Music Therapy and Makam


Music Therapy and Makam

The role of Sound with regard to Creation is very well established in all major religions. Nada yoga and Sphota vada of Indian philosophies, the significance of the Word  in Biblical traditions and Ku l kok of Turkish mysticism all agree in this respect.

Throughout human history man’s response to sound especially via music and rhythm goes beyond culture and geography. In the healing arts a long time ago, music played an important role, as a means of therapy for the afflicted. This was administered along with prescribed medicine.


More than 600o years ago physicians called Kam and Baksi amongst Asiatic Turks, used music and dance to cure patients. The Altaic Turk Shamans used drums for the same. Over the years this tradition evolved and gained strength with the Seljuks and the Ottomans.


As early as the 9th Century , melodic scales or tonalities called makams were integrated into the Islamic medicine systems.  Many scholars and doctors have written treatises on this subject. Physicians of those days were not only experts  in music therapy but were also proficient in other fields such as physics, chemistry, astronomy, geology, mathematics and philosophy.


Ebu Bekir Razi (860-925 AD) was head physician of many hospitals in Rey and Baghdad. His encyclopedia on Medicine ” El- Havi” became a very important reference material until the 17th century. His program of curing melancholic patients included hunting, fishing and learning music as well as listening to songs sung by those who have beautiful voices.


Al Farabi (870-950) inventor of the zither musical instrument did extensive research on sound vibrations.  He classifies the effects of makams on the spirit of humans as follows:

Rast: Induces joy and feelings of peace

Rehavi: Induces feelings of infinitude

Kuchek: Eliminates feelings of sorrow and grief

Buzurk: Eliminates fear

Isfahan: Induces feelings of self confidence and aids in movement

Neva: Increases the capacity to taste and provides general relief

Ussak: Induces laughter

Zirgule: Induces sleep

Saba: Gives a person courage and power

Buselik: Gives strength

Huseyni: Induces feelings of calm and security

Hicaz: Induces humility

Ibn-i Sina (Avicenna, 980-1037) who was inspired by the works of Farabi, classified music as a branch of mathematics. He considered music as one of the most efficient way of curing for it  helped to increase the mental and spiritual strength of patients. Encouraging words, company of those whom he loves and listening to good music according to this scholar is the best cure for the patient. Many chapters in his books  ‘Kitap’un Necat’ and ‘Kitab’un Sife’ which he wrote in Arabic,  are devoted to music.

Hakim Suuri Hasan Efendi, a Turkish physician of  the 16th century in his work ‘Tadil-I Emzice’ elaborates the times of the day when certain makams are effective.

Rast and Rehavi: Dawn

Huseyni: Morning

Irak: Mid-morning

Nihavend : Noon

Hicaz: Between two prayer times

Buselik: Afternoon

Ussak: Dusk

Zengule: After sunset

Muhalif: After the last prayer in the evening

Rast tonality: Midnight

Zirefkend: After midnight

He has also suggestions regarding makams and their effectiveness on specific gatherings.

Rast and Tevabii : Religious scholars

Isfahan and Tevabii: Kings

Hicaz and Tevabii: Dervishes

Rehavi and Tevabii : Sufis

His observations on selected makams directed at childhood diseases were as follows.

Irak: Meningitis.
Isfahan: Clarity of Mind. Protection from colds and fevers.
Zirefkend: Stroke, back pain and increases a sense of strength.
Rehavi: All headaches, nosebleed, wry mouth, paralysis and phlegmatic diseases.
Büzürk: Cramps and eliminates of fatigue.
Zirgüle: Heart and brain ailments, meningitis, heartburn and fevers of the liver.
Hicaz: Diseases of the urinary tract.
Buselik: Pains in the hips and head, and of eye diseases.
Uşşak: Foot pain and insomnia.
Hüseyni: Liver and heart disease, seizures and hidden fevers.
Neva: Treatment of children who have reached puberty, pains of the hips, and brings about joy.

Cities such as Amasya, Sivas, Kayseri, Manisa, Bursa, Istanbul and Edirne had music as an integral part of their therapy programs in hospitals. Paralysis, insomnia, anxiety, fevers and meningitis were some of the diseases whose  ameliorated  by music. When such music became merely recreational, they were abandoned from hospitals. The Ottoman palaces often employed music as a therapy to alleviate pain experienced in many childhood diseases. Ottoman writers on music also expressed the value of selecting specific makams in helping to balance the intellect and the emotions of the individual.

The neglect that this therapy underwent was due to when the shift from mental to physical signs as being more important, took over the medical profession.  There is however a slow but growing evidence that music therapy is coming back into hospitals. We now know that Drs. Bingur Sonmez and Erol Can of Istanbul hospital are  successfully reviving this therapy  for a range of illnesses as reported  in the US edition of The Guardian, August 28, 2011. They are utilizing melodic scales known as makams currently used in Turkish music and playing those for patients as part of complementary therapy.  Fahri Sezer of Balikesir University has done extensive research on the effects of music played on the ney.  Anger and other negative psychological symptoms were reduced when the patients were exposed to this music on a regular basis. Ashik Minaya Azafli, a psychologist from Azerbaijan has been successful in reducing post traumatic stress syndrome found in refugee children. She plays the collection of music called hava on the instrument saz exclusively.

Today we all know  that due to emotional fluctuations on hearing music,  our cardiac, respiratory and nervous systems all get  affected.  For Sufis the most important organ in the Body Complex is the heart. It takes purification of the heart in order to separate man’s animal nature from his human evolutionary one. Therefore there are many routines and exercises within Sufi lineages where prominence is given to music as it directly affects the heart.

Post from Vasanti Jaswal

Vasanti Gopinath Jayaswal

Master Teacher and Author, Vasanti came to the US in 1966 as a Cytologist but  shifted from scientific research to  teaching culture and spiritual heritage of India in the 70s. In addition to being trained in the classical dance traditions of India by her illustrious parents Guru Gopinath and Thankamani, she mastered Bharatanatyam and Karnatak Music.

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