Meditation is often portrayed as a set of practices that appear outwardly boring. People are often sitting and contemplating their navels or breath. It looks very passive and boring to an observer who may not know that they could be experiencing more joy than you ever knew existed. Let’s explore meditation music!
Did you know that millions of musicians meditate, many of whom don’t even know that they’re doing so? People go into meditative states in bands, practice rooms and music jams all the time. They’re using their musical instruments for meditation.
We may need to start with an explanation of what meditation really is.
What is Meditation?
To meditate on something is essentially to fall in love with it. You’ve heard of concentration as an essential component of meditation. When you stare lovingly into your lover’s during a serious hanky panky session, you’re concentrating. At least I would hope so. There’s a merging. It’s as if the two are becoming one.
There is a depth spectrum in concentration. Sometimes the two really do become one. Advanced meditators speak of this oneness, not as theoreticians, but as reporters. Meditation, in all its forms, lead to a more highly developed brain with greater interconnectivity and communication between the different parts. It also develops parts of the brain associated with concentration. Therefore, the ability to concentrate is progressive as you practice meditation.
The shakuhachi is a flute from Japan that was designed as a Zen meditation tool. Their mouthpieces are complex and allow for a wide variety of sounds. Once you get the hang of the embouchure, all you have to do to meditate is blow into it. Merge with the sound, the vibrations of the flute and your breath. You’ll also get better at it over time. The traditional way is to use the flute to play Zen Honkyoku music.
Drum therapy studies have shown that drumming with a hand drum brings most of the same benefits as meditation. This includes powerful anti-depressant properties that rival prescription drugs. This is especially true for group drumming, which has even more benefits such as accelerated levels of compassion and empathy.
Maybe you can guess why drumming has similar effects as most meditation techniques. Think about it for a minute… Stop. Time’s up. Drumming IS meditation music. You’re becoming more absorbed in the feelings in your hands, the rhythm and your rapidly transforming state of mind. The rhythm can induce a deep trance.
Even rock and roll drummers experience some of meditation’s benefits. What comes to mind are higher cognitive function and sharpened problem solving abilities.
Kirtan is the art of singing devotional music in Sanskrit in group settings. There are often musicians who play traditional Indian instruments. Singing allows you to merge with the song that you’re singing and those aspects of higher reality represented by the deity you’re singing to. There are also vibrations in your body while you’re singing. The whole point of Kirtan is meditation.
Many rock and roll guitarists have mentioned feeling a state of “flow”. Time seems to stop, as does the sense of distinct self who is playing the guitar. This is especially true during favorite songs.
There are so many instruments that can take you into a meditative state. You’ve seen some of them above. There are some ideas that aren’t so obvious.
Find some music that’s very entrancing. Grab some maracas and play along. Find a hobo jungle and play a harmonica. Bang some silverware together.
Meditation music, Drumming and Playing Musical Instruments
Meditation in groups has very powerful effects that many claim make it much more powerful. I’ve had many experiences with traditional group meditation and group drumming.
Some of them have the added benefit of being useful for scoring weed if you’re into that. Others provide more “classy” (I hate that word) environments. That’s neither here nor there.
There’s a very good reason why “drum circles” have become increasingly popular. When people are drumming together and going into the trance, many will become keenly aware of everyone else, even if they’re not looking at them. It’s an instant intuition boost, a great example of meditation music. Even those who haven’t experienced that perceive that something beyond the gross physical reality is going on, even if it’s just an inexplicable connection with everyone there and the disappearance of all their troubles from the day. Some report the disappearance of chronic social anxiety and even depression. Both “healings” are progressive with regular group drumming.
People also report feelings of great love. This is one powerful quality of group drumming and the #1 reason people keep coming back. If they don’t associate with traditional religious services, group drumming often becomes their religion.
By the way, drum circles often include more than drums. You may hear ukuleles, violins and egg shakers.
Scientific Studies of Group Drumming
There have been studies of group drumming programs in schools and workplaces as meditation music. One school taught children about social skills, anger management and behavior. One group of “at-risk youth” in the study had a drum program as well and the control group did not. Not only did grades and behavior issues improve all around, but the change was much more pronounced in the drumming group.
Another study of long-term health workers discovered that employees of all kinds and levels became more harmonious with each other after drumming sessions. Class issues and dramas disappeared. During the course of the study, they found lower absentee rates, elevated moods and reduced burnout.
The Benefits of Playing Musical Instruments
We’ve seen the drum studies. Playing music in general, individually or in groups, has many benefits. One increased memory power. Four-year-olds who took keyboard lessons once per week developed their brains to the point where their spacial-temporal skills became one third better than their peers. The parts of the brain associated with memory became highly developed.
When you practice any type of instrument, you are developing the parts of the brain associated with concentration. It doesn’t quite matter which instrument. Pitch, note duration, rests… There’s a lot going on in many cases. Not only do you get a chance to meditate (at least most of the time), you also increase the abilities most commonly associated with meditation.
Some Tips About Meditation and Music Jams
The aspect of meditation mentioned so far is called concentration. When practicing concentration, your mind might trail off. Playing music makes that happen less often, but it happens. You also may be concentrating well but wish to optimize your absorption in what you’re doing. Whatever the case, never judge yourself. In concentration, you just keep coming back home to your meditation object.
This is true when you’re focusing on your breath, body sensations, a piece of fly shit on a wall, a picture of your mom or a chant that you’re singing. It’s the same when listening to the singing birds, the frogs and crickets or a rainstorm. Don’t judge. Just keep coming back.
If you want to get somewhat advanced about this, you can add mindfulness to your meditation music session.
Mindfulness is often taught in conjunction with concentration. Other times, it’s taught later. Mindfulness is when you’re aware of your own mind. When thoughts or emotions arise, you’re aware of them and just let them be what they are. This brings deep equanimity and subtler and subtler self-awareness over time.
During meditation, you are often concentrating and becoming more profoundly intimate with its finer details. A thought may distract you from your object. Instead of just going back to your object. say hello to your stream of thought. Don’t judge it. If you’re the sky, then it’s just a passing cloud. Then you go back to your object.
Say you’re playing a few notes on your Peruvian flute. You are very absorbed with its vibrations, its beautiful tone and the feeling of blowing air through it. Then the thought of doing laundry comes up. If the laundry isn’t too important right now, then feel that thought in the body. Acknowledge that thought. Then, pay full attention to your flute playing. Keep going in this way. You don’t have to stop playing in the middle of the process.
I know this is about music, but there are so many things you can meditate on that certainly aren’t boring. The sunset is the favorite of many, and so is the full moon. Others include candle flames, nature sounds, waterfalls (even visualized ones), a beloved deity or a spiritual figure or a photo of same.
Things you don’t want to meditate on include sweaty gym bags, botulism covered steak, the spider you just killed, Barney, the sensation of your hands on a burning stove and your dirty laundry and images of famous serial killers. If you do happen to have luck with these, let me know.
So, there you have it. If you don’t want to risk a boring meditation technique, there have been plenty of examples here. If you don’t have a musical instrument yet, go to your local music shop, research how to make your own musical instrument or find a specialty shop with exotic ones.
Meditation Music Additional Resources
- Remo study
- ADD, problem solving
- Care worker study
- Effects of rhythmic music, Stanford
- Endorphins and drumming
- Drumming and intelligence
- Group drumming and the immune system