Sure, music alters mood – but if music and sound can be intentionally used as a technology to induce desired brain states in the listener, should that be disclosed? As a songwriter, and a lover of the practical effects of Binaural Beats and Isochronic Tones, I sometimes wonder if legally I would be obligated to disclose if a recording I release has these very specific, mind-altering soundwaves embedded in the music.
What I’m talking about here is an audio form of brain-entrainment: a method of introducing sound into the ears in specific ways in order to encourage the brain to sympathetically mirror the same frequency of a given beat. Brain entrainment can be performed by using more than just sound however; strobe lights, electromagnetic fields, and neurofeedback therapies are also commonly used.
Hold on!! What are brainwaves anyway? Here is a down and dirty explanation by some brain experts:
Brainwaves are measurable, synchronized electrical impulses from masses of neurons communicating with one another (as defined by brainworksneurotherapy.com)
For a couple of years, I listened to a customized Binaural Beats program through Centerpointe Research Institute, called Holosync. I was searching for deep meditation, an increase of mindfulness, and a practical method of reducing stress, and increasing happiness. Their Holosync program sounds a bit fictional to some people, but I really loved the experience itself, and I liked the way that I felt after an audio meditation session.
Among many other benefits, the theory is that listening to binaural beats can challenge your brain to increase its stress threshold over time. With continued listening, the daily challenges in life which may have triggered you to have a stress response, may not bother you as much. Let me say this process actually feels really good. I found these benefits to be generally true for me, and a few months in, I was happier overall. Also, when I would start my audio track, I would immediately feel sound-drunk. The brain-wave entrainment worked on me! From my experience, the audio session would take my brain from the awakened state I was in, gently down into a deeply relaxed state, usually while still conscious (occasionally I’d fall asleep). Then the audio took me back up to alert, and feeling grounded and centered by the end of the meditation. Upon completion, I felt refreshed. I did feel like I had completed a deep, zen-like meditation, via the tools of this audio recording. It was fantastic. I even at one point recorded my own voice to be subliminally inserted into my personalized CD’s with my own mantras. Then I had kids and lost the time that I used to have for this kind of meditation where I could afford to fully and safely tune out the world for 30-40 minutes per day.
Binaural Beats are surprisingly a very old technology. Heinrich Wilhelm Dove discovered in 1839, that when two separate tones were delivered to each ear separately, the difference in Hz is noticed by the brain, and this difference in Hz coaxes the brain to sympathetically go into the brain state of that frequency measurement. For example, if a tone of 100 Hz was sent into one ear, and a tone of 105Hz is sent into the other, the difference is 5Hz. Your brain perceives a tone that is beating at a rate of 5 times per second. 5Hz falls within the category of “theta waves” (3-8 Hz), smack in the middle of a pattern of brainwaves that are usually accompanied by sleep or deep meditation. Theta is the twilight state between waking and sleep. When I think about whether I should send someone unknowingly into this brain state via brain entrainment embedded within the tones of my songs, I sincerely think it could be dangerous and irresponsible! Imagine jamming out to a song, at the wheel of your car on the freeway, and then you slowly start to feel… dreamy… Not so good.
The higher brainwave states associated with alertness might not be so bad to send a listener to, though. Subliminal encouragement of a little extra energy and body movement during a dance song seems safe enough. Well, so long as it doesn’t accidentally make the person overly anxious! There are definitely cautions that must be adhered to when using brain entrainment and light-strobe therapies. If someone is prone to seizures, they could accidentally be triggered into one due to flashing lights. That has been proven many times over. I have not heard of audio brain entrainment having this seisure effect, but everyone’s brain is unique. When purposefully altering one’s brain state and ultimately its structure, deep thought and care should be put in, regarding the possible results.
When I asked a composer friend of mine whether he thought Binaural Beats must be disclosed, he responded by bouncing a question back to me: “How true and proven is it that these brain entrainment methods actually work?”. Indeed this is a very valuable question. How effective are Binaural Beats, Isochronic Tones, or even frequencies from the Solfeggio scale at creating measurable changes in the brain? The answers I found sound reasonable. I came across an article at HowToLucid.com that basically states that everyone’s brains react differently to brainwave entrainment. At all times, various parts of our brains are functioning at different rates of brainwaves. The most dominant, active brainwave pattern is the one that we can attempt to influence to sympathetically fall in line with the sounds we are intentionally introducing into our ears. Some people will be more susceptible to brainwave entrainment than others.
There is a ton of interesting information in the world about Binaural Beats, Isochronic Tones, and even particular frequencies on something called the Solfeggio Scale, all claiming to hold influence over the human brain. There are promises of a more restful sleep, promises to curb anxiety, promises of states of deep relaxation, of high alertness and mental focus for study, and even promises of euphoria and out of body experiences. Truly, I would just say to try it for yourself, safely. There are free apps, and on YouTube and Spotify you can listen as well.
Whether I will introduce Binaural Beats or some other method of brain entrainment into my own recordings… I’m still not sure. If I do, it will definitely not be the tones that take you into sleepy meditation land. Too dangerous. I would be open to slipping in some energetic beats into a dance track though, and I wouldn’t mind recording tracks tuned to 528 Hz on the Solfeggio Scale, like John Lennon did for Imagine, and as various music artists have done for their projects. (More about The Solfeggio Scale here: https://www.mindvibrations.com/ancient-solfeggio-scale/) After all, I don’t see any harm in attempting to heal the world with positive vibrations. But don’t worry, I will consult with a professional on the topic, and disclose it to listeners if I do! Wouldn’t you want to know if someone was purposefully altering your brain, even if it was well-intentioned?
There are so many possibilities in the realm of sound therapy that have not been fully realized. I hope to continue to learn more, and I hope to experiment with sound therapy and brain entrainment. Music heals, and as technology grows, perhaps music can be used to heal on a more effective and focused scale.