If you’re new to the world of meditation or you’re just having some difficulty getting “in the zone,” you may wonder if it’s possible to use music as a meditation aid. Because in popular culture, meditation is largely viewed as a quiet practice, where all attention is focused inward, some people assume that music would only be a distraction.
It is okay to use music as a meditation aid if it helps you achieve what you are seeking. Some people find music to be distracting, it helps others to let go of their thoughts. In mindfulness meditation, practitioners found that music gives them an opportunity to examine their reaction to it.
If you’d like to know more about how music might help you expand the success you find in meditation, we’ve got you covered. Below we will discuss the history of music in meditation, whether it’s best to meditate in silence, and what genres might optimize your performance. Further, we will explore some of the fundamental aspects of meditation to understand why some things work while others don’t.
Is it Better to Meditate in Silence?
One of the primary goals of meditation is to silence the constant chatter in our brains and experience reality without placing any labels over it. It is only natural then to assume the best way of silencing the conscious mind is to cut off all external stimuli and sit in an environment which is completely silent.
However, this is not necessarily true. Mindfulness meditation seeks to cut out internal noise and allow for insights to bloom on their own. Sometimes this can actually be achieved by focusing on something external and examining how you naturally respond to it. The music therefore can enhance the results of your meditative practice.
It’s important to note here that there are some forms of meditation in which silence tends to work better. For example, mantra meditation, where you focus on a single sound, word or phrase to achieve a trance, is usually better suited to silence. In the following section we will break down the most common forms of meditation and their relation to music.
Forms of Meditation and their Relation to Music
Before we proceed, it is important that we acknowledge the fact that meditation isn’t a monolith. There are several forms of meditation, each of which has related but differing goals. Therefore a brief review is in order.
Below you’ll find a breakdown of the 7 most common forms of meditation, along with an explanation of whether or not music enhances or distracts from them.
Mantra meditation allows a person to use chants or repeated words in order to achieve a greater degree of inner knowledge. Though many forms of mantra meditation are meant to be practiced in silence, some people have found success using ambient music or nature sounds as a way of blocking out other external stimuli. Lyric heavy music, however, can interrupt one’s chant and isn’t recommended.
This is far and away from the most popular form of meditation around the world. Transcendental meditation is a subtype of mantra meditation, wherein the practitioner repeats a personalized word or phrase to silence inner chatter and draw themselves into a trance state. Its methodology can be formally taught and was developed by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. It is exclusively meant to be practiced in silence.
While mantra meditation is achieved by focusing on words, breathing meditation is achieved by focusing on the breath. Like mantra meditation, it can be done with ambient music or sounds. However, you’ll want to avoid anything that will draw your attention away from your breathing.
If you only look at meditation practices in the west, mindfulness meditation becomes the most popular. Mindfulness meditation involves allowing your thoughts to flow on their own while you examine your reaction to them.
Music can enhance mindfulness mediation in that you can examine the emotional and intellectual reactions the music stirs up. Just remember to let your reactions flow on their own and don’t try to control them. The key here is observation.
Spiritual meditation is practiced in religions ranging from Hinduism to Christianity. The individual practicing spiritual meditation is meant to reflect upon the silence around them and establish a direct connection with the Universe or God. Therefore, music defeats the purpose.
Spiritual meditation should be done in a quiet place. Please note that this is not referring to all meditation you might find spiritual benefits from but rather the formalized category called “spiritual meditation.”
Not all meditation takes place while standing still or sitting down. Movement meditation can be practiced while taking an aimless walk, doing yoga, or just about any other form of gentle exercise. The key is to allow your movement to guide your mind into a peaceful state where it can explore. Music can be great for this practice.
With focused meditation, you are supposed to focus on any one of the five senses. You’ll be happy to discover anything ranging from eating food to hearing music can act as stimuli for focusing on the sense it corresponds to. Historically gongs were used to focus on the sense of hearing.
Can You Meditate to Classical Music?
As long as the type of meditation you are attempting to practice does not specifically require silence, classical music is fantastic to meditate to for a number of reasons. This is why classical music is one of the most prominent genres you’ll hear people claiming to have had good results with.
Below we’ve compiled five reasons classical music is great for meditation.
- Ambiance: The use of drones and chants in classical music provides a great way of filtering out other external stimuli that might otherwise distract you without overwhelming your senses.
- Emotionally versatile: Classical music has long been lauded for its emotional resonance. Compositions are like gardens you can stroll through, where emotional intensity is built up and then released. This can be exceptionally helpful when observing your emotional reactions during mindfulness meditation.
- No words: Okay, there are words in some classical music, however, they are often in languages like Latin that not many people speak. The emphasis on instruments instead of lyrics has the effect of producing stimuli that is not as distracting to the conscious mind. In fact, in focused meditation, paying attention to the sounds produced by the instruments provides a great way to hone in on your sense of hearing.
- The Mozart Effect: The relaxation caused by classical music can be and has been quantified. Studies label this The Mozart Effect. Subjects were found to have lower levels of stress hormones, lower blood pressure, and higher spatial awareness. Since a key aspect of meditation is relaxation, this can fast track you to a more fulfilling experience.
- Meditation Specific Compositions: There’s a seemingly endless number of classical composers who have created music specifically for meditation or other spiritual practices. This means they will have thought through exactly what is the most useful for attaining the right state of mind.
Examples of Classical Music Used for Meditation
Throughout the centuries, there have been several composers who have come forward to develop music that is specifically designed to aid in the process of meditation. Below we have listed three of the most well-known composers and pieces you’ll want to check out if you yourself are looking to experiment with classical music and meditation.
- Hildegard von Bingen: As far back as the 12th century, there was classical music developed for both spiritual and meditative practices. Hildegard von Bingen was a german composer who utilized chants and ambiance to create music meant to cultivate her spirituality. Many of her compositions are still recommended for meditation to this day.
- Canticles of Ecstasy: In 1993 the Deutsche Harmonia Mundi recording label released an album that compiled the vocal chants and ambient music produced by Hildegard von Bingen called Canticles of Ecstasy. Listeners have noted that the album is great for inducing a trance-like state and making meditation easier to achieve.
- John Cage: During the 20th century, John Milton Cage Jr. was known not only for his post-war avant-garde style of composition but also for his ventures into eastern philosophy. He translated much of what he learned about meditation practices and spirituality into musical compositions.
- Dream: This is a piano piece wherein notes are held for extended periods to allow for a sense of resonance. It is often recommended to draw one into a meditative state.
- 4’33”: Released in 1952, this is perhaps Cage’s most famous “composition.” In it he merely sits by the piano and allows the ambiance of the hall to shine through as its own sort of meditative music.
- John Luther Adams: John Luther Adams is an American composer mostly known for his use of natural stimuli to create beautiful classical music.
- Become Ocean: His most well-known composition is 2013’s Become Ocean. It uses rises and falls within an orchestra to imitate the way the ocean moves. This is a great piece of music to help you get into a trance state.
New Age Music and Meditation Go Hand in Hand
New-age music contains a broad range of musical styles that are purposefully used to induce relaxation and inspiration. For many, this is the go-to kind of music for yoga, massages, and even meditation.
New-age music combines chanting and traditional instruments like piano or guitar with electronic instruments like synths pads to create a trance-like effect. It was first developed during the 1960s and has a wide audience to this day.
Examples of New Age Music Used for Meditation.
From the beginning, achieving a meditative state has been one of the primary goals of new age musicians. Below we’ve outlined a few new-age composers and compositions throughout history that you may want to check out if you’re planning to meditate with music.
- Tony Scott: In the 1960’s jazz clarinetist Tony Scott released the first official new age music record titled Music for Zen Meditation. The music on the record combines chants with atmospheric instrumentals to help guide the listener into a meditative state.
- Irving Solomon “Irv” Teibel: Between the years 1969 and 1979, Irv Teibel created a series of new-age LP’s called Environments, which combined chanting, instrumentation, the resonance of bells, and natural sounds to facilitate trance states for meditation. To this day, his music is considered great for mediation.
- Pauline Anna Strom: Pauline Anna Strom’s 1982 debut album, Trans-Millenia Consort, is regarded by some as the best new age album ever made. She largely uses synthesizers to achieve moody, atmospheric pieces perfect for mindfulness meditation.
What About Other Genres of Music for Meditation?
So far, we’ve talked about two genres that contain music specifically designed for meditation practices. If you don’t like classical music or new age is too out there for your sensibilities, you may wonder if your favorite genre is an okay substitute.
The good news is that you can actually meditate to any genre of music, ranging from folk to heavy metal. The bad news is that for some individuals, their favorite kind of music is too much of a distraction. Fortunately, there are a few questions you can ask yourself that will help you determine how helpful your music is to your practice.
- Are you practicing mindfulness meditation? Mindfulness meditation is all about examining your reactions to things at a deep level. Music of any kind is great because it gives you something that will play with your emotions.
- Are you getting sucked into the words of your songs? Again, sometimes this can be a good thing (as long as you let it happen automatically in the context of mindfulness), but many times this is a signal that it’s not working.
- Is the music enhancing how often and how deeply you like to meditate? Usually, the best way to figure out if music works for you is to experiment. If you’ve been trying it for a week or so and you’ve found your meditation practices to become more frequent and more successful, it is a sign that the music you’re using is great for you.
How to Use Music to Meditate
All the background information on meditation and music is great, but if you really want to put it into practice, you’ll want some practical tips on how to use music to meditate. Lucky for you, we’ve laid out three steps below that will help you best use your music next time you meditate.
- Choose the right music: The tips in the previous section will help you with this step. You’ll want music that is not too obtrusive but is interesting enough to help guide your attention.
- Find the right position: In popular media, meditation is presented as something that must be done in a special position with your legs folded and with your thumbs and forefingers pressed together. In reality, you can meditate in any position that is comfortable for you (unless of course, you’re doing a specific formalized meditation practice that requires a specific position). Many people find lying down or sitting in a comfortable chair to work for them.
- Pour all your attention into the music: Allow the music to be what slows down your thought in the same way that some people might use their breathing or a mantra. The more your thoughts slow down, the more relaxed and entranced you’ll become.
- Redirect unwanted thoughts towards the music: As soon as you try to stop thinking, thoughts will compulsively arise all on their own. When this happens, acknowledge them briefly, then turn your attention back to the music.
- Keep a record of what works and what doesn’t: It’ll largely be through trial and error that you find the best music for you. If you keep a record of how different types of music affect you, it’ll be easier to make comparisons and choose the kind that is most advantageous for your purposes.
The Science Behind Music and Meditation
There are studies that suggest music actually has a similar effect on the brain as meditation. If they are properly used in conjunction, the benefits can only be increased.
Music and meditation have been found to lower blood pressure, improve sleep, and even increase cognitive function. It is theorized that this is due in part to the diffusion of executive functions that lead to things like negativity bias, wherein individuals are more likely to ruminate on negative experiences than positive ones.
When we allow our minds to roam freely, we end up creating fewer stress hormones and removing blockages that keep us from experiencing creative flow states.
So, is it Really Okay to Meditate with Music?
It is okay to meditate with music as long as the form of meditation you are practicing is not specifically designed for silence. Today a lot of meditation is less formalized and more a hodgepodge of different strategies combined into one. So the best way to find out if music will work for you is simply to try it.
Really, any type of music can be used as a meditation aid if it helps the individual. Still, genres like classical and new age music contain many compositions that were composed specifically with meditation in mind. The use of drones, instrumentation and, chanting in these genres is what makes them so great for meditating. Still, everyone’s different. You should experiment until you find the music that is best for you!