Shamanism and music combined thousands of years ago. By observing nature, shamans perceived that the power of sound could be used to help and heal others. The first drums and musical instruments were put to shamanic use, as were many of the early singing traditions. According to folklorist Kira Van Deusen, "In a shaman's world music operates in several ways. It helps the shaman and other participants in a ceremony to locate and enter the inner world, opening the inner, spiritual ear and eye. Musical sound calls helping spirits and transports the shaman on the journey. Both the rhythm and the timbre of musical sound help heal the patient through the effects of specific frequencies and musical styles on the human body."
Music is an essential tool in shamanic ritual and healing work. Music is the carrier of the specific intention or desired outcome of the ritual. Music is used to contain the energetic or spiritual aspect of the sacred space, which is defined physically by the assembled people who participate. Dance and song propel the ritual process forward by providing a vehicle for self-expression within the sacred space. Together the musicians create the necessary container that channels the energy generated by the performance in ways that the shaman can guide toward the ritual's intended outcome.
Three elements are constantly interacting in communal healing rites: the shaman who guides the flow and pattern of the ritual, the musicians who contain the sacred space, and the gathered people who participate. Interaction between all three elements is necessary to maintain the energy, flow and intention of the ritual.
Music is also used to crack open the part of the self that holds emotions in check. For example, in funeral rites among the Dagara people of
West Africa, drumming and singing are used to open
the mourners to grief. Grief is then channeled in such a way that it will
convey the newly deceased soul to the afterlife. Without the help of the
drummers, musicians and singers, the powerful emotional energy cannot be
unleashed. If not channeled properly, grief is useless to the dead and
dangerous to the living. According to Christina Pratt, author of An Encyclopedia of Shamanism, "This
musical container of the ritual space must be maintained continuously. The
musicians do not rest as long as the ritual continues, though the ritual may
last one to four full days."