 22, No. 1.

Sadigh, M. (1990). Effects of Hemi-Sync on electrocortical activity. http://www.MonroeInstitute.org/research

Thompson, Jeffrey. (2004) "The Clinical Use of Sound." Center for Neuroacoustic Research. http://www.neuroacoustic.com/articlebinauraltext.htm

Thompson, Jeffrey. (1999) "The Healing Power of Sound" BIO-TUNING: Sonic Induction Therapy Manual, pp.46-49.