Recommendations for composers

The following recommendations are meant for composers interested in composing music for resonance frequency breathing (RFB). These recommendations are based on our experiences during the Mus&Te project, where we collaborated with two composers whose task it was to create music for breathing. In order to provide some context, we will first give an overview of RFB and its specificities.

RFB is a breathing method able to quickly reduce stress levels and induce a state of deep relaxation, by instantly shifting the breather’s autonomic nervous system to parasympathetic dominance (rest-and-digest). To achieve these results, RFB relies on two characteristics of human psychophysiology:

  1. We can change the state of our autonomic nervous system by consciously changing how we breathe, because of the coupling between the heart and the breath.
  2. We all possess an optimal breathing speed that causes our bodies to enter a state of resonance, where various physiological systems (heart rate, respiration rate, blood pressure fluctuations, and alpha brain waves) suddenly synchronise and amplify each other.

This optimal breathing speed is different from person to person. However, studies have shown that in adults, the state of resonance is achieved when breathing somewhere within the range of 4,5 to 7 breaths per minute, with the average optimal speed being 6 breaths/min.

To get the most out of RFB, people first need to determine their optimal breathing speed, and then follow that speed as precisely as possible. Thus, RFB requires the use of a pacer or metronome set at the right speed. The breathing cues delivered by the metronome are usually in the form of visual and/or auditory cues (see for example the many breathing apps available for phones and tablets). Certain smart watches also offer vibratory cues. Ultimately, the nature of the cues doesn’t really matter, as long as they are clear and easy to follow.

Typically, two types of breathing ratios are being used for RFB:

  • 50/50 inhalation/exhalation ratio (equal inhalation and exhalation)
  • 40/60 inhalation/exhalation ratio (longer exhalations)

The following are the instructions given to the composers at the beginning of the Mus&Te project.

  • Each song should be produced in 6 different versions, corresponding to 6 different breathing speeds (4,5 – 5 – 5,5 – 6 – 6,5 – 7 breaths/min);
  • Each song (and its different versions) should be about 10 min long (+/- 1 min is fine);
  • The songs should be loopable (to make seamless, repeated playback possible);
  • The breathing cues should encourage continuous breathing (no pauses between inhalation and exhalation);
  • Please compose at least one song with a 50/50 inhalation/exhalation ratio, and one song with a 40/60 ratio;
  • The breathing cues should be easy to recognise and follow throughout the entire song;
  • Listeners should be able to easily distinguish the inhalation from the exhalation part (ideally from the music alone, without explanations or instructions). Note: this requirement is not that important when using a 50/50 ratio, but crucial for a 40/60 ratio.

The aim of these recommendations is to help musicians and composers to create adequate music for RFB, while optimising their time and resources.

The composer should aim at striking a good balance between music that would be too boring (e.g. elevator music) and too distracting (in-your-face, unpredictable, full of surprises). When doing the breathing exercise, listeners should be able to notice and enjoy the music, and at the same time “put it in the background” in order to focus on their inner state and the present moment. This means that a certain amount of changes and development in the music are very welcome, to keep the listener alert and interested, as long as they are not excessive. In terms of melodic and dynamic contour, we recommend a quiet beginning, followed by a build-up in the middle of the song, and a quiet ending.

Whatever you decide to do in terms of composition, keep in mind that the most important aspect of the music should be the clarity of the breathing cues. In theory, you can use any music feature to convey these cues (pitch, timbre, volume, instrumentation etc.). In practice, a majority of composition we have come across rely on arpeggiated chords or ascending/descending scales (ascending for inhalations, descending for exhalations). This approach seems to work quite well, but doesn’t preclude the use of other music features (alone or in combination).</p><p>To help listeners recognise the breathing cues, and tell inhalation from exhalation, we recommend adding a breath sound (i.e. the sound of someone breathing) at the beginning of the song. This additional sound doesn’t have to last very long (maximum three or four breath cycles), but its presence has proven very helpful, and was the most common request made by listeners during the piloting phase.

There are two ways to go about producing the same song at six different breathing speeds. Ideally, if enough time and resources are available, it would be optimal to record each different version separately. Alternatively, you can record only one version, and then use a DAW (digital audio workstation) to create the other five versions, with the help of a time-stretching algorithm.
The main downside of using a DAW to create faster/slower versions of the same song is that it will introduce time-stretching artifacts and unnatural-sounding instruments. However, any competent sound engineer can achieve good results with the help of a modern DAW (e.g. Pro Tools or Reaper).
If you intend to use a DAW, we recommend the following best practices:

  • Create the main, original version at 5,5 or 6 breaths/min (in the middle of the spectrum), to avoid extreme time-stretching in either direction.
  • Apply the time-stretching algorithm to each track separately (not on the final mix).
  • Certain instruments lend themselves more easily to time-stretching than others. For instance, voice and piano sound natural and any speed, whereas slowing down a violin sounds very unnatural (because it also slows down the vibrato, and no violinist would normally apply this type of “slow” vibrato when playing).

General observation: we have noticed that speeding things up is smoother and easier than slowing things down.
Obviously, one way to circumvent the issues mentioned above would be to compose and record the songs exclusively with digital/MIDI instruments. However, we strongly discourage you to do so, because most listeners prefer the sound of acoustic instruments. Should you choose to use digital instruments nonetheless, we recommend combining those with acoustic instruments.

In terms of beat/tempo equivalence, there is an easy and direct correspondence between the breathing speed (breaths/min) and the tempo of the song (beats/min, or bpm):

  • 4,5 breaths/min = 45 bpm
  • 5 breaths/min = 50 bpm
  • 5,5 breaths/min = 55 bpm
  • 6 breaths/min = 60 bpm
  • 6,5 breaths/min = 65 bpm
  • 7 breaths/min = 70 bpm

Material progressed

Material progressed

Resonance frequency breathing
Informational brochure (in Finnish)Tutorial videoMusic for breathingVideo animations for breathingRecommendations for composersResearch and studies