Components of Healing Music: Ostinato

While teaching my “Intro to Healing Music” class the other day, the topic of the ostinato came up.   We were talking about the importance of people feeling “grounded” in order for healing to take place. 

When people feel like they are connected to something stable and solid, then they can relax enough to let go of stress and tension and their bodies can begin to repair themselves.

The human body is a miraculous creation you know.  If we break a bone or cut ourselves, or get a cold, we really don’t have to go to a doctor.  With time we will heal.  it’s just that we might heal faster or straighter (in the case of a bone) or without infection (in the case of a cut) if we go to a doctor and take a “medicine.”  But a big part of healing, I believe, is just relaxing and grounding the body enough so that natural healing processes can begin.

Listen to this brief example of an ostinato in the Pachelbel Canon:

What exactly is an ostinato?  The website defines it as “a repeated sound or sound pattern. It can be verbal, rhythmic, textural, or tonal in nature. It can be used to further a set harmonic or rhythmic structure, in the way a bass pattern or a dance rhythm would be used in early music or contemporary jazz. In its simplest use, it can avoid a set harmonic structure and continue on much like a drone or pedal point, for as long as the improviser chooses. If one accepts all experiments, listening with an “open ear,” one can develop a unique musical vocabulary by exploring with melody over a simple ostinato.”

Whether you choosing a piece of music for its healing properties or composing your own  healing music, think about the grounding power of the ostinato.  The predictability factor is always a plus.  When listening to the Pachelbel Canon, you know that the bass line will always be the same throughout.  This allows the listener to relax, lean back and enjoy the flow of the beautiful melodies above. 

Many music professionals, it seems, do not care for the Pachelbel Canon because they believe that it has been so over-played and over-used.  For most of us, though, it is still a beautiful, healing piece of music.

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