By Mary Elizabeth Wakefield, LAc, MS, MM, and MichelAngelo, MFA, CTM
This article, based upon our book Vibrational Acupuncture: Integrating Tuning Forks with Needles, published by Singing Dragon UK in March 2020, focuses on a creative synergy of acupuncture needling with the vibrational qi of tuning forks in treatment protocols for face and body. The addition of these sophisticated, precision-tuned, planetary, vibrational healing tools to a Chinese medicine-based treatment approach, utilizing the points and meridians of acupuncture, is profoundly innovative and transformative in its implications.
Drawing upon the rich material contained in Vibrational Acupuncture, we will explore the nature of vibration and music, and likewise provide a partial overview of sound healing practices in the early 21st century—in particular: tuning forks, as well as the concerted use of the human voice. The effect of sound upon the human body is delineated through a series of personal anecdotes.
We will conclude with an introduction to the philosophy of music in ancient China, and how the entirety of Chinese imperial structure was constructed around alignment with a specific musical frequency, referred to as the Huang Kung, or Yellow Bell. This imperially designated tone represented the harmonious homeostasis of the Imperial order, and deviations from it by the representatives of the Emperor in the various provinces were deemed to a be a threat to national security and domestic harmony. Finally, we will chronicle how the failure of the last Chinese Emperor, Puyi, to maintain the integrity of the Huang Kung as this inviolable standard ultimately led to the collapse of Imperial China after thousands of years.
“Each organ and function within the body creates a vibration which helps it maintain its equilibrium. These vibrations allow the body to cooperate with its self-healing.” —Alfred Tomatis, The Conscious Ear
Exploring the Nature of Vibration and Music
What is Vibration?
The Oxford English Dictionary defines vibration as “an instance, or the state, of vibrating”. The word stems from the Latin verb vibrare = to vibrate, to move in small increments, to and fro. It is a state of resonating, as in the vibrato of a violin or an operatic voice.
It is also an act or condition of being vibrated in a single complete vibrating motion–a quiver or quickening of qi (energy) when the soul enters the body of a child. Vibration is sensed or experienced directly, and has a distinct emotional quality or atmosphere.
The Nature of Sound
Vibration has motion, therefore all life is in motion… behind the whole Creation, the whole of manifestation, if there is any subtle trace of life that can be found, it is motion, it is movement, it is vibration.–Hazrat Inayat Khan, The Music of Life
Everything that moves–from the smallest molecule to the planets in their unceasing orbits to the vast galaxies pinwheeling throughout the unfathomable reaches of the universe–generates a vibration that we may consider to be sound; even if it may be beyond the capacity of our human ears to register.
The ear, a miraculous organ, can detect frequencies ranging from 20 to 20,000 cycles per second (Hertz or Hz). In fact, the entirety of the human body responds to sound vibration, and we can “hear” by means of our skin and the 206 bones in an adult skeleton. Scientific studies have demonstrated that every cell in our bodies may be regarded as a little “ear.” Other research has shown that sound can produce beneficial changes to the autoimmune, endocrine, and neuropeptide systems.
When in a relaxed state, our body and brain waves vibrate at 8 cycles per second, which entrains us to the basic electromagnetic field of the earth.
Historically, more meditations and prayers have been sung, rather than spoken, in spiritual and religious practices worldwide. Research shows that the use of sound, chanting, and singing can support spiritual awareness and the health of the body (soma).
As a child, I remember making sounds, mimicking music and tones, long before I could verbalize what I was feeling or thinking. In utero, while swimming in the timeless amniotic sea, we are immersed in sound! The amniotic fluid is an optimal medium for the conduction of sound waves.
In fact, the embryo begins to develop ears as early as three weeks into pregnancy, and can feel and hear the beating of its mother’s heart in utero. Research shows that when an infant is exposed to a recording of a heartbeat, 72 beats per minute, they will relax. Babies also respond to the mother’s voice within 72 hours after birth.
In my experience, babies also recognize the sound of the practitioner’s voice when they encounter it after birth. I asked one of my pregnant patients if I could sound and sing into her belly when her baby became distressed. In this way, I created nonverbal sounds and songs that relaxed him, as the mother bonded with her baby.
Several months after his birth, she returned to my office for a visit to introduce her beautiful boy to me, not realizing that he already knew me! The minute I said his name, he voiced a loud joyful “hah!” and reached his pudgy arms out to me, wanting to be held. The mother was surprised until I explained that her child undoubtedly recognized my voice from those early experiences of it while in the womb, and had entrained with the sound of my voice.
“Cosmic sound is the power that generates the rotative motion of every globular form of existence … a power that precipitates the Divine Will into material, objective manifestation.”– Dane Rudhyar, The Magic of Tone and Art of Music
Sufi mystics believe that the sound of the human voice, the tones emitted from the vocal cords, can attune us with the vibrational network of the cosmos, the Music of the Spheres as originally postulated by the Greek proto-philosopher Pythagoras. As we have previously established, sound is vibration, and we have the capacity to perceive these vibrational energies not merely with our ears, but in every cell of our bodies.
Although the experience with my patient’s baby is not, strictly speaking, entrainment in the conventional sense, the sound of my voice, informed by intention, established a sympathetic resonance—a vibrational rapport—between me and the unborn child.
The Sufi master and musician Hazrat Inayat Khan spoke about how our bodies are rhythmic–our pulse, heart, breath, and cranial rhythms all have their own beats! Our bodies resonate on a cellular level, especially with the sound of the human voice, whether heard in utero, in a face-to-face conversation, or on the telephone. The vibrations and unique inflections, and the particular timbre of the voice, are recognized as a unique auditory imprint by the ear, which possesses an uncanny accuracy in this regard.
The Healing Power of Sound and Music
What is Music?
“The world is sound. We find music everywhere: in planetary orbits, pulsars, genes, oxygen atoms, leaf forms, etc.”–Joachim Ernst-Berendt, The Third Ear
Music is organized sound; most cultures since the beginning of recorded time, and most likely in prehistoric eras as well, have used music therapeutically: to reduce stress, strain, and pain, promote relaxation, foster awareness, improve learning, clarify values, and balance, bolster, and enhance qi.
When an organ or part of the body is healthy, it creates a natural resonant frequency in harmony with the rest of the body; when out of harmony, it is dis-eased, uncomfortable with itself, reflecting pathogenic imbalances, according to traditional Chinese mMedicine. The use of “correct” sound can balance and harmonize unhealthy harmonic patterns in our body/mind/spirit.
Many methods of sound healing are employed by a wide range of practitioners worldwide; they include mantras, chants, and acoustic instruments such as tuning forks, Tibetan and crystal bowls, gongs, tingshas, bells, and chimes. Most powerful of all is the concerted and directed use of the human voice which is informed by the intention of the practitioner.
“The bel canto human voice is for sound what a laser is for light: The voice is an acoustical laser, generating the maximum density of electromagnetic singularities per unit action. It is this property which gives the bel canto voice its special penetrating characteristic, but also determines it as uniquely beautiful and uniquely musical.”
A tuning fork is an acoustic resonator in the form of a two-pronged fork with a handle. The prongs (tines) are fashioned from a U-shaped bar of elastic metal. Steel (or customarily, with tuning forks employed in vibrational healing, an amalgam of high-grade space-age metals) is used for this purpose. The length of the tines is instrumental in the production of a specific constant pitch when the fork is activated, by striking it against a surface or with an object. The fork emits a pure musical tone and, depending upon the length and mass of the resonators (the tines), this frequency can be of quite long duration, making these instruments extremely effective in addressing disharmonies within the physical or energetic bodies. When a tuning fork is first set into vibration, we hear a fairly loud note, but this resonance dissipates rather quickly as the frequency of the vibrations is transmitted to the surrounding air.
The tuning fork was invented in 1711 by John Shore (d. 1752), the renowned musician, instrument maker and trumpeter to the English Royal Court and a favorite of the expatriate German composer, George Frideric Handel (1685-1759). The main reason for using the fork shape is that, unlike many other types of resonators, it produces a very pure tone, with most of the vibrational energy confined to the fundamental frequency or pitch of the fork, and very little in the way of overtones.
Another singular advantage of the tuning fork configuration is that when it vibrates, the characteristic oscillation of the prongs causes the handle to move up and down. Consequently, there is a node, a point of no vibration, at the base of each prong. The motion of the handle is largely undetectable to the person resonating the instrument, which permits the fork to be held without damping the vibration. It also allows the handle to transmit the vibration to a resonator, which amplifies the sound of the fork, or conversely, for the frequency to be absorbed by the human body via acupuncture points, muscles, and bone structure. Doctors traditionally used tuning forks as a diagnostic aid to detect broken bones.
Music and Chinese Medicine
In ancient China, music was believed to be instrumental to the accomplishment of a variety of objectives: to treat the health and well-being of the body and psyche, to ensure conformity with established moral codes, and to address potential disharmony within the state. Paralleling a similar philosophy established in the sixth century BCE in Greece by Pythagoras and his successors, music also provided a means whereby human beings could achieve harmony with the cosmos, the abode of divinity:
“When one considers the relationship between music and the cosmos, Pythagoras and his followers immediately come to mind […] it is not known whether the early Chinese […] were influenced by Pythagoras’ theories on the connection between numerical patterns and music […] but the possibility that the Greeks somehow influenced the Chinese on this matter, or vice versa, cannot be ruled out.” 
The concerted use of music in this manner had an essentially practical and therapeutic goal, that of achieving balance and promoting increased longevity.
The history of music as medicine in China dates back to the Warring States period. Negative music was categorized as “excessive” in nature, and positive music was judged accordingly by its moral nature and focus on properly balanced sounds.
As a therapeutic tool with both physiological and psychological applications, music was considered an important tonic for increasing the quality of life and life span, in both the individual and the state. In other words music, in Chinese medicine terms, warded off physical and emotional pathogens.
According to the ancient Chinese, balanced music reflected the harmonious totality of existence–that of body and mind, society, the environment, and the cosmos. Different styles of music also indicated the ease or dis-ease of the heart-mind connection in a person:
“If there is too much [of any of the Six Illnesses], then disaster strikes: excessive Yin corresponds to illnesses of cold, excessive Yang, to illnesses of heat; excessive wind to illnesses of the extremities; excessive rain, to the illnesses of the gut; obsessive obscurity, to illnesses that entail confusion; and excessive brightness to illnesses of the heart-mind.” 
The Chinese believed that the entirety of creation was informed by a network of essential correspondences, and they saw these Five Elements reflected in nature, humanity, sound, and the heavens. It is true, however, that the wu xing, customarily translated as Five Elements, does not refer to elements per se but rather five phases, or states of being, which correspond with the seasons of the year.
In ancient Greece, the four root substances, first postulated by Empedocles, consisting of earth, water, air, and fire, were thought to explain the nature and complexity of all creation in terms of simpler structural constituents. It was Plato who, in his dialogue Timaeus, first referred to these building blocks of matter as elements. His pupil Aristotle later contributed a fifth element, aether, as the quintessence. His reasoning was that whereas fire, earth, air, and water were earthly and corruptible, subject to change, they must, of necessity, be confined to what he described as the “sub-lunar” realm of imperfection. However, because the heavens were perceived to be eternal and incorruptible, the fixed stars and constellations could not possibly be composed of the four earthly elements but must embody a different, unchangeable, heavenly substance. These five elements are sometimes associated with the five Platonic solids, which seventeenth-century pioneering astronomer Johannes Kepler later attempted to correspond to the orbits of Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. We should note, however, that, in general, Western esoteric philosophy and disciplines, including astrology and alchemy, center upon the original four elements.
In Chinese medicine, the Five Elements correspond directly with the five seasons, the five tastes, the five colors of the organ systems, the five planets, the five tones and modes. If any of these correspondences became excess or out of balance, they could contribute to an onset of one of the Six Illnesses and accompanying heart-mind imbalances.
|Western tone (approximate)
*the 18 days between summer and autumn (the “center”)
Ancient cultures generally agreed that there is a fundamental relationship between the type of music one experiences on a daily basis and health. According to the Chinese, a state of optimum health can be achieved by an immersion in music that promotes harmony with the order of heaven. They also believed that “indulgences” of any kind–food, sex, alcohol, or sensual music–could contribute to illness, disturb the spirit, and thereby damage the heart-mind connection. Certain musical styles could lead to excess and imbalance, and different parts of the body were linked to these disharmonies, e.g., arms, hands, legs, feet, and the sexual organs, which led to sexual desires and inappropriate touching of the body. Balanced music focused on meditation, intention, and harmonious emotions.
Xunzi, born in the Zhao Dynasty (c. 300 BCE), and one of the three preeminent Confucian philosophers of the classical period in China, emphasized the beneficial effects upon centrality, harmony, and the balance of music on individual physiology and moral psychology:
“Thus, when music is performed, then one’s intent is pure, when ritual is cultivated, one’s conduct is complete. One’s ears and eyes are perspicacious and clear; one’s blood and Qi are harmonized and balanced.”
This description of music and its effects on physiology is reminiscent of the reported clarity and balance a patient experiences when serotonin production is stimulated, and the neurotransmitter is released by the needling or vibrational stimulation of the appropriate acupuncture or acu-sound points in a treatment.
Xunzi also emphasized the medical, moral, and spiritual effects of music on the community and state. Once again, a distinction was made between excessive, ignoble, seductive sounds and balanced, noble, appropriate sounds.
Peaceful, orderly music gave each individual in the community and state a sense of well-being, similar to that invoked by a meditation, and chaotic, unbalanced music stimulated desire solely for fulfillment of the senses. Music and moderation were achieved through musical ceremonies and rites. In Chinese philosophy, moral integrity kept the body free from pathogens and disease.
Ritual was a stabilizing influence for the people, providing them with appropriate balance, clarity, and order. For example, Confucius did not sing on the days that he had wept, in accordance with the Chinese belief that this would have exhausted his emotions, confused his psyche, and invited the possibility of illness and even death.
The Huang Kung: The Yellow Bell
The origins of Chinese musical practices can be traced back to 2700 BCE, when they were established by Ling-Lun at the court of the legendary Yellow Emperor, Huang-Ti. The ancient Chinese consciously sought to align the quotidian activities of their existence, especially their music, with cosmic principles, seeking to maintain ideal proportions that would facilitate a vital connection to tian or Heaven. This philosophy is akin to that espoused by the Pythagoreans, and it was Pythagoras who, according to his biographers, first formulated a musical scale based upon planetary tones.
In order to standardize musical practice, the ancient Chinese created a unique system using a foundation tone of absolute pitch that represented a cosmic sound, the Huang Kung. The tone of this Yellow Bell was referred to as the Kung, and it was believed to be the direct manifestation of the divine will, i.e., that of the emperor himself.
The instrument used to produce this celestial frequency was a precisely tuned bamboo pipe, manufactured to precise and exacting standards. According to imperial law, the length of this bamboo resonator became a standard Chinese measurement, and its capacity to hold a specific number of grains of rice was likewise strictly regulated.
Given the paramount importance of this tonal benchmark, it is perhaps not surprising that the Imperial Office of Music was likewise responsible for the maintenance of all standard weights and measurements. An ancient text, The Memorial of Music, contains a warning relating to the detection of a discrepancy in the pitch of the Kung tone:
“If the Kung is disturbed, then there is disorganization (in the Kingdom), and the Princes (in the Provinces) are arrogant.” 
Each province of the empire had in its possession a similar bamboo pipe, which was originally tuned to that in the imperial palace. In order to ensure that the Kung tone remained pure, the emperor would, at regular intervals, dispatch the Minister of Music to every province in the kingdom to check the local versions of the Yellow Bell for any deviations from the imperial standard.
It should be noted that the emperor did not send his generals; based upon the minister’s assessment of the conformity, or lack thereof, in the frequency of the regional instruments, the emperor would then have certain knowledge that, for example, funds had been embezzled from the imperial treasury, or that the military or the regional princes were thinking of rebelling and conspiring to attack the Imperial City.
Thus this imperially sanctioned standard of harmony, the Huang Kung, was employed in a practical way to maintain peace and tranquility throughout the kingdom. It is astonishing to contemplate the otherworldliness of a civilization organized along such lines, one in which a harmony of intention would serve as the unifying strand of an entire culture.
“To embody the Logos was not believed to be the calling of only one person […] All beings were its manifestation: all could aspire to that purity and illumination of consciousness whereby they became the perfect, undistorted presence of the Word. And thus, the very purpose of Chinese music was towards this end … the raising and purifying of all …”
Researchers have determined that the pitch of the Kung tone was approximately an F, in Western tunings. However, the Kung tone varied periodically for a variety of reasons:
- As astrological configurations changed, so did the universal harmonies;
- Progression from one zodiacal month to another indicated the necessity for a modulation in musical standards;
- The emperor of each new dynasty saw fit to establish their own basis for the Huang Kung, and thus a new Kung tone became the embodiment of heavenly harmony;
- In modifying the Kung for these various reasons, rigidity was thereby avoided, and this permitted the Chinese people as a whole to embrace change more readily.
The Impact of Western Music on Chinese Culture
The Last Dynasty of China, the Qing (1644–1912 CE)
Upon his accession to the throne, the last emperor of China, Puyi, determined that the pitch of the Kung should be modified to the note D. One wonders whether the collapse of the millennia-old Chinese Empire and the traditions of Chinese culture can be attributed to mismanagement of this crucial element.
Prior to the Qing Dynasty, Roman Catholic missionaries had visited China and had brought their religious music with them, and, over time, it was only natural that educated Chinese would also become interested in Western secular music. It is further documented that, for the very first time, the emperor permitted Western classical music to be performed in his court.
As professional opera singers and musicians, we have a great reverence for the aesthetically beautiful and expressive compositions that are the legacy of the Western classical music tradition. However, as it evolved from the earliest forms, based on Greek prototypes, Western music became less than exclusively sacred in its essence. In the Renaissance and thereafter, it suffered an increasing alienation from those philosophical principles of cosmic tuning first established in Greece by Pythagoras and his descendants. By the time the Chinese would have been exposed to it in the early twentieth century, it was largely a secular phenomenon, which, despite its artistic appeal, would have been negative in its impact upon the populace.
The Loss of Heavenly Connection and the Demise of the Chinese Empire
With the introduction of these exotic foreign harmonies, music, which had also represented a moral and spiritual compass for the Chinese, was irretrievably tainted. Perhaps the hospitality of the emperor was the beginning of the end. No matter how aesthetically pleasing this new music was, it did not adhere to the principles that were the cornerstone of Chinese musical philosophy.
With the blessing of the emperor, Western musical instruments were then introduced, and professors of European music were accepted at his court. These emissaries of the West instructed the Chinese how to perform classical music, indoctrinating them in a tonal system that was diametrically opposed to that of their native culture.
A further corrupting influence was the subsequent arrival of Western popular music, which found ready audiences in sophisticated metropolises like Shanghai and Hong Kong. Too late, the emperor realized the fatal error he had made in permitting the standards of music to deteriorate, and, although he tried to reinstitute the imperial musical paradigm, his efforts for musical reform went unheeded, and his voice fell on deaf ears. With his forced abdication in the wake of the Xinhai Revolution in 1912, 5,000 years of Chinese imperial continuity came to an abrupt end.
MichelAngelo, MFA, CTM
An opera singer, classical composer, pianist, medical astrologer, healer, diviner, and writer, MichelAngelo served as the advisor on astrological medicine and musical studies to Acutonics® Institute of Integral Medicine, LLC, and co-authored the textbook From Galaxies to Cells: Planetary Science, Harmony and Medicine. He has written articles on medical astrology for Oriental Medicine Journal, Dell Horoscope, and Infinity Astrological Magazine. Since 2019, MichelAngelo has self-published three collections of essays: Random Ramblings of an Astrological Autodidact, Miscellaneous Maunderings about the Starry Sky, and A Congeries of Cosmic Considerations, and is at work on a fourth.
 Sigerson, John and Kathy Wolfe (1992) A Manual on the Rudiments of Tuning and Registration, book 1: Introduction and Human Singing Voice. Washington, DC: Schiller Institute (Kindle version).
 Bradley, Erica Fox, Music, Cosmology and the Politics of Harmony in Early China, SUNY Press, Albany, NY, 2012, pp.4-5.
 Ibid., p.134; from Yang, Chunqiu Zuozhuan zhu, 10.1.12, 1221-22.
 Empedocles also proposed the existence of two great organizing principles within the Universe, Love and Strife, which are analogous to the Chinese Yin and Yang.
 Apel, Willi, Harvard Dictionary of Music, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1968, p. 137.
 Tame, David, The Secret Power of Music, Destiny Books, New York, NY, 1984, p.57.