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Studying with Alfred Tomatis

The TODAY SHOW did a special report on music therapy and its use with children with autism. The report focused on the work being done by a specific center in Maryland I believe and I have received quite a few phone calls as a result asking if I do this kind of therapy since I also studied with Dr. Alfred Tomatis. The short answer to that question is "no." However, I thought my readers might be interested to hear a little bit of the fascinating experience I had when I took a two-week intensive seminar with him. The location was Phoenix, Arizona and the topic was "The Healing Power of Gregorian Chant." Some very highly esteemed musicians and therapists had gathered there including Don Campbell who later wrote "The Mozart Effect." Dr. Tomatis was lecturing us during the day on how Gregorian chant, Mozart violin concertos and a person's own mother's voice affects their ear development and their resulting psychological development.

Many of us were also participating in an optional, parallel program that demonstrated what Dr. Tomatis was lecturing on. It involved listening through headphones for two hours each morning before the lectures and two hours each evening after the lectures to Gregorian chant (filtered, then unfiltered), Mozart violin concertos (filtered, then unfiltered), and finally a woman ( not my mother!) reading a story such as "The Little Prince." As we listened to all of these various types of music and sounds, we were simultaneously supposed to be doing some totally right-brained activity such as watercolor painting (which I did) or sewing; i.e. something creative and not a left-brain activity like reading or balancing a checkbook. According to Tomatis, as we listened to the filtered music becoming progressively unfiltered and more toward its "normal" sound, we would experience a "sonic re-birth." At the conclusion of the two weeks I had an opportunity to show my very simplistic watercolor drawings to him and he claimed that he could see exactly the moment when I had my "re-birth." I must admit I was a little skeptical, but it was fun and periodically I go back and look and my watercolor drawings and wonder if I really did have a sonic rebirth.

I also learned a technique called "skeletal humming" which I often teach in my toning and chanting workshops. This has probably been the most valuable thing I learned from Dr. Tomatis so I have to admit that I've been rather surprised to see his name associated so much with autism because I never heard him mention autism at all! See below for information about "The Tomatis Method." (this info and more can be found at http://www.tomatis.net/bethesda.html

The theory underlying the Tomatis Method of sound stimulation is based on a developmental model. This presupposes that many of the behavioral and communicative idiosyncrasies observed in Autism and PDD, are not the causes of the disorder, but rather are symptoms based on underlying biologically based regulatory disorders. The focus of the treatment is on the sensory systems involved in sensory regulation, in the effort to provide an improved foundation for normal development to take place upon. There are many studies on how lack of, or abnormal stimulation, results in delayed and atypical development. The same process occurs in children with Autism and PDD. Their central nervous systems does not allow them to properly perceive, process and organize sensory information from their bodies and their environment, that are necessary to respond adaptively and develop normally.

The inner ear, which is really the vestibular-cochlear system, is one of the earliest sensory systems to develop and mylinize in utero. The ear completes its development well before all the other sensory organs. The inner ear reaches adult size and become fully operational, sending information to the developing temporal lobe, by the fifth month in utero. The ears primacy in the developmental process allows it to develops and maintains connections with the rest of the emerging nervous system. This is why stimulation to this system, via sound, provides an important portal into the central nervous system.

Dr. Tomatis has talked about the importance of the fetus' early listening in the later development of audio-vocal control and language. In experiments he made to duplicate listening from within the womb, he found that the low frequency sounds of respiration, heart beat, and visceral noises were filtered out through the liquid environment. He found that mainly the filtered, high frequency sounds of the mother's voice were what was left. These high frequency filtered sounds comprised a large part of what the fetus was listening to. These sounds are transmitted rapidly via bone conduction from the mother's spinal column to the fetus.

Observations have shown that babies are born imprinted to their mother's voice, just as Konrad Lorenz found in his study of ducks which he imprinted to his voice. Phonemes are the smallest units of sound from which we form words. There are 50 phonemes from which all language is formed. By the seventh month in utero, the fetus responds to each of the phonemes in a word (spoken by the mother) with a specific muscular movement. There is also no time delay between the sensory input of the mothers voice and the motor response of the baby. This is consistent with Tomatis' theory that the fetus is listening to the mothers voice, via rapid bone conduction, and that this listening plays an important role in the development of audio-vocal control and language.

It is important to give specific mention to the vestibular portion of the inner ear mechanism. This can be called the "ear of the body." The vestibular system detects motion, gravity and provides us with our sense of balance. The vestibular system influences the underlying state of our muscle tone through its direct influence on anti-gravity musculature and contributed to our erect posture. The vestibular system has influence over other sensory systems and can help regulate sensitivity to touch, sound, vision, and movement. The vestibular system provides the opportunity for the two sides of the body to communicate on the brain stem level. This helps with the development of bilateral extremity movement and the development of laterality and specialization of skills. The vestibular system also has direct connection with the eyes so that the individual knows if s/he or the room is moving. The eyes relay on the vestibular system to accurately interpret information from the visual field. This relationship provided the basis for form and space perception and visual processing. The vestibular portion of the vestibular cochlear system also provides the foundation for auditory processing as it provides dimension and locality in auditory perception.

Due to the primacy of the vestibular-cochlear system in the developmental process, the use of sound stimulation provides an opportunity to influence many areas of function including gross motor, fine motor, visual processing, auditory process, attention, and speech and language.


The Tomatis training is delivered through headphones which have a special bone conductor on the top. Music is played on a tape recorder which is connected to a machine called the electronic ear. The music is gradually filtered over a period of several day until only the frequencies above 8000Hz. remain. The music used is largely Mozart. Because of the inherent high frequencies in Mozart's in particular, it makes the gating mechanism in the electronic ear function optimally. Once the ear is attuned to listening to high frequencies, we introduce a tape of the mother voice, that is specially recorded through the electronic ear. The importance of the mothers voice has already been explained. We also play the mother's voice tape with all frequencies below 8000HZ filtered out. It then sounds like cricket's chirping, yet all the rhythm, timing and intonation of the mothers speech pattern are still present. In addition we play Gregorian Chants because they do not have a tempo, or a pre-imposed beat and therefore are more consistent with the rhythms of a relaxed respiration and heart beat.

The progression of the program is the same for all clients, as the developmental process in acquiring language is universal. Only the amount of time in each phase of the program varies, depending on the diagnosis and level of progress that is observed. The process is one of slowly filtering the music over a period of several days. This is follow by a period of listening to filtered music and Gregorian chants.

After the period of listening to filtered music we gradually defilter the music and re-introduce the ear to listening in an air conduction environment. This is when we start the microphone work with the child. In doing this we are following the developmental sequence of birth where the child first learns audio-vocal control in an air conduction, non liquid environment. By hearing their voice through the electronic ear, which modifies the voice to reproduce accurate listening, they learn to develop a more accurate perception and ultimately improved control, of their own voice.


About Author Dr. Alice Cash: Helping people to use music for Healing and Wellness. Dr. Cash stresses the use of music for health, learning, motivation, relaxation, energy building, or well-being. She is known internationally for her work with music and pregnancy, surgery, addictions, and Alzheimer's disease. Dr. Cash can be reached through Healing Music Enterprises. (www.healingmusicenterprises.com)

You may reproduce Dr. Cash's articles as long as your use the complete version without editing including the last paragraph.
Studying with Alfred Tomatis; Dr. Alice Cash  

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