Photo by Alastair Vance

Though Chinese medicine is gaining attention in the world through the likes of acupuncture and cupping, few know about an alternative treatment in Chinese medicine: Five-element music therapy.

Different to western music, ancient Chinese music consists of only five notes which are called Gong, Shang, Jiao, Zhi, Yu, roughly matching with the tones of Do, Re, Mi, So, La. The ancient Chinese believed that these five notes were connected with the five elements of the nature (metal, wood, water, fire, earth). That's why when listening to this ancient music, people can feel a simple, slow and natural flow instead of the strong rhythm or grand symphony which is more common in western music.

According to the traditional Chinese medical book The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Medicine, the five elements in nature also represent five main organs of the human body (heart, liver, spleen, lung, kidney). For example, the "jiao" note, corresponding to the wood element, influences the liver and helps relieve depression due its spring-like sound; the "Zhi" note belongs to the fire element, and it helps nourish the heart and invigorate blood flow. Thus a good combination of the notes can help balance the yin and yang and maintain the human body in a state of equilibrium and good health.

High Mountains Flowing Water

Numerous clinical studies have been conducted in China to test the healing power of classical Chinese music. In 2010, a study by Nanjing Chinese Medicine Hospital found out that the ancient music Han Gong Qiu Yue (Autumn Moon at the Han Palace) helped the patients to peace their minds and cure insomnia. In 2013, researchers from Beijing University of Chinese Medicine conducted an experiment with elderly people. The study showed that ancient natural music like Mei Hua San Nong (Plum Blossom Melodies) and Gao Shan Liu Shui (High Mountain Flowing Water) can alleviate the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder.

Plum Blossom Melodies

Even though these studies do not specifically prove which musical note can help which specific organ, they certainly provide scientific validations to psychological power the ancient Chinese music possesses. And imagine - this form of music therapy was found out by ancient Chinese people more than 2000 years ago!