Since 2015, Dr. Shelley Snow has been part of a scientific team – along with Dr. Alexandre Lehmann, Neuroscientist, and Dr. Nicolo Bernardi, Neuropsychologist - conducting neuroscientific research on a form of sound work known as ‘toning’. This research has been conducted at the International Laboratory for Brain, Music and Sound Research in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
Study on Toning published in Scientific Reports:
“Cardiorespiratory optimization during improvised singing and toning”
Bernardi, N.F., Snow, S., Peretz, I., Orozco Perez H.D., Sabet-Kassouf N., Lehmann, A. (2017)
The purpose of this study was to conduct basic research on toning, in order to establish a scientific foundation for the understanding of this phenomenon. This publication focuses on the cardiorespiratory data from the study. The key findings are that “Toning significantly improved heart rate variability, ventilatory efficiency, and slowed the respiration rate to almost exactly six breaths per minute, a pattern that is known to optimize cardiovascular function…”
Singing was found to also positively impact cardiorespiratory function, but to a lesser degree.
Six breaths per minute is a respiration rate found in other studies of meditative practices. It is a respiration rate that is recommended for people who want to improve their heart rate variability, Increased heart rate variability exerts a calming effect on the autonomic nervous system. Breathing at six breaths per minute is increasingly being linked to mental and emotional calm as well.
An important part of this finding relates to the fact that toning spontaneously resulted in a respiration rate of six breaths per minute. Moreover, the 20 participants in this study were ‘naïve’ in the sense that they had never engaged in toning before, and were not aware of potential benefits of toning. Thus, it was found that by simply engaging in seven minutes of toning open vowel sounds on the full exhalation of the breath, on pitches of the participants’ choosing, respiration rates went from normal rates (12 to 16 breaths per minute at rest) to six breaths per minute, a significant reduction.
The Experience and Effects of Toning
Snow, S., Bernardi, N., Sabet-Kassouf, N., Moran, D., Lehmann, A. (2018)
Journal of Music Therapy, 55(2), 221–250
Toning is a form of vocalizing that utilizes the natural voice to express sounds ranging from cries, grunts, and groans to open vowel sounds and humming on the full exhalation of the breath. Music therapists are increasingly utilizing toning in their clinical practice for a variety of therapeutic aims. Yet the effects of toning are not widely understood, with limited research to date.
To gather and analyze descriptive data to better understand the experience and effects of self-administered toning. Primary aims were to: 1) understand participants’ experiences with toning, and any effects resulting from their experiences; 2) measure participants’ emotional response to toning and singing; and 3) examine similarities and differences across the two datasets.
Participants were 20 adults, ages 20–40 years, who were non-musicians. We conducted semi-structured interviews and used qualitative content analysis to identify major themes and subcategories related to participants’ toning experiences. Participants also completed a 48-item questionnaire on music and emotions. Results from the interview and questionnaire data were then compared and contrasted.
Results indicate that shifts in attention, awareness, and consciousness frequently occurred when individuals engaged in toning. “Meditative,” “calm,” and “relaxed” were the three most common descriptors of toning. In contrast, singing evoked stronger emotions and associations than toning, with the three most common descriptors including “nostalgia,” “tenderness,” and “joyful activation.” Findings also suggest that the physical experience with vibrations and the sound of one’s own voice may be attributes of toning that likely contribute to its success in inducing altered states of awareness, attention, and consciousness.
This study significantly expands our understanding of the experience and effects of toning, and has direct implications for clinical practice, including the identification of effective strategies to successfully engage adults in toning.
The Effects of Toning, Listening and Singing on Psychophysiological Responses
Rider, M., Mickey, C., Weldin, C. and Hawkinson, R. (1991)
This much earlier study found that toning lowers heart rate, significantly more than the singing condition due to the activation of deep breathing mechanisms through toning.
Healing Through Sound: An Exploration of a Vocal Sound Healing Method in Great Britain
Snow, S. (2011)
This Ph.D. thesis describes ethnographic research conducted on a vocal sound healing method practiced in Great Britain at the College of Sound Healing, founded by acupuncturist and sound healer Simon Heather.
This phenomenological, narrative inquiry embraces a perspective recognizing the dialogic nature of ethnographic research, and includes the perspective of sensory anthropology by exploring the role of the senses in sound healing.
The research also positions sound healing in relation to the field of music therapy. The study involved a sample of individuals who had undergone sound healing. Interviews consisted of two parts: the participant's life story, and their experiences with sound healing. Data collection consisted of interviews and participant observation/sensation.
Findings of the study reflect a wide range of experiences which embrace a holistic conception of health encompassing both mind and body. Categories evolving out of participants' own language used to describe their experiences include the following: physical, mental, insight, emotional and spiritual.
Effects such as the release of emotions and trauma, a change from negative to more positive thought patterns, the elimination of physical pain, relaxing, calming effects and receiving deeper perceptions of life situations, are among the experiences described by participants.
Contributions to an evolving theory of sound healing include: The recognition that altered states of consciousness appear to play an important role in facilitating certain kinds of healing; the phenomenon of after-effects of sound healing which extend and evolve for sometimes days, weeks and even months after a sound healing session; the role of the senses in terms of healing efficacy, with colors experienced as healing in and of themselves; and an analysis of the relationship between intuition, intention and the sounds utilized in this method of sound healing.
Download Doctoral Thesis (254-page pdf 1.1 megaBytes)