Dr. Jeffrey W. Cupchik

Professional Biography

Dr. Jeffrey W. Cupchik, a medical ethnomusicologist, introduces his research and teaching in music, health, and wellbeing—a convergence of several fields in which he has designed courses since 2005. He discusses his interest in exploring the different ways music and sound work in people’s lives. His research is informed by cross-cultural medicine approaches, welcoming diverse definitions of health and wellbeing, and discovering how musically embedded rituals across cultures have indigenous value—whether the health care practitioners in the respective society are named “doctor,” “shaman,” “medicine woman,” or “spiritual guide.”

During Covid-19, he created a new online course, “Music for Health and Wellness,” and has been teaching upper-level undergraduates across the university, many in clinical fields in the sciences. Dr. Cupchik has been invested in helping his student mentees create over 50 exploratory pilot studies, which test the efficacy of music/sound “micro-interventions” through offering diverse listening experiences. This outreach program of community-based research offers these interventions to diverse populations to learn how music/sound can be harnessed for self-care and caring for others.

He discusses his doctoral research and forthcoming book, which focus on the Tibetan Buddhist Chöd tradition, a ritual practice founded by the Tibetan woman ascetic, Machik Labdron, in the 11th century. His research traverses ethnomusicology and Buddhist Studies, and also draws upon insights and approaches from Medical Anthropology and Anthropology of Religion. By asking “what is the role of music in this ritual?” as a guiding research question, Dr. Cupchik was led to look through the lens of cross-cultural medicine when he listened to Tibetan elder practitioners of Chöd and their communities say that the ritual was “healing” when performed correctly. He wondered what “healing” meant in this tradition, and realized he ought to explore what it was in the musical ritual that contributed to such an experience. He discovered that the fields of Anthropology of Religion and Medical Anthropology gave both a conceptual space and a widely accepted vocabulary for such qualitative explorations, which Medical Ethnomusicologists could adopt and adapt in their own ethnographic research. Finally, he discusses the clinical importance of cross-cultural medicine.

Learn more at https://jeffreycupchik.com.

Reflection Questions

Think of your favourite song. What emotions does it bring up in you? How quickly does this happen when you listen to it?

How might you utilize music in your daily life as part of your self-care practice?

In what ways do you already use music for your wellbeing?

Have you ever experienced compassion fatigue? How much of that might have been related to what Dr. Cupchik calls ‘communication fatigue’?

In your own opinion, why might music have such a profound effect on human beings?

What are some benefits of sound and music that Dr. Cupchik didn’t touch upon?

What song or type of music makes you feel the most comforted?

What song or type of music makes you feel the happiest?

What might the value be in listening to music that makes us feel intense sadness or other ‘negative’ emotions?

Learn More

How music can help you focus – watch this video of Dr. Cupchik talking about the essential need for concentration for accomplishing any project, and how music can be a powerful ally toward that end.

Soundscape Wellness, Caring for the Aural Self – Dr. Cupchik discusses the pollution of our sound environments and why it is important to connect to the soundscapes of nature 

Introducing Dr. Jeffrey W. Cupchik

Dr. Jeffrey W. Cupchik introduces his work and experience with health-focused ethnomusicology.

Mood Music: Four Times Each Day, Music Can Powerfully Cue Our Emotions

Dr. Jeffrey W. Cupchik talks about how we are cued emotionally by music. He asks: What if we are empowered, on our paths of wellbeing, with knowledge of which musics cue which emotions? He outlines four times in our daily lives when music’s ability to cue our emotions seem to be most effective: (1) getting up in the morning, and starting the day with a sense of purpose, (2) taking a 2-minute break during the day by listening to music that keeps us centered, (3) sustaining a good study or work flow state, (4) music/sound that assists you to sleep and relax. He encourages each of us to self-experiment. Dr. Cupchik suggests that by gaining an understanding of how music affects our emotional states, we can be more in control of our moods, which can augment our sense of wellbeing.

Voice: Compassion Fatigue or Communication Fatigue?

Dr. Cupchik explains how important our voices are in our interactions. Oftentimes, the ‘customer service’ voices we are taught to put on can be exhausting, because they engage our vocal apparatus in a different way. Our natural voices are much more relaxed. Using the example of the way mothers speak to their babies, Dr. Cupchik explains the natural ‘compassionate tone’ we have with loved ones. This tone isn’t only generated by compassion, but can also create feelings of compassion. 

Compassionate Voice: Patient-Physician Communication

Dr. Cupchik explains a finding from his study of mothers singing to their infants: when the infant is present, there is a regular pulse to the mother’s voice that isn’t there when the infant is not present. He explains how these insights around what a compassionate voice sounds like can be utilized in healthcare fields. We need to communicate from a genuine place of compassion in order to avoid the fatigue that come from ‘putting on’ compassion. Compassionate communication is challenged due to the time-crunch of most healthcare interactions, but there are still ways to have genuine connection within these confines.

How Long Does it Take to Cause a Shift in Your State?

Dr. Cupchik talks about the innovative ways we can use sound and music for self-care. He mentions ASMR and a website called coffitivity.com that simulates the busy sounds of a cafe. He also points out that music is an art form that takes place over time, just like any healing ritual. Traditional healing rituals, in fact, always include some form of music, which carry you through different emotional states and into healing. Dr. Cupchik then gives some examples of songs he has listened to that have the power to change his mood in a mere matter of seconds. The big questions are: What is it about music that affects us so profoundly? And what is it about us that allows music to have such an effect? Through studying these questions, we can begin to learn about ways that music can be used in caring for both others and ourselves.