This paper is a handout that I've used for classes of the same name. I've also put this in PDF format (169KB) as the charts from Qualities of the Spinal Centers article works better as a full 8.5×11 page.
Music can be used for many purposes: entertainment, setting an environment, inducing certain moods, giving instruction, healing, and so forth. It is also a very powerful tool for personal/spiritual growth and conscious living. If inner growth is your goal, it’s essential to consciously surround yourself with music that truly supports that goal. For apart from music’s outer forms—genre, lyrics, etc.—every piece of music has more subtle and potent factors that influence us on deeper-than-conscious levels. Choosing music is therefore not so much a question of likes and dislikes, or of others’ opinions, but of what, exactly, any given piece of music actually communicates to you. That is, what state of consciousness does it induce, in you? Is that a consciousness you want or need to strengthen? Or is that consciousness detrimental to your inner aspirations?
It’s been well said that environment is generally stronger than will power. Whatever surrounds us has a very strong influence on our attitudes and consciousness, and thus on our magnetism. Magnetism is what ultimately determines our experience of life, including our own thoughts, for it determines what we attract into our lives.
Conscious living means to intentionally surround yourself with the qualities you seek to develop, rather than passively accepting those things that your present state of awareness attracts naturally. For example, if you’re generally cynical, the very magnetism of that consciousness will attract to you people and things that resonate with and reinforce that cynicism. To overcome that negative quality you need to surround yourself with people and things that resonate with and reinforce opposite qualities like trust, supportiveness, optimism, and acceptance.
Music is a powerful tool in this regard because it acts on consciousness more directly than most other mediums of communication. Music is a vibration that easily bypasses any mental and rational defenses to affect us on energetic and emotional levels, often regardless of things like genre and lyrics. Music even affects us on cellular and atomic levels, as demonstrated by studies with plants and ice crystals (see The Secret Life of Plants and The Hidden Messages of Water, for instance).
What’s ultimately communicated through any piece of music is the consciousness and magnetism of both composer and performers: their attitudes, their emotions, their aspirations (or lack thereof), and their approach to life’s challenges. Do the artists merely express problem-consciousness, or do they actually offer solutions? Do they basically sit around and complain, or are they trying to understand?
Whatever your goals in life happen to be, keeping supportive company around you is essential. Where music is concerned, then, ask whether you’d invite those composers and performers to live with you in your home. Would you want to eat with them? Commute with them? Exercise with them? For when you listen to their music you’re inviting their consciousness and magnetism into your heart and soul.
In choosing music, first be clear on those qualities that you’re seeking to develop (see my book, Finding Focus), then seek music that awakens and uplifts those qualities in a genre where you’re most receptive. This is a personal and individual matter. While music’s effects might be universal, that is, whether they are beneficial or harmful is an individual concern. Music that promotes love toward one person, for example, can be helpful to someone who’s vengeful or selfish but would be contractive for someone who’s aspiring to expand their love to all. Music that induces an active, busy energy is very good for a lazy bum but would be detrimental to a meditative monk.
Know, too, that the clearer the music the more powerfully it transmits its message. Clear, uplifting music is the most helpful for living more consciously. Clear, depressing music is better avoided! Muddy or scattered music, whether uplifting or not, generally won’t have much power. Even so, your own emotional response to music, and the focus of your will, can override the music’s inherent magnetism. Romantic love songs, for instance, can be spiritualized by singing them to a Divine Beloved. Songs that awaken memories of a joyful childhood can be uplifting even if the song itself is somewhat sad.
The key is having the self-discipline to focus on uplifting qualities whether they come from the music directly or from your own response to it. If you respond negatively to an uplifting song, best to avoid it. It’s also best to avoid the temptation to find music that supports or justifies negative emotions (as you find in a great deal of country and pop music).
Let your choices also come from inside yourself—care not for the opinions of others or the labels they attach to certain kinds of music. Find what uplifts and inspires your own soul. Find the messages you need to hear.
 Each genre tends to magnetize similar consciousness to itself, so most music of a genre tends share a similar vibration to the point that some generalizations can be made. There are always exceptions, however, depending on consciousness and skill of specific artists.
Dimensions of Communication in Music
There are four dimensions through which you can understand the message of a piece of music.
First are thequalities of feeling as inherent in the music itself. Well-written music can induce just about any mood or emotion: courage, hope, anger, anxiety, peace, etc. This is accomplished through musical elements like melody (rising, falling, lilting, choppy, etc.), tempo (soothing, activating, agitating, etc.), rhythm (steady, scattered, heavy, light, etc.), harmony (which give depth to emotions), the specific choice of instruments (strings, brass, woodwinds, etc.), and playing styles (plucked, bowed, etc.)
The second dimension involves the qualities of feeling that arise from our own emotional responses. Certain music—especially well-known melodies, anthems, etc.—bring back specific memories for us, such as our wedding day or some other special event or experience. The feelings that arise from these memories have much more to do with our experiences when we heard that music than with the qualities of the music itself. This may either reinforce the feeling of the music or conflict with it.
The third dimension is the quality of energy expressed in the music. There are three basic qualities of energy: deadening (heavy or obstructing), activating (energizing or busy), and elevating (light or clarifying). Music can express one of these qualities clearly, or contain a mixture of them. Deadening energy mixed with activating energy producing depression. Activating energy by itself can become scattering; when blended with an elevating quality it can become very engaging and inspiring. An elevating quality by itself can be very focusing or calming.
The fourth dimension is the resonance of music’s vibrations within our subtle energy bodies, specifically within the different spinal centers or chakras. Each spinal center has distinct relationships with the physical body and with different psychological qualities or attitudes. Music directly affects these energy centers, either activating, deadening, or elevating that center and its qualities. For background information, see the article, Qualities of the Spinal Centers or "Charkas" (and related thoughts).
Where this becomes very interesting is that spiritual growth is primarily a matter of rising energy in the spine. The more that one’s energy is directed upward in the spine, toward the higher centers and the brain, the greater will be one’s spiritual awareness and ability to see every experience in life with purpose and meaning. The more one’s energy, on the other hand, is directed downward toward the lower centers, the more one becomes enmeshed in materialism and worldliness. As energy moves downward in the spine, one becomes more problem-conscious and tends to see life as meaningless. (Mind you, the positive qualities of the lower centers are important; but those come again from energy rising through those centers.)
True “spiritual” music, then, is whatever helps the energy within an individual’s spine to rise above its “base” level. This varies greatly from person to person. If one’s energies are primarily in the sacral center (as happens during puberty, for instance), music that draws energy up to the lumbar center (as many rock songs do) would be spiritually uplifting. Maybe that’s why teenagers love it! For a person whose energy is primarily in the cervical (throat) center, on the other hand, that same music would be spiritually degenerate. And just because music happens to be labeled “spiritual,” uses Sanskrit mantras, or talks about Jesus, for instance, doesn’t guarantee universal upliftment. It very much depends on the consciousness of the performers, where the arrangement itself resonates within the spinal centers, and what the listener actually needs. It’s again a very individual matter, and can change over time for each individual as well.
As you grow spiritually, in fact, you do literally outgrow certain music. At one point in your life, for example, you might need to awaken deep feelings in the heart. In time, however, that energy needs to be uplifted to the throat center, the center of expansion, lest it become narrow, possessive, attached, or emotional. The spiritual journey, indeed, doesn’t end until all one’s energies have been uplifted to the spiritual eye—the point between the eyebrows, the seat of enlightenment—and through there to the crown chakra, the seat of spiritual liberation. At that point, of course, you don’t need music any longer!
Putting all these pieces together, every piece of music communicates its consciousness—its hidden message—through a combination of its feelings, its energies, and its resonance within the spinal centers. Sometimes this inner message contradicts the intended outer message of the song, which can lead to confusion. In contrast, when a composer is aware of the inner message and supports it with the outer message and the very forms of the music, the result is a high degree of clarity and power.
Such composers can even add yet another dimension. While most songs might activate, uplift, or deaden certain qualities at a particular spinal center, much more can be communicated through transitions between multiple centers, namely, specific states of awareness and even specific solutions to negative emotions and other challenges of life.
Listening to the Hidden Messages
I. Awareness of the Spinal Centers
A helpful preliminary exercise is to tense and relax the muscles around each of the centers, thereby drawing energy and awareness to that center. For details, see the charts in Qualities of the Spinal Centers or "Charkas".
It’s also helpful to chant “Aum” at the different chakras using specific musical notes ranging from G (below middle C) for the 1st chakra, to A (2nd), Bb (3rd), D (above middle C, 4th), Eb (5th), F (medulla), and G (spiritual eye). Do this up and down a few time, ending at the point between the eyebrows.
II. Neutralizing Your Emotional Responses
To hear what a piece of music is saying in and of itself, it’s necessary to listen without becoming emotionally involved either with attraction or repulsion. To neutralize your emotions, try thinking of something very mundane, something which brings up no old memories (good or bad), no social or political thoughts (like concerns over whether the thing is manufactured in China, etc.), and no value judgments. This might be a pencil, a brick, a chair, a pad of paper, or even a mundane experience like brushing your teeth or folding clothes.
Focus on that object or experience for a few moments and try to feel freedom from reactivity where that thing is concerned. Then, while listening to a piece of music, try to hold your mind on that neutrality (that is, neutralizing your tendency to react emotionally) while allowing yourself to feel what the music is doing on its own. With a little practice, you’ll be able to do this at will.
III. Reading the Message
While listening, then, make mental notes of the different dimensions of communication that enter your awareness: the qualities of feeling, the energies involved and the direction (up, down, neutral) of those energies, and any resonance within the spinal centers. Also allow your mind to generate imagery if it wants. Such images can be very revealing!
You might try listening several times, focusing on each dimension individually. After listening to a song, jot down whatever notes or images you can to describe your experience. If you felt a resonance at a particular spinal center, look at the qualities of that center and see if they ring a bell with any specific feelings you might have had.
It’s then fun to go back and look at the title and lyrics (if any) for the song and see if there’s any real correlation. You can also listen to the song again and try to go even deeper into the experience you described. A truly great song will give a bountiful harvest no matter how many times you listen to it. Those are the songs that really survive decade after decade.
IV. Music as an “Antidote”
It’s also very helpful once you’ve gotten an idea about the qualities of a song to think about what the opposite qualities would be. If a song that awakens a deep love in the heart and lifts it upward (“opening the heart”), for instance, the opposite movement would be to pull that energy downward and contract it into the heart (“putting up walls”). A song that really awakens a sense of contentment would have as it’s opposite a sense of greed or desire.
In this way you can build a collection of songs that are “antidotes” to specific negative emotions or states of consciousness—that is, they generate a consciousness in which the negativity cannot continue to exist. Then when you become aware that you’re struggling with such a state, you can pull out the antidote song and listen to it over and over. If you listen with concentration, in fact, you can pull yourself out of a mood in a matter of minutes!
Songs that make transitions between different spinal centers, or move between different feelings, generally have an even deeper or more specific message. When positively directed, these songs can even offer specific solutions to certain problems.
A good example is Playboy of the Western World, an instrumental piece composed by Donald Walters and performed on The Mystic Harp by Derek Bell, the late harpist for The Chieftains. It begins with a first melody line played on the harp in such away to suggest promiscuity or flirtation, resonating with the sacral center around the sex organs. Then a second melody line that resonates at the spiritual eye takes over, suggesting the response of the “Higher Self” to that flirtation—saying, “Are you really happy with such behavior?” In response, the first melody returns but now at the heart center with a harmony line, suggesting a dance with a partner, as in marriage (certainly higher than promiscuity). The Higher Self (second melody) responds again as if to say, “That’s better, but still not enough.” The third time through the first melody, the resonance is at the cervical center, suggesting an expansion of love to include all life, at which point the Higher Self comes in to celebrate: “Yes! Now you’ve got it!” A real spiritual teaching right there!
When you feel a series of qualities and transitions in a song, again try to feel the opposite qualities in the opposite direction and see what state of consciousness is produced (like promiscuity, despair, etc.) Then play the song again and feel yourself rising out if it, adding another arrow in the quiver of tools for your personal and spiritual growth.