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16/3: Chakras

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The Chakras and the Overtones

When we are in resonance, we are in balance. One of the most effective ways to use Chakra music to heal the mind and body is to realize that every cell in your body absorbs and emits sound, with a specific resonate sound frequency. The most direct way to influence the resonance of the body with sound healing music is through the Chakras.  – Jane Ma’ati Smith

The fact that 53-eq can so closely evoke the higher harmonics, especially the seventh harmonic which is rarely used in traditional music, has also interested music-lovers who believe in the ancient Indian yogic system of chakras, astrology and other metaphysical systems. They believe that there are seven energy centers or chakras in the human body radiating from the nerve ganglia of the spinal system from the base of the spine to the top of the head. The seven chakras also correspond to the archetypical energies of earth (dense), water (flow), fire (transformation), air (softness), sound (communication), light (revelation) and thought (information). Sounds, colors, deities, herbs, planets and other cosmic connections have also been made. The root chakra or first chakra is at the very bottom of the spine, and radiates the energy of survival (the color red, planet Saturn). The second chakra radiates sexual energy (Orange, the Moon). The third chakra is about power, security, will, energy and social position (Yellow, Mars or the Sun). The fourth chakra is sometimes called the “heart” chakra, the energy of relationship and love (Green, Venus). It is sometimes thought of as the first chakra to radiate an energy which is higher than our animalistic programming for survival, procreation and position in the herd. The fifth or throat chakra is about spiritual discernment and communication (bright blue, Mercury). The sixth chakra is located at the brow and speaks to intuition and psychic powers (Indigo Blue, Neptune).  The seventh chakra, at the crown of the head, is the source of spiritual enlightenment and understanding (Violet, Uranus).

The system of chakras is not unlike many systems of spiritual ascendance, such as the orders of angels in Medieval Christian lore. And there are many musical systems which divide musical traditions by how “evolved” they are spiritually.

For yogis who employ the system of chakras, a healthy development of the human psyche happens by the progressive awakening of the seven chakras. The survival chakra awakens in advanced fetal development and infancy. The second chakra awakens in toddlers as they enjoy general sensations, locomotion and loving embraces. They realize that there is not one-ness with the Mother, but two-ness: self and other, still very closely connected even in this early stage of individuation. The sexual aspect of the second chakra awakens more fully at puberty. The third chakra awakens in early childhood: the “terrible twos” as children discover their own power. The “heart” chakra awakens in mid-childhood, as loving bonds with family and then friends are formed. The fifth chakra opens up in late childhood as children become creative and more communicative. The sixth chakra may open up in the tween years with “what if?” games, greater abstraction, and psychic intuitions. The seventh chakra unfolds in lucky kids in their teen years and beyond.

How might the chakra system apply to 53-eq tunings and music in general? Let’s go back in history a bit while we look at the overtone series and how it has been used. Let’s start with the root chakra. Well, of course, the fundamental tone of the harmonic series is energetically comparable to the first or root chakra. This is the basic note of the tonic chord in a harmonic progression, the “home base,” as it were. Dronal music from around the world evokes this root note. In India, a change in the root note of a drone would be the equivalent of the destruction of the entire universe. Other musical systems imply a drone, whether it is played or not. It’s the home base, the starting and ending point of any musical journey. Even chord progressions within a tonal system keep returning to the home key.

Now let’s go up to the second chakra, which is a powerful sexual center. The second harmonic is, of course, the octave. The recognition of our two-ness and our desire for sexual union for both physical pleasure and a return to one-ness is what the sexual chakra is all about. Interestingly, the octave or second harmonic is two notes very closely related to each other, such as the note C and the note C an octave above.

The third harmonic (the perfect fifth) is where real musical movement begins. You can’t have a musical system with only the first and second harmonic, or in our example, you’d never leave the root note C. The third chakra is about power, place in the herd, energy. The ancient cultures which allowed only the first three harmonics were also cultures that cared a lot about structures of power. Here are very static societies where the social order tends to be very fixed. And the power of the King is unlimited. Social duty trumps love and personal interests. “Three-limit” music, where only relationships based on the first three harmonics, are most common in very hierarchical societies like those of ancient China and the early Catholic Church. There is also a certain purity to these lower harmonics.

The fourth chakra is where the heart awakens, and one learns about authentic relationships and love. Historically, this was allowed into Western European music in the Ars Nova period, around 1300 A.D., and only gradually. The folk singers of the time sang passionate love songs about how they would gladly burn in hell forever for pursuing a forbidden love. And they sang the just major and minor thirds and sixths of the fifth harmonic which had been declared “dissonant” by early Catholic music theorists. By the Renaissance period (1450-1600) and up to around 1800, the fifth harmonic was accepted into the harmonic fabric of Western European music. Then, around the time of the Industrial Revolution, the move to standardize everything brought us back to a version of third-harmonic-only music. The 12-eq system that became the standard for all music starting around the late 1700s is, in fact, a close approximation of the 12-note Pythagorean system of perfect fifths only. So as huge machines and big cities and industrial smokestacks dominated our world, our musical universe reverted to a third-chakra music tuning system expressing pure power once again! Even as the Romantics chafed against industrialization, they were saddled with a musical template that was much better suited to industrial standardization than it was to individualistic emotional expression. One of the great advantages of the 53-eq template is that the fifth harmonic (just major third) can be heard with great accuracy, and its affective power can be included in your music. You can also play the Pythagorean major third with even greater accuracy. The 53-eq template allows you to choose your chakra!

Another advantage of the 53-eq template is its capacity to allow for key changes in just intonation. If you choose to explore the seven chakras and the first seven prime harmonics, you are employing an ancient Indian yogic system. The root note is seen as the center of the universe, and I’m not sure if modulation would even be appropriate in a chakra-based musical system. So the ability to modulate in 53-eq is a technique you may not even want to pull out of the toolbox.

In hypothesizing an energetic connection between the chakras and the overtones, let’s remember that the seven relevant ascending overtones possibly connected to the chakras are the first seven prime ratios only: the first, second, third, fifth, seventh, eleventh and thirteenth harmonics. The fourth harmonic is two octaves up from the root and simply repeats the octave relationship we already hear in the second harmonic. The sixth harmonic is merely a multiple of the third harmonic, etc. So the fourth chakra could be related to the fourth prime harmonic (the fifth harmonic), which has a distinctly different “energy” about it.

The fifth harmonic, with its just thirds and sixths, is natural for any society that is not as fully coalesced and under central control, such as China or the early Catholics. So while China had a mighty and vast empire, India was a collection of smaller kingdoms. Fifth-harmonic, emotionally-charged music was common there. In the Middle East, which had its caliphates but also had its warlords, it’s interesting to note that theorists were divided on the appropriateness of employing fourth-chakra harmonies into their musical systems. Some accepted it, some rejected it, and some found ways to claim that fifth-harmonic/fourth chakra singing was actually a version of third-harmonic relationships.  The early Byzantine Church, perhaps influenced by Middle Eastern theorists, also accepted fifth-harmonic tonal relationships in their chants.

As I mentioned in an earlier chapter, the seventh harmonic has been looked upon with great suspicion and fear by many ancient societies. It is allowed in some theoretical systems of the Middle East and occasionally in the music of India, but hardly at all in western Europe or China. If we move up to the fifth chakra–the throat chakra of spiritual discernment, creativity, purification and communication—how might that find a connection with the seventh harmonic (the fifth of the prime harmonics)?

Here we are in uncharted territory. There aren’t a lot of spiritual traditions to refer to when attempting to merge the seventh harmonic and the fifth chakra!  But one aspect of the throat chakra is that there is a kind of constricting quality to it. The heart chakra resides in the very expansive chest area, just below the intersection of the horizontal arms and the vertical spine. Love feels very expansive. Spiritual discernment is about making choices, and the narrowing physical area of the throat chakra does indeed remind me of the narrowing choices I have when I try to do voicing of seventh-harmonic chord progressions. There are very few right or even tolerable ways to make these chord progressions sound good.  I can make mistakes in voicing with my chords as they move by thirds and fifths, and they would still sound sort of OK. If I make any voicing error at all in a seventh-harmonic progression, the resulting harmonic journey is absolutely lost on the ear. Great discernment is called for!

As for the fifth chakra being an energetic center for creativity, in our century there is no harmonic territory offering more creative potential than the seventh harmonic. In the twentieth century, we had blues singers adding the seventh harmonic to the top of simple blues chord progressions. Even that created quite a stir among the racist critics of the time. But until this book, no one has thoroughly explored the possibility of moving through the seventh harmonic tonal universe and giving it an equal place in tonality with the thirds and fifths.

Still, my experience as a seventh-harmonic listener is only partially aligned with what I read about the fifth chakra. There are two “affects” I notice right away with seventh-harmonic intervals. The first is what I called “emotion squared” in my seventh-harmonic chapter. A blues minor third sounds way sadder and more deeply despairing to me than a regular minor third (either just or Pythagorean). That unmistakable affect does not fit neatly into the things I read about the fifth chakra. However, the other unmistakable affect of the natural seventh harmonic is that of a kind of “spaciness.” As the chakras go into the higher realms, they express higher and higher levels of spiritual awareness. So the seventh harmonic can certainly find ways to express “higher spiritual realms” than we are used to in our third and fourth chakra music. In 53-eq, we can create a beautiful third-harmonic minor third (third chakra), a very expressive fifth-harmonic minor third (fourth chakra), and a profoundly despairing seventh-harmonic minor third (fifth chakra??), with three distinct pitches in 53-eq! We can also create three minor sevenths: and the fifth-chakra harmonic seventh is indeed very “spacy” and can be used to express very “high” levels of spiritual energy in music.

And what about the higher harmonics—the 11th harmonic for the sixth chakra and the thirteenth harmonic for the seventh chakra? The 53-eq template can sort of approximate the 11th harmonic somewhat (8 cents off — not close enough in my opinion). 53-eq can approximate the 13th harmonic rather well (3 cents off). If you want to engage in a musical exploration of all of the chakras and the harmonics, the 53-eq template is not as ideal as a pure just-intonation tuning, especially around the sixth chakra/11th harmonic. And I have heard compositions with scales and harmonies built entirely off of the 13th harmonic (seventh “crown” chakra?) and it is really spacy. That may have been an expression of the temperament of the composer, but it seemed to be the ideal harmonic for a musical expression of spiritual masters departing for the skies. And here’s a simple example of the sound of the 13th harmonic being employed in a very earthy way. About 2/3 of the way through this article, you can hear a simple etude employing a scale entirely built off of `13th-harmonic intervals: The 53-eq template is OK for representing the 13th harmonic because it is only 3 cents off (1/33 of a half-step), but you would have to use your ear to decide if you need more precision than this for such a high harmonic.

Interestingly, it is the full introduction of the seventh harmonic into our musical fabric that is what is up next in our musical evolution. And as our culture has attained a certain level of connection to our emotions (fourth chakra), perhaps we are ready to deeply explore the energy of our fifth chakra and unleash a new level of creativity and spiritual discernment. And the 53-eq template is beautifully suited for the world to take that step.

Here is a scientific example of the power of harmonics. The experimenters took a drop of water, subjected it to an acoustical field to make the drop float (held together by surface tension). Then, as they exposed it to higher and higher harmonics, the droplet would have four points for the fourth harmonic, five points for the fifth harmonic, seven points for the seventh harmonic, etc. Eventually the droplet falls apart if the number of points created by the very high harmonics breaks through the limit of what surface tension can hold together: Apparently, this happens around the seventh harmonic!

If you would like to learn more about the ancient and futuristic tunings worldwide you can buy the entire book, The Grand Unified Theory of Music, in pdf form for $25 with hundreds of embedded musical examples of scales and chords from all over the world.

A free introduction to what The Grand Unified Theory of Music offers is on this website and includes both text and a few musical examples from each webpage. If you would like to learn more about this chapter and the full contents of this entire e-book, you can buy The Grand Unified Theory of Music for $25, with hundreds of embedded musical examples of scales and chords from all over the world — and ideas for how to set up your computer system —


You’ll get a personalized password you can use to see the entire e-book. Inside the full book, you will also get a link to the complete pdf file of this e-book, which you can read on your Kindle or similar device. The links to the hundreds of mp3 sound files – the same ones you can hear on the website — will also be included. This is “Version 1.0” of The Grand Unified Theory of Music. Because it is an e-book, additions, corrections and improvements in the sound may be added at any time. The Grand Unified Theory of Music is Copyright © 2018 by Christopher Mohr. All rights reserved.

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