History of Music Therapy

The connection between music and medicine is very ancient. In all probability, though there is no direct proof, it goes back to Paleolithic times. It certainly had its roots in the primitive world (Peregrine H. 1988). Ever since the beginning of human society, men and women have had to combat sickness and various ailments, both physical and psychological. In the case of physical injury caused by a spear or a knife, the answer is obvious. But for many kinds of psychological ailments the answer is not so obvious. Pre-scientific man had no conception of viruses or neurological degeneration disorders. Illnesses of the like were classified as something from a supernatural realm, caused most likely, by a witch or an evil sorcerer. Thus, the only way to counteract such illnesses was with magical techniques of one`s own. This meant seeking out the services of the specialist, or to them, the witchdoctor or shaman. These were the people who were able to directly contact and communicate with the spirits of the supernatural realm and negotiate with them, or in some cases to actually fight with them. When conjuring up these evil spirits, witchdoctors and shamans relied on musical instruments.

The arsenal of instruments that witchdoctors and shamans had on hand were drums made of animal skin, flutes made from drilling holes in hollow animal bone, and a horn of a cow. The mystical powers these instruments possessed were due to the animal parts that they were comprised of. We can find traces of this idea that the dead creature can speak through the musical instrument made from its body (M.L. West, 1983). Through the words of the animal spirits witch doctors and shamans were able to prescribe a course of action for diseased individuals.

During the second half of the fifth century the different modes and rhythms used in various music ensembles were believed to be connected with different ethical qualities. Songs and dances set up particular commotions in the soul and laid down patterns in it which reflected their own qualities. These patterns would shape a boy`s unformed character; or in the case of a grown man, they might bring out latent traits (Damon, 400BC). Thus, they believed that education as well as music should be highly regulated. During the next century we see the same ideology in the written works of Plato and Socrates. Rhythms and dance movements have ethical qualities because they are patterned on the voices and movements of people who have those qualities. So qualities already present in humanity get encoded in music and dance and are then transmitted through music and dance into the younger generation (Plato). The role of music in medicine up to this period is still appears to involve hidden phenomena.

By the eighteenth century, however sorcery and magic were no longer an accepted explanation for the cause of mental and physical ailments among medical experts. Due to the advancements in the fields of mechanics, hydraulics and chemistry of the time physicians tried to approach human illness in the same way they ran their chemistry or physics experiments, that is systemically and experimentally.