Music in Spirituality

By Lily Tumbale, MusicWorx Intern
Edited by Theresa Kwong, Communications Consultant

I used to feel nervous about the conversation of spirituality and religion in clinical settings. As someone who’s deeply connected with my personal faith, I felt nervous that I would come across as insincere with my clients, or that I would have to hide my own beliefs for the sake of the client. There were a couple of instances when I had push back from patients, and I felt that I could not be the therapist they needed. However, when spirituality is important to the patient, I realized that that’s all that needs to matter. 

Music therapists are not required to support patients in the spiritual realm, but where we cross over is in our goal to provide comfort, bringing a feeling of empowerment, and prioritizing their needs through whatever mode fits them best. I have found these conversations more commonly occurring in the hospital and hospice setting. 

During my studies (including classes for a Religious Studies Minor), I enjoyed the class titled World Religions. There are so many obvious differences between religions, but my favorite part was understanding the connections between them. I learned that there’s nothing to be nervous about because each religions’ hope is focused on the best outcome for their people. Additionally, music is present in each religion. This may be apparent in different forms, but music is a part of their history. 

The five major religions of the world include Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam. Below is some information about each religion – including when they were believed to have been created. 


Hinduism – 2300 BCE-1500 BCE

Hinduism is believed to have not one founder, but rather a fusion of beliefs as they also believe that their religion has always existed in some form. Hindus worship many gods and goddesses including Brahma, who is believed to be responsible for the creation of the world and all living things.  Hindus worship in a mandir (a Hindu temple), but can also worship at home commonly to a special shrine that honors a god or goddess. Visitation and prayer can occur at any time. The Hindu Caste system divides people based on beliefs of karma and dharma and their rebirth into different castes. The process of karma and of rebirth, is important to Hindus as a way to live life. 

A few holidays and festivals include Diwali (the festival of lights), Navaratri (a celebration of fertility and harvest), Holi (a spring festival), and Mash Shivaratri (the great festival of Shiva).


Hindustani music is one type of classical music from South Asia. The music uses instruments such as the sitar, sarod, tambura, sahnai, sarangi, and tabla.  The other type of music commonly used is Karnatak, which includes instruments such as the vina, mrdangam, kanjira, and violin. The use of these classical sounds and improvisation can be effective in music therapy. 


Judaism – 600 BCE to 500 BCE

Judaism was founded according to their sacred text, the Torah. In the text, God revealed himself to a Hebrew man, Abraham, who became known as the founder. Judaism is a monotheistic religion and believes that God can send messages through prophets. Jewish people worship in synagogues (holy buildings). The Tanakh is the Hebrew bible and a trilogy, including: 1) Torah (the Five Books of Moses) 2) Nev’im (prophets), and Ketuvim (writings). 

A few special dates include Shabbat (the celebration of the end of the week from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset, a time to rest) and Hanukkah which is 8 days to commemorate the miracle of lighting the 8 lights.


Instruments may include the kinnor, nevel, tof, shofar, hatzoz, and varying pipes. Additionally, there are many songs to sing along and dance to for different occasions (including Shabbat and Hanukkah).


Buddhism – 600 BCE to 400 BCE

Buddhism is said to be founded by Siddhartha Gautama, who is referred to as “the Buddha.” He was moved by the suffering world and wanted to help those afflicted endure. There is no supreme god or deity in Buddhism. Rather, the goal is focused on enlightenment (a way of being focused through meditation and wisdom, in which anyone can achieve). There are three main forms of Buddhism, including Theravada Buddhism, Mahayana Buddhism, and Tibetan Buddhism.


Mindfulness is a central practice in this religion – it’s important to regulate. Using music as a tool for relaxation can be important and stand out. Additionally, the use of chanting is more common in this religion.


Christianity – 1st Century CE

Christianity is most widely practiced in the world and centers around the belief of birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Chrsit. This monotheistic religion believes in God but also heavens and earth. The Holy bible is an important reading of Christianity, used as the primary writing and is seen as directions to show a possible way. 

The most important holidays to celebrate together are Easter and Christmas.


The words of scripture are put to music many times to express to God that they are with him. In our sessions, we can offer an opportunity to share the words, and additionally we can create songwriting opportunities to show appreciation and love for the word and other religious elements. 


Islam – 7th Century CE

Islam is the second largest religion following Christianity, but also would be considered the youngest of the major religions. The prophet Muhammad was the final prophet sent by God to reveal their faith. Additionally, muslims are monotheistic and their god is known in Arabic as “Allah.” The Quran or Koran is a major text of Islam. Today, society does not look Islam very highly in society, but as it continues to grow, the understanding hopefully will become more wider known. Two major holidays are Aid al-Adha (which celebrates the Prophet Abraham and his willingness to sacrifice his son for Allah) and Eid al-Fitr (the Islamic Holy month of fasting).


Musical instruments and singing are haram (prohibited) in Islam. However, in understanding Islam’s background and the importance of the text, connections can be built. 



A snapshot of each religion helps provide a fuller picture, allowing us to better connect with those of different religions. Creating these connections helps us better support our patients, giving us enhanced understanding of their unique needs when considering their spiritual faiths.


References Editors (2019, August 20). Islam.,spreading%20rapidly%20throughout%20the%20world Editors (2019, September 30). Hinduism.,Origins%20of%20Hinduism,a%20fusion%20of%20various%20beliefs Editors (2020, September 16). Judaism. Editors (2020, July 20). Buddhism. 

Independent Scholar (2009, March). Musical Instruments of the Indian Subcontinent. The Met.,mrdangam%2C%20kanjira%2C%20and%20violin

Szczepanski, Beth (2015, May 29). Buddhism and Music. Oxford Bibliographies.


Further Reading

How Active Music Listening Can Make Our Brains Bigger – Psychology Today

Internship Application Survival Guide


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