Lawfulness in Music and Man

Vitruvian Man

All over the physical human form, there are proportions and numbers everywhere. For example, each section of the index finger, from the tip to the base of the wrist, is larger than the preceding one by about the Fibonacci ratio of 1.618 which also fits the Fibonacci numbers 2, 3, 5 and 8.

Fibonacci in hand

The ratio of our forearm to our hand is also 1.618.

“This is why music is so closely related to mathematics. In music too, we can express everything in numbers. With colour you cannot do this. Colour cannot be defined by mathematical formulae, but sound can be. You can count how many acoustic vibrations there are in an interval. You can express the relationship in the interval precisely, in numbers. For mathematics is, in fact, inward hearing. It is spirit”. (“Our 12 senses”, Albert Soesmann)

Pythagoras believed that music is numbers made perceptible to us. Pythagoras first identified that the pitch of a musical note is in inverse proportion to the length of the string that produces it, and that intervals between harmonious sound frequencies form simple numerical ratios.( This principle by Pythagoras is now being used to make our guitars, woodwind instruments with holes at different positions, the hammer of the piano striking strings of different lengths in order to produce the various notes.  

This concept by Pythagoras was used by Dr Armin Husemann to illustrate how the changing proportions of our head to body from conception to adulthood can be represented as musical notes. In his work, Dr Husemann used a single string and tuned it to C. Such an instrument is called a monochord. In the figure below, the lowest C indicates the size of the head as a whole because the body is not formed as yet when the ovum is fertilised by the sperm. There is just a full and whole zygote in the beginning. 

Monochord and Man

At birth the head is now 1/4 the size of the body which in terms of pitch on the monochord string is 2 octaves higher than the lower C at the point of fertilisation.  

We can see and measure our physical human forms according to the various proportions. These proportions are “heard” inaudibly as musical notes and pitches. So one can really say that the human form is constantly singing in harmony and order. 


Music is the Human Being

Agrippa Man

According to Steiner, music is able to bring our “inner human configuration into outer visibility”. (Steiner 1998) Music is a representation of the human being. 3 musical elements build up this representation of Man:

1) the downbeat or accent of the beat,

2) the pulse or tempo and the

3) flowing melody.

The downbeats or accents in the music are the legs of the music which provides the driving motion forward. In the downbeat, there is verticalisation with the feeling of weight and gravity downwards. After landing, the beat will change into an upward motion through overcoming the weight and gravity. This upward motion is called the upbeat in music. Such a vertical downward and upward motion of the beat represents the walking motion of Man. Songs written in the 2/4 or 4/4 meters with strong accents in the 1st and 3rd beat creates a walking feel which is why many of the marching songs are written to these meters. “The Saints Go Marching By” is an example of a song written to the 4/4 meter.

The pulse or tempo is the heartbeat of the song determining how fast the music moves. This gives the feeling of the pulsating heartbeat in the song which is the representation of Man’s torso region.  

The melodic phrasing is the head of the song. It gives the flowing and breathing quality in music. The start of a melodic phrase is like the start of an inhalation. The melodic phrases in the music are the breaths taken throughout the music. Within the melodic phrases the ideas and images of the song are being carried. I am often fascinated when I asked my pupils during music classes what is the story or image behind a particular melody, they are often very quick and able to form their own mental pictures of what the melody is trying to convey even without the lyrics. Most often, their interpretations of the melody are very close to what the lyrics are trying to convey. 

Taken in totality the 3 musical elements described, the image of Man appears as a form created in time. The joy and pleasure in music is derived from harmonising and balancing these 3 elements in their constantly changing relationships to create a unified whole. This balance and harmony exists also in Man and was written in the 6th century by the Roman philosopher Anicius Manlius Severinus Boëthius in the text “De Musica” as follows:

“Whoever penetrates into his own self perceives human music [musica humana]. For what unites the incorporeal nature of reason with the body if not a certain harmony and, as it were, a careful tuning of low and high pitches as though producing one consonance? What other than this unites the parts of the soul, which…is composed of the rational and the irrational? What is it that intermingles the elements of the body or holds together the parts of the body in an established order?” (Abrams, 2017)

Boëthius is referring to the harmony within us, of how disparate elements like body and soul, rational and irrational can exist in a state of equilibrium.

The real nature of Music


The above photograph by Lothar Schiffler is a good spatial representation of music. This is taken with high speed cameras to capture the flight of birds in the sky. This picture shows the form of the bird’s flight over a period of time. Music expresses movements in time and can be considered as a language that organises emotions in time.   

Like the flight of birds, music is like the wind. It enters for a few milliseconds and then disappears again, totally empty, leaving only its fragrance resounding within us. The physical tone enters into the current moment in time, then disappears but the source of the tones is always sounding all the time which may only be perceived by inner hearing and the spirit in Man. Pythagoras may have had this experience when the term “music of the spheres” was coined.

“It is hardly possible to discuss the musical element in the concepts to which one is accustomed in ordinary life. The reason is simply that the musical element really does not exist in the physical world. It must first be created in the given physical world. This caused people like Goethe to consider the musical element as a kind of ideal of all forms of art. Hence, Goethe said that music is entirely form and substance and requires no other content save that within its own element”. (Steiner 1983)

Music has no material form but its form exists in time for example the form of a symphony, a piano sonata or a 12 bar blues. These forms are structures in time that the soul can participate and dance within. When the soul dances to music, sometimes the physical body will follow as well. Music is an art form which is really separate from the material realm:

“And indeed it is from music we learn to free ourselves from matter”. (Steiner 1998)

“For if music were to become materialistic, it would actually be false: it is not there ‘there!’ Every other form of matter is present in the world and is insistent. But musical sounds are not to be found in the material world in their original form. We have to devise a means of producing them; they must first be made”. (Steiner 1998)

Sound is only produced when something hard and earthly is removed from the earth which cannot move by itself. This is then brought into movement that is no longer aligned to the earth. (Soesman 1990)   

This intangible nature of music resonates strongly with the soul because it is a part of the human constitution that is also freed from the physical body. The soul which is freed from the physical body quickly finds its home in music: “the soul element that lives in the human being lies between the notes”. (Steiner 1998).

If music is to be represented spatially, the closest art form perhaps will be architecture because it has the stability of structure and foundation like the compositional form, the melody expressed in the outline of the building with its various curves, lines, leaps and the musical harmony found in the overall blend of the building and how various elements of the building fit or not fit together like in post-modern architecture. This idea was expressed by Vladimir Jankelevitch: “music as a species of architecture, magical architecture. Music is nothing more than “structures”: plans, amounts, melodic lines, instrument colours”. (Jankélévitch 2003).

Steiner also expressed something similar: “The musical arts arise from the sculptural and architectural arts because the sculptural and architectural arts are outwardly what the musical arts are inwardly”. (Steiner 1996, p. 167).    

Plato described astronomy and music as “twinned studies of sensual recognition: astronomy for the eyes, music for the ears, and both requiring knowledge of numerical proportions”. (Davis cited in wikipedia, 2017) Neuro-acoustician Jeffrey Thompson recorded sounds from space and found that “sounds from the smallest moon of Uranus (Miranda) resemble vocal choirs. But Thompson was most intrigued by the sounds produced by the rings of Uranus, which are virtually identical to those produced by Tibetan bowls”. (Gaynor 2002)

How do we experience music?

Beyond the hearing of the tones, music can be experienced in the whole human being. The rhythmic element in music is strongly felt in the limbs. According to Rudolf Steiner, “what people outwardly express in movement they inwardly bring to rest in the soul and thus begin to transform into tones”. (Steiner in the “Study of Man”). External movement is changed into internal movement within the soul and “it even begins to sing when the limbs move in harmony with the cosmic movements of the universe” (Steiner 1996). Such an inner experience is the origin of feelings in us. The internal movement is then finally stilled in the head and experienced as tones.   

“According to Schopenhauer, a blind unconscious will rules the entire world. It forms the stones, then brings forth plants from the stones, and so on,” (Steiner 1983). Tone is a “direct expression of the will itself” (Steiner 1983) and this can be experienced through the movement of the limbs which according to Steiner “have a relationship to cosmic movement”. (Steiner 1996). The connection between the rhythmic element in music and the limbs is made by the blood which is the enabler of movement in human beings.  

According to Steiner, the blood circulation carries rhythm to the limbs and that the breath carries the melody to the head. So music can fill our whole human being. (Steiner 2016)

“When we hear a series of tones, we encounter them as breathing human beings. The cerebrospinal fluid is continuously moving up and down. When we listen to music, the inner rhythm of the cerebrospinal fluid moving up and down encounters what occurs within our hearing organs as a result of the tones. Thus there is a continuous clash of the inner vibrating music of our breathing with what happens in the ear when listening to music. Our experience of music exists in the balance between our hearing and our rhythmic breathing”. (Steiner 2001)

“The cerebrospinal fluid continually moves up and down. The fluid moves up and down rhythmically from the brain through the spinal column. Then it radiates out into the abdominal cavity, where inhalation forces it back into the cerebral cavity, from whence it flows back out with exhaling. Our cerebrospinal fluid moves up and down in a continuous process that extends throughout the remainder of the organism; a continuous vibrating movement essentially fills the whole human being and is connected with breathing”. (Steiner 2001)

“That is easily confirmed if one puts one’s hand on the anterior fontanelle of an infant; one can then observe how it rises as the child breathes in and falls as it breathes out. It is, then, in the first instance the rhythm of the lungs which continues into the cerebral region, rather than that of the heart”. (Husemann 1994)

In the experience of the melody, the pure, musical and feeling-bound element (Steiner 2016) is separated from the airborne, acoustical element by the ears and brought into the fluid constitution of Man. The cerebrospinal fluid which is part of this fluid constitution is now infused with this experience of the tone and will move them up the spinal column to the brain which experiences the melody strongly.

Josef Matthias Hauer has also written on the idea that the melody is an experience of the head. “A melody, for example, is not a set of pitches in the external world, but rather a succession of internally generated mental movements or gestures”. (Covach 1990) This is developed from the idea of Hauer where the interval is a kind of “mental-spiritual gesture, a movement of the musical mind”. (Covach 1990)

Music can also directly affect the breathing which in turn will influence the rising and falling rhythm of the cerebrospinal fluid. In singing and playing of the wind instruments, the breathing is affected very strongly by the music and the melodic element is experienced acutely in the head with such active participation in music. Often, one realises that the melody in music can conjure up certain images, imagination in our head and communicates in its own language to us. Such a phenomena is often processed and experienced in the head. I have found it most interesting that when I sing or play a tune to a class without the lyrics and asked them what the song is about, different children will have their own imagination and interpretation of the melody. Often their interpretation are not far off from the actual meaning of the song that is carried in the lyrics. Melody has a powerful way to connect to our thinking capacity with its own logic and language. 

The harmonic aspect of music however is experienced strongly in the chest and the feeling realm. Harmonies are created when 2 or more notes are sounded together at the same time. When different notes are sounded together, there then exists a space between them and a new sound is created which is different from the individual tones.

How do we hear music?

To the educated modern man, sounds are vibrations moving through a medium like air that reaches the ear, transformed into electrical signals and perceived in the brain’s auditory cortex as sounds. Daniel Levitin, the record producer turned neurologist wrote on the hearing process: “Sound waves impinge on the ear drums and pinnae, setting off a chain of mechanical and neurochemical events, the end product of which is an internal mental image we call pitch……..Sound is a mental image created by the brain in response to vibrating molecules”. (Levitin 2008). Further down this process of hearing, Levitin explained that “if I put electrodes in your auditory cortex and play a pure tone in your ears at 440 Hz, there are neurons in your auditory cortex that will fire at precisely that frequency, causing the electrode to emit electrical activity at 440 Hz- for pitch, what goes into the ear comes out of the ear”. (Levitin 2008)

Neuroscience explains a musical note or pitch as a mental image in the brain. However, music is clearly experienced as an auditory and pleasurable sensation within and a far cry from the vibrational phenomena theorized by modern physics. How then can a phenomena like molecules vibrating in the air be transformed into a tonal and musical experience?

To bridge these 2 disparate phenomena, Albert Soesman’s explanation has to be considered: “we can say with respect to hearing that we erase the sound vibrations. We never hear a vibration, in fact, we eliminate it. We erase everything earthly, and this is possible because the organ of hearing has freed itself from its instinctive aspect; the ear has been internalized”. (Soesman 1990). Soesman explained that instinct is “something that binds us to the earth.” (Soesman 1990) For the metal in the church bell to resound beautifully or the strings of the violin to sing in its gorgeous tone, these materials first have to be freed from the earth. In the same way, the ear has to be liberated from its earthly aspect for hearing to happen. (Soesman 1990).

This can be observed in embryology:

“Bone marrow is man’s source of life, from the metabolic point of view; it is what keeps the blood alive. Now, in the petrous bone, into which hearing has withdrawn, something odd happens. At a certain moment we see in embryology how hosts of cells go to this petrous bone to ‘eat’ the bone marrow our source of life. The most ‘holy space’ is devoured and becomes a dead, cavelike space. We can recognize the same process in this. For this bone is at first quite alive, but then all this life is removed”. (Soesman 1990)

Steiner wrote something quite similar:

“Ear is the organ that in fact separates the airborne aspect from the tone itself, so that we receive the tone we experience as resonance or reflection. The ear is actually the organ that reflects back inside us the tone living in the air, but does so in a way that separates it from the element of air. The tone we hear then lives in the etheric element”. The ear “overcomes the tone resounding in the ear and to reflect the pure etheric experience of the tone into our inner being”. (Steiner 2016).  

In hearing, tone production and the formation of the ear organ, there is a similar process of liberation and separation from the earthly aspect.

Music as a Force

Music can be experienced as a force, whether it is the vibration on the feet coming from the low notes of the cello, in the disco with the bass and drums’ sound thumping on the body or the shamanistic drumming inducing a trance-like state. Music can move the whole human being.  

It is natural and inviting to dance to the music one loves or to music with a strong beat. Music not only stirs and brings emotions into movement but it has the ability to move bodies as well. “The embodied nature of music, the indivisibility of movement and sound, the anthropologist John Blacking writes, characterizes music across cultures and across times”. (Levitin 2008)

Renowned neurologist Oliver Sacks has been working with Connie Tomaino at the Beth Abraham Health Services in the Bronx, New York amongst patients suffering from Parkinson’s disease. The 2 have developed a very successful music therapy program to help the patients gain some level of mobility. According to Sacks and Tomaino:

“For people who have motor problems, music acts as a catalyst. Hearing a beat can be enough to carry a person from thinking to moving,” says Tomaino. Even patients who previously couldn’t walk have been able to “bound out of their chairs and start dancing as long as the music was present.” (Gaynor 2002)

Music is always in movement and changing. The soul or inner emotional world is also always moving. When the soul is heavy and stagnant, it is like depression and there is the feeling of weight and immobility. Music can stimulate inner soul movement through its effects on emotions.

The chinese character for music is 乐 (yue) which also means joy pronounced as “le”. Music is believed to have a strong connection to the joy and emotions of people since ancient times. In the pre-Qin dynasty before China was united, Confucius has been travelling the various warring states and compiled 6 ancient scrolls with writings preserved from ancient times for the royal family for their own personal education. These 6 scrolls contain wisdom for the rulers and there was 1 which was about music. Unfortunately, this music scroll has since been lost and cannot be found. However, in the scroll on “Rites”, it contains some of the ancient Chinese writings on music. It was believed that music has the power to control the hearts and minds of the populace and is used as a governance tool. Music was believed to originate from the hearts of Man due to the internal movement of emotions and is produced by imitating the harmonies within the world. The condition of society will shape the music of the times depending if the society is in peace or war. In the ancient Chinese text, it is believed that a learned and wise man is one who knows and can appreciate music. The nature of music lies in creating unity and helping people love one another. To this aspect, the ancient royal courts created music to shape and influence the hearts and minds of the populace. Interestingly, Plato also mentioned something similar: “Any musical innovation is full of danger to the whole state, and ought to be prohibited. When modes of music change, the fundamental laws of the state always change with them”. (Amazing Discoveries, 2010). The modes mentioned by Plato are the musical modes for example the dorian, phrygian and mixolydian.

This regular soul movement was also described by Augustine of Hippo as follows:

“The last Book of “De Musica” adopts a more philosophical and less of a descriptive approach. Written as a conclusion/ morality of the Treatise, St. Augustine analyzes the movements of the heart and the soul, those of the body, and those of the universe. He introduces the concept of a mystical ladder, escalating several levels of harmonies until it reaches the “mother of all harmonies”, the eternal and immutable harmony of God, the source of all movements; but more importantly, the source of energy taming all these movements and making harmony and peace prevail”. (Chami, 2010)

Too much emotional movement on the other hand may cause hysteria. So there needs to be a rhythmic, regular movement within the soul life to maintain the balance.

Music as white light


“I could compare my music to white light which contains all colours. Only a prism can divide the colours and make them appear; this prism could be the spirit of the listener.”  Arvo Pärt

The first piece of music I heard from Arvo Pärt was “Tabula Rasa”. I was sitting on the sofa in the living room at 2am in the morning. It was the most beautiful Sound I have ever heard. Listening to this, I saw angels in pure white light surrounding me. There was so much warmth and love flowing through me as the music vibrated through my ears and soul.

Arvo Pärt’s music is like the clearest water coming into me and cleansing me. His tintinnabuli way of writing constructs alternating silences with lilting melodies and harmonies. The music breathes like a living being. It is a resonant bell that holds us captive and letting us go only when its beauty is done with us.

The silence in Arvo Pärt’s music serves as spaces for us to hear the deep inner music inside of our hearts. Pärt’s music led me deep into my inner space. Its a beautiful space- free from worries, fears and anger. There is only Light and Beauty in this heart space.

Here is Arvo Pärt’s “Tabula Rasa” for you to listen:

I wish you every success as I have had to find your way back to the tiny and most sacred space of your heart through Music.

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