Music and Trance

Our presentation focused on Music and Trance.  The attached powerpoint summarizes different parts of Lakota musical tradition, and various anthropological and ethnomusicological models of trance.  Separate from the powerpoint, we also went into physiological and neurological trancing mechanisms.  As a physical mechanism to explain Rouget’s culturally constructed view of trance, we explored neuronal maps, and physiological metonyms.  These concepts are based on the neurological theories of connectivism and emergent phenomenon.  These theories hold that memory is a result of a cyclical process where neuronal groupings trigger each other based on past learning.  Therefore, if a trancer hears music from the trance experience, the habituated neuronal connections will call forth the entire experience in his brain, which could induce the trance state.

Another framework we explored was rhythmic  entrainment.  Parts of the brain have been shown to mirror beat frequencies in the external environment.  When we consider that there are several different general ranges of frequencies of brain activity (pictured below, Fig. 2) associated with different states of consciousness, the beat frequencies of the music itself may cause the brain to drop into a waking theta or delta state where trancing is likely to occur.  The beat frequencies of the two Lakota songs on the powerpoint are between 4-7 Hz, lending further support to this hypothesis.

Lastly, we conducted an experiment where we beat on a drum at a frequency between 4 and 5 Hz, and asked the class whether they had trance like experiences even though trance was not culturally habituated for most people.  A large portion of the class reported having experiences similar to the list pictured below (Fig. 3)


Fig 1.  Representation of a neuronal map, retrieved from

Hofstadter, Douglas. Godel, Escher, Bach: The Eternal Golden Braid. Basic Books, 1979.


Fig 2. Different states of conciousness, retrieved from


Fig 3. Markers of trance states, retrieved from

Music and Trance

Judith Becker
Leonardo Music Journal , Vol. 4, (1994), pp. 41-51
Published by: The MIT Press
Article Stable URL:

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