Music-Based Mindfulness Exercises: 4 Ways To Be, Hear, Now

“Mindfulness” is a big craze. It seems like every day I read a new article describing the benefits of mindfulness and mindfulness exercises. From incorporating it in healthcare, schools, and business, more and more people and organizations are recognizing how mindfulness can have a positive effect on them.

And I think that’s great. I believe that more people need to be aware of their “here-and-now” experience. When you can acknowledge what’s going on and accept how you feel about it, growth can happen. It can help you to understand who you are and what you need.

But this kind of awareness rarely comes naturally. It takes work and conscious effort.

Mindfulness exercises can help you develop that kind of awareness. The intention of such exercises is for you to be able to recognize when your attention or thoughts are wandering away from the present and into the past or into the future. Mindfulness exercises don’t stop one’s thoughts, but regularly engaging in mindfulness exercises can help quiet our minds so that we can see the present moment more clearly.

Traditional Mindfulness Exercises

Traditionally, mindfulness has its roots in the mindfulness meditation practices of Buddhism. Some examples of mindfulness meditation practices are sitting meditation and walking meditation. With sitting meditation, you direct your focus towards your breath and notice your inhale and exhale. As thoughts come up, you acknowledge that they’re there, but you don’t follow them down the “rabbit hole.”

With walking meditation, you direct your awareness to your feet and how you’re stepping. It is a form of meditation practice popularized in the West by Thich Nhat Hanh. A quote of his that I use to describe walking meditation is, “Walk as if you’re kissing the Earth with your feet.” I find this to be helpful because to send this kind of love to the Earth through our feet requires presence and being aware of how we’re walking at the moment.

The Need for Non-Traditional Mindfulness Exercises *

An abstract image of person sitting with the text "a sound mind in a sound body." Musical notation is above the figure. Music can be used as different mindfulness exercises.

However, some people find it difficult to sit in silence. Therefore they don’t regularly engage in mindfulness practice because of the discomfort associated with sitting meditation. Some may stop meditating before it becomes a habit because they think that they’re doing it “wrong.” They have the belief that meditation is about “stopping all of the thoughts.” And since they can’t stop thinking, they assume that they’re either doing it “wrong” or that it doesn’t work.

And I’ll acknowledge that for some people, sitting meditation doesn’t work. The amount of discomfort that it brings up far outweighs the benefit. As well, some people get turned off by the idea of meditation or anything related to a spiritual practice or worldview that is different from theirs. Therefore, I believe it’s important to find ways to make the concepts of mindfulness accessible to those who have a hard time with traditional mindfulness exercises.

4 Music-Based Mindfulness Exercises

As a music therapist and counselor, I like to introduce concepts of mindfulness through music. In my experience, music can be an engaging and non-threatening way for people to start “tuning into” themselves.

The following four activities are some of the ways that I encourage people to engage mindfully with music and sound. These four activities were selected specifically because they are accessible to a wide variety of people. As such, they also don’t require special equipment.

Mindful Movement to Music

This activity involves choosing a piece of music that you can thoughtfully move your body to. Preferably this song should be without words, so that your focus can be solely on the music and how your body desires to move in response to the music. As you move, be aware of how your body is wanting to naturally move. With this movement, try to do so without judgment. If thoughts or feelings arise, simply label them as such and come back to the movement that the music elicits in you.

Vocal Toning

Voicework can be intimidating to engage in- even as a trained singer! Because of this, I find toning to be a safe, simply structured vocal activity. From the perspective of toning as a mindfulness practice, toning is simply breath that incorporates a pitch on the exhale. To tone, select a vowel that you can sound on a sustained pitch. (The more you do this, you may find that certain vowels resonate with you more than others, or that what resonates with you may shift and change from experience to experience). When toning, set aside a few minutes when you can engage with your voice in this way. Take the time to direct your awareness to your breath and sound without judgment. Notice what thoughts, feelings, or sensations come up for you as you tone. Label them as such, and then return to your breath and sound.


The premise behind using a mantra is similar to toning, except that words, different sounds and pitches are incorporated. In this example, a mantra is a short phrase that is repeated, as opposed to the traditional understanding of mantras. The phrase can be a word, such as, “compassion,” or it can express a specific intention, such as, “loving kindness.” Keep it simple. When repeating your mantra, direct your awareness to your breath and sound. As with toning, notice what thoughts, feelings, or sensations come up for you. Label them as such, and then return to your breath and sound.


This activity can be more challenging since one has to create lyrics, but I find it to be an effective way to reinforce concepts of formal mindfulness practice. Here is a song I wrote about the anxious, critical thoughts I have sometimes and the benefits that sitting meditation can provide when one is in such a state of mind.

Contact Me to Learn More

Curious to find out more about how music therapy could benefit your mental health? Reach out to me. I’d be happy to talk with you more about your particular situation.

* Please note that I do believe formal meditation practice is beneficial. Being able to sit and be with yourself in silence is valuable. As such, I encourage those who have no moral objections to the practice of meditation to start out sitting for a short period of time. For example, starting with 5 minutes if they initially find it challenging to meditate. As they become more comfortable, they can increase their meditation time.

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1 comment on “Music-Based Mindfulness Exercises: 4 Ways To Be, Hear, Now

  1. Pingback: Developing Body Awareness Through Mindfulness and Music

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