Soothing tones: Can sounds actually heal us?

The ancient meditative practice of sound healing has struck a chord with a legion of new fans. But does it work?

From Egyptian incantations to Shaman drums and Himalayan singing bowls, sound has been used as a healing tool for tens of thousands of years.

These days, sound healing is also said to help reduce anxiety, stress and even pain.

If that’s music to your ears, here’s what you need to know before you immerse yourself.

What is sound healing?

Sound healing is a form of holistic therapy that covers a wide range of treatments, including music therapy and binaural beats.

It uses certain instruments for different sounds and vibrations to help someone achieve a peace and calming state, meditation teacher and sound meditation practitioner Sally Kellet says.

“When we’re stressed, busy, anxious and overwhelmed, we’re constantly trying to analyse the situation,” Sally explains.

“Sound healing works to reduce brain activity and calm our minds by altering brainwaves so we can drift effortlessly into a trance.”

How does sound healing work?

Melbourne sound healing practitioner Tanya Alijani says the concept of sound healing is based on the idea that vibrations exist in everything, including the cells in our bodies.

“Every sound has a specific frequency that interacts directly with our body’s cellular structure,” Tanya explains.

“At the cellular level, sound waves cause resonance, making cells vibrate in harmony like a tuning fork with nearby objects.

“Our brain waves also sync with these sounds through a process called entrainment, which promotes relaxation while stimulating the body’s rest and digest mode, and releases mood elevating neurotransmitters.”

While the science is still sparse, one study suggests vibrations and frequencies from sound have a wide range of therapeutic benefits such as healing trauma.

What can sound healing help with?

Some proponents say sound healing can relieve pain, and ease anxiety and insomnia by lowering blood pressure, improving circulation and reducing respiratory rates.

While those claims may be ambitious, it’s true that clients will leave a session feeling “de-stressed”, kinesiologist and holistic wellness practitioner Nadine Bertalli says.

“To say it heals or treats is not something that I can claim, but it certainly can help you achieve a state of deep relaxation and that in itself is incredibly beneficial,” Nadine says.

“The link between stress and ill-health is well known, so reducing stress will naturally have a flow-on, beneficial impact on all aspects of health.”

Sally, who uses crystal bowls to create healing vibrations for relaxation, adds she treats a lot of busy professionals seeking help with insomnia.

“Some people literally don’t know how to switch off,” she says.

“People don’t just hear it – they feel it in their body, which in itself is very therapeutic and can release pain and really help with stiffness.”

What the science says about sound healing

There has been plenty of research into music therapy, and a review of 400 studies found it has a wide range of benefits, including improving mood and reducing stress.

One study found an hour of sound meditation helped people reduce anger and depression, while researchers at Germany’s University of Bonn found evidence to support the use of binaural beats as a way to reduce anxiety.

And researchers at Germany’s University of Bonn found evidence to support the use of binaural beats as a way to reduce anxiety.

What are the different types of sound healing?

Sound baths

A popular and widely recognised sound healing form is a sound bath, Tanya says.

“Sound baths use instruments like gongs, singing bowls, and chimes to create a meditative and relaxing experience.

“While research to sound baths is developing, they’re thought to reduce stress and anxiety be slowing brainwave frequencies, inducing a deep relaxation state for tension relief and improved emotional balance.”

Tuning forks

Originally created for tuning instruments, Tanya says these metal tools vibrate at specific frequencies when struck.

“When used in sound healing, these vibrations interact with the body’s energy fields, potentially aligning and balancing them.”

Singing bowls

“Made from metal or quartz, they produce harmonic tones when the rim is struck or circled with a mallet,” Tanya says.

Himalayan singing bowls are believed to help with relaxation, meditation, stress reduction and emotional peace.


These are traditional instruments that mimic the sound of rain to create a soothing and rhythmic noise when tilted, Tanya explains.

“While scientific research is limited, their calming effect aids in meditation and anxiety reduction, making them popular in therapeutic and wellness practices.”

Binaural beats

Tanya says this is a form of soundwave therapy that involves playing two slightly different frequencies in each ear, where the brain perceives a third tone based on the mathematical difference between the two frequencies.

“Research suggests binaural beats can potentially impact mental and cognitive functions by influencing brainwave patterns, making them a popular tool in the auditory therapy field,” she says.

“This phenomenon is believed to promote relaxation, reduce anxiety and enhance focus, depending on the frequency used.

“For instance, a lower frequency might aid in meditation and relaxation, while a higher frequency could help improve concentration.”

For more on finding ways to heal the mind, body and soul:

Written by Dimity Barber. Updated by Melissa Hong, November 2023.