Health Benefits of Singing: A Perspective from Traditional Chinese Medicine and Chi Kung


  • Ralph Lorenz Kent State University


It is often said that singing is good for the soul, and recent medical studies show that singing is also good for the body. In this paper I will present a perspective from Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Chi Kung on why singing is such an effective “sound” therapy. Chi Kung (Qigong) is a Chinese term for energy work, representing a large body of exercises that have breath work at the core. A subset of Chi Kung focuses on specific sounds that are practiced to improve the health of internal organs; I will concentrate on one such routine, the Six Healing Sounds (Liu Zi Jue). Tao Hongling is credited with creating this exercise during the Southern and Northern Dynasties (420-589 AD). Although these exercises originate from China, the universal sounds apply to languages and singers around the world. Sound is a useful component of Chi Kung because vibration is energy that can be directed throughout the body. TCM recognizes twelve meridians, or energy pathways, in the body—channels associated with twelve organs. In the Six Healing Sounds, each sound is said to provide benefit to a specific organ. The five elements of traditional Chinese philosophy are also associated, resulting in these connections: 1) HA benefits the heart (fire element), 2) HU benefits the spleen (earth), 3) SS benefits the lungs (metal), 4) SHU benefits the liver (wood), 5) CHOO benefits the kidneys (water), and 6) SEE benefits the triple burner—bodily function rather than an organ (mutual fire). In this session I will demonstrate the six healing sounds and discuss their applicability to Western singing practices. Over the last fifteen centuries, the Six Healing Sounds have a history of enhancing health, offering a unique perspective on why singing has a multitude of health benefits.

Author Biography

Ralph Lorenz, Kent State University

Ralph Lorenz is Associate Dean in the College of the Arts and an associate professor of music theory in the School of Music at Kent State University. He received BMus and MA degrees in composition from California State University Long Beach, where he also studied choral conducting under Frank Pooler. He holds a PhD in music theory from Indiana University. Ralph was awarded the University Dissertation Fellowship in Music Theory at Indiana University, where his dissertation was entitled "Pedagogical Implications of musica practica in Sixteenth-Century Wittenberg." Ralph is a former editor of the Indiana Theory Review and has published articles and reviews in the Journal of Music Theory Pedagogy, Theoria, Indiana Theory Review, and 20th Century Music. He has presented papers at national and international conferences such as the annual meetings of the Society for Music Theory, The College Music Society, the German Studies Association, and the International Congress on Medieval Studies. His main research interests include theory and practice in sixteenth- and twentieth-century music, film music, theory pedagogy, and the health benefits of music. Appointed to the faculty at Kent State University in 1997, Ralph previously taught at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside and in visiting appointments at Indiana University and the University of Louisville. He is also active as a church musician, conducting vocal and handbell choirs. Ralph is a long-time student of Chinese martial arts and is particularly interested in the healing aspects of the systems found in kung fu, Taijiquan, and Chi Kung.