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Psychedelic Playlists – PART TWO: Playlist Curation

psychedelic playlists
in this article
  • Introduction
  • Familiar vs. Unfamiliar Music
  • Phase 1: The Come Up - Grounding Calming Music
  • Phase 2: The Peak - Music That Moves You
  • Phase 3: The Come Down - Reflective Music
  • The Music Menu
  • Incorporating Intention and Musical Preferences
  • Final Thoughts

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Chemical Collective or any associated parties.

Introduction

Music can make or break a psychedelic experience. My previous article explored the basics of How to Create Playlists. Please check that out first. Here, we will explore in greater detail the specific types of music you may wish to include, and why.

Yes, there is research that has shown the importance of the role of music in psychedelic sessions, and, at the same time, music is highly subjective. This is as true in psychedelic experiences as it is in daily life.

Music that may work excellently and bring about a sense of beauty, catharsis, and release for one person, may be uncomfortable, triggering, or just even annoying for somebody else. 

This begs the question:

What kind of music should you include on the playlist for your next psychedelic experience?

This article will help you figure out how to make the best musical choices for your psychedelic session playlist.

This will be for those medium to high-dose experiences, where there is a clear peak to the experience.

I will give suggestions by segmenting the trip into the three basic sections or phases of the experience, as outlined in my previous article: How To Create Psychedelic Playlists. These are the come-up, the peak, and the come-down. I will also share a method that allows for both preparation and flexibility in the session soundtrack, and provide some prompts to help you incorporate both intention and musical preferences.

As always, my intention is to support you in setting up psychedelic experiences that facilitate insight, healing, and growth.

Let’s dive in.

Familiar vs. Unfamiliar Music

 

There are two different philosophies for musical choices in psychedelic sessions.

The first is open to familiar music being played during the psychedelic sessions.

That is, music that the person having the experience has already heard, and has some level of familiarity with.

This is with the belief that these pieces of music can touch more deeply to the inner core and may also have associations with memories that may be personally meaningful and useful in a therapeutic context.

The second philosophy prefers the use of music that is relatively new to the person having the experience.

That means using music that they have never heard before.

This philosophy prefers unfamiliar music as it believes that the associations held with previously known music may be counterproductive. People adopting this approach believe that because new music has no preexisting personal reference point, the person having the experience can have a fresh experience without the potentially complicated entanglement of previous associations. This means that aspects of the experience connected to the music have more openness and possibilities for new meaning.

I personally retain an openness to both of these approaches and believe both have value in different respects.

Phase 1: The Come Up - Grounding Calming Music

In the first phase, we want to create an emotionally safe space and set the stage for a smooth experience. We want to feel supported in handling any anxiety which may creep in.

For this purpose we want music that helps us to slow down, to feel safe and calm.

In general, this might be something like ‘Spa Music’. Something with a slow-flowing smooth feeling.

This will likely include instruments that don’t have a hard attack and may include soft synths, strings, vocals, and any other instruments that can fade in and out gradually. It would probably avoid strong attacks like plucking and beating, and generally lack of a beat or any type of percussion.

Overall we are looking for music that makes you feel like ‘I am safe’, and avoid anything that may bring about a feeling of being on edge.

For a lot of people, this is music that would commonly be used for meditation. If you have some good meditation tracks that you use when you’re watching your breath or connecting to sensations in your body, then those are probably good choices. I’d also add that, I believe meditating through the transition from the come-up and into the peak is an approach that helps most people successfully and smoothly navigate that transition of an experience.

Of course, you may find that the types of music I’ve mentioned here don’t make you calm. If this is the case, then I would encourage you to find music that does suit this purpose for you. As always, remember personalisation in your experiences.

Phase 2: The Peak - Music That Moves You

psychedelic playlists

When we are aiming for a therapeutic or growth-oriented outcome from a psychedelic experience, we can make musical choices to help guide this process.

To do this, we want to be looking for music that helps to facilitate an emotional release or a catharsis. This most commonly occurs at the peak of an experience, so this is where we will put those musical choices.

For this purpose, we want to make musical choices that will get those emotional juices flowing.

A great starting point when identifying music that would serve this function is to consider:

  • What music moves you emotionally?
  • What music gives you a tenderness of heart?
  • What music helps connect you to your heart center in a grounded and wholesome way?

I would recommend music that you would describe as awe-inspiring, epic, or expansive. Evocative or cinematic? Are there any pieces of music that could move you to tears, either through joy, sadness, or just a pure sense of awe and beauty?

If you’re like me, it may be the case that you don’t listen to this type of music regularly. That may mean that these are not such easy questions to answer. If this is the case, don’t be afraid to take some time with this. Sources for finding this type of music may be music from movie soundtracks, classical pieces, and indigenous or world music.

Keep It Emotionally Relevant and Resonant

When making these choices, some songs may come to mind which used to move you.

One thing I would say is that it helps to use music that is current for you.

Some musical pieces that may have really moved you ten years ago may not have the same effect today. So I would encourage you to consider music that you know is still emotionally resonant for you. Try listening to it. Does it still stir something up in you?

We’re looking for things that can find a way to help prise open the doors and barriers that we often have around the heart.

For those pieces of music that we’re going to use as tools to help do that job of cracking open those barriers, they must be still functional and working on a personal level. There may be pieces that used to bring us to tears, but they don’t quite hit the same emotional spot in the same way today. They may not be the best choices today. Try to find something more relevant and resonant.

Phase 3: The Come Down - Reflective Music

After the peak, we want to be brought back down to earth gently. Now though, we may have some material to process and reflect upon. We want musical choices that suit feeling contemplative, reflective, and tired!

When choosing music for this phase, you may consider:

  • What music helps you to slow down once more?
  • What music puts you in a more contemplative mood?
  • What music makes you more reflective?

For myself and many others, it’s like many of the songs found on this playlist by MAPS trained therapist Shannon Clare. As written in the playlist info, this is ‘music that evokes reflection and introspection to facilitate processing during a session. More emotional content than opening (come-up) […]. May be sad, thoughtful, flowing’.

At the end of this final section, we may also throw in a couple of uplifting pieces to bring a positive vibe to the end of the session. If you are a person who likes to move or dance towards the end of a session, consider adding some more dynamic and danceable tracks.

The Music Menu

Now that we’ve been through the musical choices for the three phases of a psychedelic experience, I’d like to share an approach which prepares music beforehand while still allowing for music selection during the session itself.

This is what I call ‘the music menu’.

The music menu approach is preparing music in various smaller segments, and then making selections as the experience progresses. As it sounds, it is creating a menu of music for the facilitator or the person having the experience to select from during the experience.

For example, you would have two or three different albums or playlists of calming and grounding music ready for the first phase. Then you would have a selection of five or so different playlists or albums of more evocative or emotional music for the peak phase. Finally, you would have between three and five albums or playlists of music for the third and final phase.

Each of these albums or playlists will probably be twenty to sixty minutes in length. This allows a reasonable portion of the session to unfold based on the selection and means that choices don’t need to be made every five minutes.

I recommend having these choices, all of the playlists or albums, ready for quick and easy access during the session. This means having them downloaded and ready on the device that is being used to play the music. 

Using The Menu

It is very simple to go about a session using the music menu.

You begin by selecting and pressing play on one of the albums or playlists that suits the first phase of the session. This would be at the time of taking the dose. (Or, it may be before if you want to have music in the space beforehand to help set the scene.)

You then let your selection play out. Once it ends, there will be a silence, and this will be a prompt to make the next choice. So, this may be another calming album.

When getting into the peak phase, you may choose one of the relevant albums and playlists designated for that section and continue to make ‘peak’ choices whilst still in that phase.

As the experience unfolds, you can look at your ‘menu’ of prepared music and you can make your selection based on what phase you are in and what feels right at this stage of the experience. When the experience transitions into the comedown, you will most likely choose one of your selections that is prepared for that phase. 

The music menu method allows an element of directing the course of the experience as it unfolds that fully preset playlists do not.

It allows the person having the experience to have some input into the session playlist as it unfolds.

It allows for an element of musical preparation and planning, without the entire session soundtrack being totally predetermined beforehand. This allows a greater amount of flexibility when it comes to the musical side of the session.

For example, at the end of an experience, some people may want to be still and sit in meditation. A selection of gentle tracks may suit this. Other people may feel the need to get up and move their bodies. Then, more danceable tracks would be more suitable. Having both of these choices ready and up for selection allows for the possibility of both.

Incorporating Intention and Musical Preferences

Before making our musical choices, we may also want to consider our intention for the psychedelic experience, and our musical preferences. 

When it comes to making choices that support your intention, it can be helpful to consider:

  • What is your intention for the experience?
  • What is the outcome you are aiming for?
  • Is there any type of emotional terrain that you would like to move through?

When it comes to musical preferences, or our ‘musical language’, it can be helpful to consider:

  • What genres of music do you connect with emotionally?
  • Are there any styles of music or instruments that you especially love? That speak to you?
  • Are there any that you have a particular distaste for? Or that you just don’t seem to connect with or ‘get’?

For example, I have a friend who has a specific distaste for bowed strings. Violins, violas, cellos etc. So most of the choices for her sessions avoid classical music.

With your own answers to these sets of questions, you can make informed musical choices. 

With this in mind, it is useful to remember that it is very often difficult to predict the direction that an experience will go. So whilst still making intentional musical choices, it is important to retain an element of openness to where the experience may take us. We can do well by not becoming too fixed on any particular direction that we want the experience to go.

Final Thoughts

So there we have it, our exploration comes to a close. Remember that the creation of your psychedelic playlist is a mix of intention and intuition. The three phases—come up, peak, and come down—offer a structure for our musical choices and playlist creation and can support us in orchestrating moments of calm, catharsis, and reflection.  The music menu can act as a selection of prepared choices, whilst still letting you be the conductor of your experience.

I hope this article has been helpful and will support you in finding musical choices that support you on your path of psychedelic-assisted growth.

Stay safe, journey well.

John Robertson | Community Blogger at Chemical Collective | mapsofthemind.com

John is one of our community bloggers here at Chemical Collective. If you’re interested in joining our blogging team and getting paid to write about subjects you’re passionate about, please reach out to David via email at blog@chemical-collective.com

 

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