Turkish Music Therapy

The effect of music on humans has inspired the development of myriad therapeutic methods over a thousand years. And we are still benefiting from those experiments today.

Music and movement have been used among the Turks for therapeutic purposes since the earliest times.  Starting in the period of the Bakshi-Kam shamans, movements accompanied by music played on the pentatonic (five-tone) scale have been part and parcel of healing rituals in Central Asia. Turning to the ‘Ancestral Spirit’ in the ceremony, the healer would enhance his spiritual power through music and movement until he went into a trance, and then administer treatment to the afflicted person using the knowledge he had attained.

This tradition still continues among Central Asian Turks.  The ‘bakshi dance’ (aka ‘karacorga’, a dance symbolizing the walk of a sacred ancestor), which has come down to our day, is one of the oldest and most important examples of music and movement therapy. The instruments used include the kılkopuz (two-stringed), dombura (long-necked lute) and şankopuz (Jew’s harp) as well as a variety of other rhythmic instruments.

The therapy is administered through the musical ‘maqam’s or modes that arose approximately a thousand years ago in the culture and history of Khorasan (Land of the Sun), which included the present-day regions of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Iran Azerbaijan, Afghanistan and Kazakhistan. These maqams number some five hundred today. According to information that has come down to us from Farabi, Avicenna (Ibn-i Sina), Rhazes (Abu Bakr Razi), Haşim Bey, Gevrekzade Hafız Hasan Efendi and Hasan ?uuri, the various maqams influence various emotions and organs of the human body, and organ diseases and emotional disturbances can be cured by administering such therapy.

Rast maqam: Zodiac sign: Aries. Affects the bones, brain and body fats.  Prevents drowsiness. Aids in quickening slowed pulse. Good against mental illness. Cures paralysis. Affects the head and eyes. Has effects on the muscles and relaxes spasms.
Rehavî maqam: Zodiac sign: Libra. Beneficial for the right shoulder, headaches, nosebleeds, facial paralysis and mental illness. Eases childbirth. Beneficial for the chest, stomach and buttocks area.
Hüseynî maqam:  Zodiac sign: Scorpio. Cures afflictions of the heart, soul and liver. Relieves heartburn. Beneficial for the left shoulder. Good against malaria. Has an influence on the internal organs. Strengthens the immune system. Evokes feelings of calm and tranquility.
Hicaz maqam:  Zodiac sign: Sagittarius. Has a therapeutic effect on the bones and brain and on childhood diseases. Has an specially strong influence on the kidneys and the uro-genital system. The chest area is another key area of influence. Quickens slow pulse. Enhances the body’s ability to flush out toxins.
Acem Aşirân maqam: Affects the bones and the brain. Helps the body store fat. Induces inspiration and a sense of creativity. Facilitates childbirth in women. Has pain killing and spasm relaxing properties.
Uşşak maqam: Zodiac sign: Pisces. Beneficial for the heart, discomfort in the legs and the pain of gout. Evokes feelings of joy, strength and courage. Induces a sense of relaxation so is beneficial for sleep and rest.
Bûselik maqam: Zodiac sign: Capricorn. Affects the circulation, the stomach area, and the hip, thigh and leg regions. Is beneficial for cramps, backache and high blood pressure. Evokes a sense of strength and peace of mind. There is important evidence that it is effective against mental illness.
Isfahân maqam: Zodiac sign: Gemini. Beneficial for the neck, nape of the neck, shoulders and left elbow. Evokes feelings of self-confidence and harmony with one’s surroundings, fosters ease of movement, mental alertness, emotional renewal, induces regularity, opens up the mind and refreshes the memory.
Neva maqam: Zodiac sign: Aquarius. Beneficial to the kidneys, spinal cord, the hip and thigh regions, and the right side of the chest. Relieves melancholy/depression and enhances pleasure. Useful in treating mental illness.
Irak maqam: Zodiac sign: Taurus. Beneficial for meningitis, brain diseases and disorders and mental illness. Affects the shoulders, arms, the left arm in particular, and the hands. Said to influence the upper part of the head. Enhances pleasure and influences thinking and conceptualizing. Dispels fear.
Büzürk maqam: Zodiac sign: Leo. Purges the mind of negative thoughts and eliminates anxiety and fear. Gives focus to thought. Beneficial against severe pain, especially in the case of brain damage.  Enhances strength. Is beneficial for the neck, throat, chest, liver, heart and buttocks area.
Zirefgend maqam: Zodiac sign: Cancer. Beneficial for back and joint pain and for the hips. Affects the heart, liver, chest, hips and right shoulder and is effective against facial paralysis.  Enhances social pleasure and evokes a sense of deep emotion.
Zengüle maqam: Zodiac sign: Virgo.  Has a connection with the hip joints and inner leg. Beneficial against cardiac disease, meningitis and diseases of the brain. Relieves inflammation of the liver and stomach and is used to treat brain disorders and mental illness.

Music therapy first began to be used at the Nureddin Hospital in Damascus, which was commissioned by the Seljuk Sultan Nureddin Zengi 900 years ago. There are legends as well as documents to the effect that music therapy was administered by trained practitioners at centers in Mardin (1108-1122), Kayseri (1205), Sivas (1217), Divriği (1228), Amasya (1308), Bursa (1400), Istanbul-Fatih (1470), Edirne (1484-1488) and Manisa (1539). (See the Travel Book of the 17th century Ottoman traveler, Evliya Çelebi, and the the records of the waqfs, or charitable foundations, of the time.)

Traditional Turkish music and movement therapy has now begun to be explored by modern medicine. Members of The Group for the Research and Promotion of Turkish Music (TÜMATA) and their students have undertaken promotional and educational activities both at home and abroad (in Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Spain). When Turkish music therapy was used in a neurology project conducted at the Meidling Clinic in Vienna, some patients were observed to emerge from a comatose state and exhibit increased alpha and theta rhythms in EEGs, in a phenomenon known as the trans effect. Projects in the fields of oncology, cardiology, immunology and geriatrics are continuing apace.
Similarly, in studies carried out on patients with chronic pain in the Algology branch of Gazi University School of Medicine in Ankara, blood tests done both before and after therapy sessions showed that stress hormones were lowered by 40 percent in the subjects tested.
Again, in the Child Psychiatry Department of the same school, the use of music and movement therapy with autistic, spastic and hyperactive children showed that communication, perception and learning were all improved following the treatment.