Pythagoras – Father of Music Therapy

by | Feb 15, 2024 | Music Therapy | 0 comments

Many of us remember the Pythagorean Theorem from our high school algebra days. But did you know that Pythagoras, besides being a brilliant mathematician, was also a musician?  Many therapy practitioners consider him to be the “Father of Music Therapy.” I would like to explore some history and see how this came about. The key thought here is that music and sound have been utilized for healing for much longer than most people think.

Just because our current medical system is just now starting to pay attention to the power of music to heal, doesn’t mean it hasn’t been understood and used for millennia. We even find reference in scripture to King David, before he became king, playing his harp to King Saul whenever he had a “troubling spirit” come over him, and the music would relieve the king of that trouble. David even predates Pythagoras by about 500 years, since he lived around 1000 B.C.

Pythagoras lived from 570 -490 B.C. according to the historical record. Wikipedia states that he was known for his expertise in mathematics, ethics, music theory, metaphysics, mysticism, politics, and religion. The bio lists some of his accomplishments.  “In antiquity, Pythagoras was credited with many mathematical and scientific discoveries, including the Pythagorean theorem, Pythagorean tuning, the five regular solids, the Theory of Proportions, the sphericity of the Earth, and the identity of the morning and evening stars as the planet Venus. It was said that he was the first man to call himself a philosopher (“lover of wisdom”) and that he was the first to divide the globe into five climatic zones.” Some historians debate whether he made all those contributions, however.

It is agreed by classical historians that the area of music was one of his most significant contributions. “Pythagoras of Samos, Greece, was not only one of the greatest mathematicians and philosophers of all time, but he was also an extremely accomplished musician. His instrument of choice was the kithara which is an ancient form of the guitar. He also sang whilst he played his music. He was known to be able to soothe both animals and people with his music and he came to recognize the effect that his music had on the senses and the emotions of those people that he played for. He eventually came to call it ‘musical medicine.”

It is also credited to Pythagoras that he identified specific types and genres of music that facilitated desired physiological effects. For example, he recommended slow rhythmic music to help calm an agitated person as well as assist in preparing to retire for the night to sleep. He also prescribed “happy music” to apply when waking in the morning to help rouse the energy that would be needed for the day’s activities.

A story is told about a young man who, “had had a few too many drinks and was filled with jealousy and placed some kindling about his mistress’s door with the plans to burn her house down. However, the young man was distracted by a flutist who was nearby playing a tune in the Phrygian mode. Pythagoras encouraged the musician to play a rhythmic mode, which made the intoxicated young man suddenly become composed and return home after first gathering his kindling from his mistress’s door.”

How Pythagorean Works on Sound Healing

As Pythagoras shared his observations and theories, many health practitioners began to put these ideas into practice. “In ancient Greece, patients recovering from illness could leave their rooms to attend musical performances to assist in their healing and quick recovery…. Plato believed that all our senses were gifted to us by God to speak to our souls in a pleasurable way through the vibration of music. The word ‘music’ comes from the Muses, the daughters of Zeus who were the patron goddesses of creative and intellectual endeavors. Music and singing are important practices.”

Healing with Music: How Music Therapy was Adopted in Ancient Greece to Heal Mind, Body and Spirit

In his capacity as “the father of music”, Pythagoras discovered musical intervals and taught that you could heal using sound and harmonic frequencies. He was the first person to prescribe music as medicine.

“Pythagoras stated each celestial body every atom, produces a particular sound on account of its movement, its rhythm, or vibration. All these sounds and vibrations form a universal harmony in which each element, while having its function and character, contributes to the whole. Pythagoras was the first person to use the word cosmos and applied the above theory to the whole cosmos, where, he said each planet, and each sphere had its note, referred to as ‘music of the spheres.’ Flowing from this he affirmed music is present everywhere and governs all temporal cycles, such as seasons, biological cycles, and all the rhythms of nature.” Of note is the idea that even though these vibrations may be outside our audible capacity, they do exist, nevertheless.

With advancing technology and the ability to measure different cell frequencies and astronomical phenomena, Pythagoras’ vision is fast becoming a modern-day reality. Plato, who was a student of Pythagoras said, “Music and rhythm find their way into the secret places of the soul.”

Pythagoras did not have the advantage of the various instruments and technologies that are available to us today, yet many of his observations were accurate and are now being proven with the technology that is available today.

“In his investigation of therapeutic sound frequencies, Pythagoras discovered that the seven keys of the Greek system of music had the power to incite various emotions. Above all, certain melodies devised as remedies against the passions of the soul describe the therapeutic music of Pythagoras. Pythagorean Harmonic Healing remedied sadness and lamentation. Hence rage and anger were often cured with therapeutic sound frequencies….

Pythagoras recognized the profound effect of music on the senses and emotions. What he termed “musical medicine” had a great influence on the body and mind. Stringed interments interested Pythagoras greatly.” He even went so far as to believe that other types of instruments were not as beneficial.

“One of his most important discoveries was that the harmonic musical intervals could be expressed by perfect numerical ratios. Pythagoras used various Pythagorean Harmonic Healing compositions as a “medicine” for diseases of the body, mind, and soul. Through therapeutic sound frequencies, Pythagoras performed what he called soul adjustments.”

Pythagoras had a profound impact on the care of diseased patients using music in his time in history. As he shared his knowledge, techniques, and observations, a whole school of musical training and discipline emerged. The discoveries and modes of practice that he developed are currently gaining new attention in our modern medical establishment and our emerging technologies are providing us with scientific proof of many of the concepts Pythagoras intuitively knew and developed. Truly, he has earned the title of “Father of Healing Music.”


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The Value of Music in Life Applications


This is a compilation of articles from around the internet that discuss the effects of Music in various areas of life. This is a collaborative effort of lovers of music in general and harp music in particular. See an article that you think is appropriate for the improvement in the quality of life of others? Let us know so that we can add it to our collection! Check out the full collection

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