Chinese Music Therapy
The relationship between music and healing has been prevalent in China for as long as one can remember. The Chinese musical system is centered around 5 primary tones: gong, shang, jiao, zhi, and yu. In Ancient China, scholars associated each of theses tones with not only an aspect of the physical world, but also an internal organ which ties into the Chinese saying, “with the 5 internal organs and with the 5 elements.”
The 5 elements are fire, earth, wood, water, and metal while the internal organs refer to the lungs, heart, liver, spleen, and kidney.
Melodies centered around gong, similar to Do or the C note, are thought to be noble and close to the earth. These kinds of music supposedly influence the spleen and encourage kindness in the listener, as long as this kind of music is listened to in moderation.
Shang (Re or the D note) based music, are strong and heavy and leave little room for improvisation as they correspond to metal which tends to be rather difficult to be changed. This form of music is meant to impact the lungs and provide the listener with a newfound sense of strength and determination.
Jiao based music, or Mi/E, is typically played towards of the beginning of Spring and is representative of new life. This music impacts the liver and provides the listener with a passion for making peace and internal harmony.
Zhi based music is similar to Sol or F and is typically an extremely emotional which is why it is associated with fire. It supposedly influences the heart and brings out the warm and cheerful side of the listener.
The last note, Yu, is relative to the La or G note and these songs tend to be on the soothing side, similar to a babbling brook which is why they are associated with water. These songs are similar to the blues, in Western music, as they are not overly excited but not somber to the point where they induce melancholy. These kinds of songs are said to influence the kidney and help the listener balance their mental state.
Through the utilization of these 5 notes and their corresponding forms of music, music has been used as a form of healing in China dating back to ancient times. However, it has also been growing rapidly in a professional capacity over the course of the past 20 years or so. The first official music therapy program was started at the Central Conservatory of Music in China back in 1997. Since then, the field has grown and 12 different universities now offer music therapy training which collectively produce around 200 graduates annually.
Full time music therapists have been hired throughout medical facilities in China from hospitals to maternity wards and even rehabilitation centers. The form of music therapy primarily utilized in China is the five-element music therapy which is centered around the 5 notes listed above. This strategy involves 3 key phases: performance, group musical activities, and individual crisis intervention. The first two phases, performance and group activities, are meant to help with mental stability and rather than having the patients discuss their trauma and negative thoughts directly, they are able to express their emotions through music and and other group activities. A general understanding of what the patients go through can be developed through their actions and the outcomes of their musical experience at which point the professional music therapists can help take the final step to talk through the trauma with their patients.
While Chinese music therapy involves very different methods from traditional Western methods, they are as effective and in tune with all forms of music therapy as they provide the patients with an alternate method of dealing with their trauma.