Not all meditation music is created equally. Some just doesn't hit the spot and take you into that relaxing zone; that place where all your worries and stresses fall away amidst a serene backdrop of calming, peaceful sounds.
It's a specialist area and, as with most endeavors in life, the more experience a creator has the better the outcome.
As a consumer there's a number of things you should look for in meditative music, and for creators there's a number of considerations for the production process.
If you're looking for meditation music that will aid your practice, or relaxing music that you can have on in the background while you work, then here's what you should look for.
The 5 Key Properties of Good Meditation Music
1. Soothing Sounds
The best meditation music comprises a soundscape of soothing sounds that the brain automatically associates with relaxation and responds accordingly.
For example, our Deep Meditation uses natural rainfall and forest ambience. Chill Pill uses dreamy pads to entrance the mind into a state of deep relaxation, and Theta Rain uses a live field recording of tropical rainfall.
The brain has an affinity to natural sounds and instruments that replicate sounds found in nature. It relaxes when it hears the calming properties of a water stream, a soft wind, rainfall, and ocean waves.
Such sounds are hypnotic and the brain tends to relax and follow along in their presence.
Ambient sounds are also non-threatening. Our brains are primally wired to differentiate threats from non-threats, and since most threatening sounds are fairly high pitched, we hear well in the high register so that we can identify these threats.
Consider how unpleasant a car alarm is, or a loud scream. Consider how thunder or a loud bang shakes us to attention.
So when constructing meditation music, it makes sense to avoid startling sounds and high pitched sounds that cause the brain to perceive a threat and want to escape.
When using sounds that do have a fairly high pitch- like Cricket ambience or bird call – these sound can be softened with EQ and compression and by placing them at the back of the composition.
Unlike standard musical compositions, a meditation music composition should be consistent and not unnerve the listener when changes are introduced.
Musical changes should be subtle, and transitioning from one section to another should be seamless and feel comfortable for the listener.
Dramatic changes in instrumentation should be avoided, and using instrumentation with a slow attack (smooth and slow) is wise, as this contributes to a feeling of relaxation and calm.
Music that is out of key, of that changes key is often problematic. The music should remain harmonious and not dissonant.
Using a soft pad as the backbone of a meditation composition is a good foundation to build upon. Think of this base like a pillow, a soft platform from which everything else is built.
Laying soft piano phrases or gentle flute on top, combined with subtle ambient sounds, is a great recipe for good meditation music.
A meditation soundtrack should be at least 15 minutes long, preferably more than that.
Meditation music is designed to be long-play. It is a journey, unlike a pop or rock song, which is designed to be more of an adrenaline rush.
Moreover, it takes a few minutes or more to get settled in and for the mind to relax, so it's pointless buying a track that is 5-10 minutes long and over before you've had time to benefit.
We recommend sessions of a minimum of 15 minutes. Our tracks are provided in both 30 and 60-minute versions.
4. Good Quality
Quality always starts with the production process itself. Using good quality source sounds and ensuring a well-balanced mix is really important.
For producers, it is important not to push meditation music like you would when mastering other genres. This can result in loss of dynamic range and cause the track to lose warmth.
Meditation music should be listened to at a lower volume anyway, and you will often find the final master is generally much lower in volume (5 db. or so) than regular music.
With the introduction of compressed digital formats like the .mp3 file, music quality diminished in comparison to that of the CD. With device space now a precious commodity, this is the preferred way that music is consumed.
When buying in .mp3 format, always aim to purchase the least compressed file level, which is 320 Kbps.
5. Guided or Enhanced
For those who struggle with meditation due to an overactive mind or inability to relax, it is a good idea to start out with guided or enhanced mediation music.
A guided meditation features the voice of an experienced meditator, who assists your meditation by guiding you into a meditative state.
The problem with guided meditations is that you need to find a track with a teacher whose voice soothes you rather than distracts you.
Consider whether you have a preference for a male or female voice, or whether you prefer an American accent over a British accent. It won't matter how good the content is if you don't feel at ease with the voiceover.
The recording of the voice makes a huge difference too. A professionally recorded voice will sound warm and up close, whereas a poorly recorded voice will often sound tinny and distant.
The following three things determine the quality of the recording:
- Quality of the microphone
- The acoustics of the recording studio
- The experience of the vocalist and sound engineer
Brainwave entrainment music, like binaural beats, uses special sound frequencies to activate a response in the brain.
The frequencies can target specific states of mind for wellbeing and improvement such as anxiety, pain, sleep, focus, and memory.
The frequencies in binaural beats are usually overlaid with meditative music to create a soothing listening experience. There is no special listening requirement, except that you wear headphones.
If you're looking for effective meditation music, follow the five principles set out above: soothing, consistent, long-play, good quality, guided or enhanced.
If you find all these things in one piece of music, you're a lot more likely to access a deep state of meditation and enjoy the music.