Some bits and pieces from several forum postings (shown here in no particular order) I made about the uses of Music in Magick practice.
"Music - what role does it play in occultism?"
Most practitioners I've spoken with tend to use it to fill space in the background of a ritual and as a mood enhancer. A few (including myself) like to make use of drumming and particular scales/musical improvisation to enhance or spur on altered states of consciousness. In India, this sort of application has been going on for centuries (which is one of the reasons why I have been fascinated with their classical music forms for years). Most ancient musical systems viewed music as a sacred thing, even as a type of magick due to its ability to alter a person's moods and behaviour.
"Tell us how big a role music plays in your occult world!"
I've been a studying and performing musician for years, and was lucky to get into ancient and renaissance/medieval musical styles while attending University. That led me to study of foreign music where scales/tones are still regarded as powerful/magickal in their ability to affect oneself and one's environment. I've been spending some spare time over the years to meditate on intervals themselves (all tunings - microtones especially) since intervals are the building blocks of all music, and it only makes sense that an occultist would wish to understand more exactly how sound can predictably (or not) affect a magickal operation and consciousness in general. Fretless instruments (since I'm a string player) combined with open tunings are great for studying microtones, and any of the foreign instruments that allow for a drone make excellent tools for meditation or ritual work.
"but it was Pythagoras who standardized our musical scale as it is today."
I hate to disagree but that's quite incorrect with regard to western tonal music (and particularly music that makes use of the modern equal tempered scale). In the Pythagorean equivalent of the 'major' mode, the 3rd, 6th, and 7th tones are slightly sharp even when compared with the modern major even-tempered scale (which appears to be derived from Gioseffo Zarlino's work 1540-94).
Side note: Yes, slightly sharp or flat notes DO make a huge difference when it comes to scales, the performance of music, and the effects of sound on human consciousness. Even uneducated non-musicians will notice a difference in music played with slight variations in the tuning of scale tones (unless they are completely tone-deaf).
Some misc. Historical Information
Even/equal temperament itself has been created and recreated (and usually discarded) many times over the centuries (by Chinese, Greeks, etc.), but the form of it most used today in western culture wasn't solidified until the development of the piano and instruments that required the ability to play somewhat 'in tune' in all keys. (Even temperament is a drastically out of tune compromise by the way, that unfortunately has destroyed the color and expressiveness of much music by creating chords that are never truly in tune no matter what instrument they're played on. When playing my guitars, for example, I always have to 'bend' the major 3rds so that they sound in tune since they're always slightly too sharp no matter what you do. The 5ths can usually be made in tune, but the major 3rds and minor 7ths especially are always too sharp on instruments that make use of equal temperament.)
As recently as 200 years ago, violinists still made a distinction between sharps and flats while performing - notes such as G# and Ab weren't considered enharmonic. The musical scale(s) or intervals as they are today in western culture are the result of several centuries of polyphonic experimentation and much sonic compromise.
By the way - there are many other scales besides the 'major'/Ionian that have been made use of for centuries. Glareanus in his Dodecachordon first noted the major scale or mode in Basel in 1547, so it's relatively young. He referred to it as the Ionian mode and apparently sought to make it the fundamental scale. Prior to this, most western compositions made use of modal melodies and borrowings from the Middle East and India (chords were not common to those countries due to a lack of equal temperament in intervals - it would have sounded dissonant). The leftover church 'modes' as they are known and used today have developed into the system used by contemporary Jazz and some Rock musicians as follows:
R = Root M = Major m = minor P = Perfect A = Augmented d = diminished
"The unaltered, unproduced human voice achieves more and more significance as I grow older."
I have some of that same feeling, but for me it's more directed toward pure intervals on any instrument - including the voice. I don't mean to get off track or sound too technical, but if it interests anyone, here are some of the things I've been studying with sound:
If you play a string on a guitar (or play a note on any instrument) you will be simultaneously sounding an infinite series of notes along with the fundamental tone. Among those notes are the octave, fifth, octave again, and then something that resembles a major scale only with a #4th tone instead (called the 'lydian' scale in western music). Chords that sound pleasing to us are often those that contain notes of the lower/more-audible end of the harmonic series (R - 3 - 5 etc. - the major triad), and the more perfectly in tune they are with the actual notes of the actual harmonic series of the fundamental tone (e.g. the string you plucked) the more pleasing and 'in tune' they'll sound. A piano is pretty much out of tune all around since it uses even-tempered tuning (which is a compromise not based upon notes tuned to any one fundamental tone and its harmonic series). So for my meditational/magick work, I prefer to use fretless instruments or instruments that have moveable frets for more accurate tuning. I'm finding that particular scales and tones produce particular and nearly predictable effects in me (I'll spare you some of the details for now - probably be posting them online at my website eventually). To me, the most natural music is that of the harmonic series when sounded on any instrument including the voice. When you think about it, the first melodic instruments would have had to make use of it - tubes of bamboo or reeds, primitive strings, even the voice has harmonic overtones that give it its particular quality of sound. I say tubes because when you play a brass instrument such as a trombone, you make exclusive use of the harmonic series. It appears to apply to virtually every instrument. I have a posting that I'm converting into html and possibly adding on to that I'll be adding to my site in a little while if this type of study interests anyone. There is also a book that might still be available by Alain Danielou (originally published in french) called "Music and the Power of Sound - the effects of tuning and interval on consciousness." It was originally published in the 1940's I think, but it's quite interesting if you're into the technical details of the history and uses of tuning.
While we're still somewhat on the topic of music in occultism I thought I'd throw out a few very brief examples of effects of modal scales (sometimes referred to as the medieval church modes, though the modern equivalents aren't identical with them) on my consciousness that I've noticed through meditation/magick work. These effects will probably be different for each person who works with them. You'll either have to be a musician or have a friend who is a musician who can improvise with these scales while a tonic/root tone drones in the background. A drone is very important for this type of exercise, since in (ancient) styles such as Indian classical music, notes are thought to make no sense unless they can be compared with the tonic, which should be audible at all times.
Ionian (C - D - E - F - G - A - B - C): Compositions with this mode/scale tend to really grate against me in the worst way. This is probably due to the settled/superficial feeling that it evokes in the songs that use it (or it could be just that it's too often used).
Dorian (C - D - Eb - F - G - A - Bb - C): Dark but not too dark and a bit mellow feeling. I tend to see a lot of browns and dark oranges with it. In some compositions the feeling of this mode can be quite contemplative.
Phrygian (C - Db - Eb - F - G - Ab - Bb - C): Still dark but with more fire. Can be good for generating energy and aggressive visceral power. Especially good when combined with Phrygian-dominant improvisation (a scale commonly called Bhairava in the Indian system. Bhairava is roughly approximate to C - Db - E - F - G - Ab - Bb - C, except the 2nd and 6th notes should be komal or slightly flatter in pitch)
Lydian (C - D - E - F# - G - A - B - C): Has an otherworldly feel that lacks physical grounding. Very good for detaching from the physical senses since it feels a bit 'floaty'. Compositions using this scale tend to dwell on the #4th interval in it, and that makes it easy to recognize.
Mixolydian (C - D - E - F - G - A - Bb - C): This one is often used in evening ragas in north Indian classical music. For me it always provides a very settled/anchored mellow feeling with lots of mental images of green fields. Easily puts me into a gentle trance with a feeling of wellbeing.
Aeolian (C - D - Eb - F - G - Ab - Bb - C): Dark with a mixture of reds and browns - sometimes purples depending on the use. Aeolian, Dorian, and Phrygian are so similar when played in the same key (for comparison) that I often alternate between them all depending on the emotional/energy effect desired. Phrygian's b2 is good for creating a feeling of tension. Aeolian's m6 creates tension but to a lesser degree and darkens the mood. Dorian's M6 mellows and lightens the mood more.
Locrian (C - Db - Eb - F - Gb - Ab - Bb - C): Tense and dissonant all the way through. I don't often make use of it since it lacks the P5 interval. Playing a d5 with a Root isn't pleasant to most ears and restricts musical and desirable magickal possibilities for me. C - Eb - Gb would be the basic triad derived from this scale, and that's coincidentally known as the tritone or Diabolus in Musica. During the Inquisition times, people would have been burned at the stake for playing those intervals together since that was considered the equivalent of ringing Satan's doorbell. Hmmm, perhaps some people might like to use compositions with this scale to assist demonic evocation. If nothing else, they'll certainly raise hell with the neighbours trying ;)