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NLP Technique: The Primordial Sound

By on September 2, 2014

In previous blog posts we have talked about your brain’s internal movie screen and the soundtrack that goes along with the movie. The soundtrack itself has two parts, the contents of the soundtrack, and the tonal elements of the soundtrack. By ‘tonal’ we mean anything other than words, so total could include the tone of somebody’s voice, the speed and energy of the sound, and so on.

In this blog post we will discuss the tonal parts of the soundtrack. We will discuss how to recognize when the tonal part of a hypnosis client’s soundtrack is a problem, and what to do about it if it is. We will also talk about how to use the tonal track to install new states and strategies.


Your hypnosis client comes to see you. They talk about their problem in a way that may include a rehearsed ‘story’ (which we discussed in a previous blog post), but on the other hand may sound more rational. In either case what tips you off that it’s time for you to consider the tonal elements is the tone of the client’s voice. Perhaps it is whiny, or resigned, or angry. In any case, there is a tonality that invokes a state in you as the hypnotic listener.

How to respond:

As we will explain later, the tone and other ‘tonal’ elements of sound are processed by the unconscious mind. In order to send a new signal to the client’s unconscious you should lead the client to ‘change their tone’.

A simple way to do this is to generate a massive change in tone and the easiest way to do this is to ask your client to sing their problem. This may sound odd, and admittedly it is, but singing is also processed by the unconscious mind. Singing their problem will immediately change the tonal elements of the client’s story. Of course you should not encourage your client to sing their problem as a funeral dirge, rather they should use an upbeat tune and rhythm. So the change will inevitably be positive as long as the song (the tune and rhythm) are upbeat.

NLP theory and neuroscience:

You have a conscious and unconscious mind. All hypnotists understand that this is a model, a metaphor if you will. No neuroscientist has ever found the ‘unconscious mind’, and they never will. One way to think about conscious and unconscious is as left-brain and right-brain. The analogy is not exact but has some merit.

In this model it turns out that the left-brain conscious mind processes the meaning of the words that are being spoken. But the right-brain unconscious mind processes the tonal elements of speech. In fact the right-brain processes the tonal elements a lot faster than the left-brain processes the words!

So one half of your brain is more interested in the tonal elements of what you say to yourself than what you actually say (the words). Using a positive tonality in your self-talk creates a positive state in your right-brain.

Your right-brain also tends to hear vowels, and your left-brain the consonants. This is probably why you cn stll ndrstnd txt whn th vwls r rdmvd. We will revisit this idea of vowels and consonants later.

It is also fascinating to realize that our use of words, speaking, actually hijacked a much older part of our brain and senses. We have been able to hear for much much longer than we have been able to speak. Being able to hear alerted our mammal ancestors to threats from sabertooth tigers that were were crouching invisibly in the long grass! And we made sounds to convey meaning but these sounds were howls, shrieks, sighs and other non-verbal sounds. We still use these sounds to convey unconscious meaning, and indeed can find them embarrassing when they emerge in front of strangers as shouts of anger, sounds of frustration, purrs of desire. We will talk about one way to use these primordial, non-verbal, sounds later.

Putting it into practice:

Paying hypnotic attention to the tonality of your client will let you know when they are in their problem and in contrast when they are feeling resourceful. Of course this should be combined with other behavioral markers such as body language.

Simply asking your client to change their tone might be effective, but understand if you do this you are asking the conscious mind to change the behavior of the unconscious mind. This can be challenging!

So instead involve the unconscious mind in the change process. Ask them to sing their problem to a pop tune. Or if their problem is internal dialogue get them to change the tone to that of their favorite sexy movie star, “Oooh, you’re soooo bad…”

So once again the steps are:

  • Ask your hypnosis client about their problem
  • Listen for their tonality when they are in the problem state
  • Ask them to change their tonality in such a way that it becomes a fun game. This will involve their unconscious mind.
  • Notice how this changes their experience of the problem.

Other applications:

The power of vowels

We said below that the unconscious mind listens more for the vowels in words than for consonants. We can use this fact to begin to over-ride long established verbal mental loops. These might be loops such as, “I can’t do this, I am a failure”.

To use this technique get them to run the same loop, but only using vowel sounds. So:

“I can’t do this I am a failure”

might become:

“aaay aaaahh oooo eee aaaay ahhhh aaaa ayyyyy uuuuur”

This new verbal loop will over-ride the old loop.

  • Ask them to play with the tonality and with their breathing pattern (e.g. breathe in for a count of 2, out for a count of 4)
  • While they are running this new verbal loop suggest that they begin to visualize themselves achieving their desired goal.

It’s a quick and fun pattern to begin to break down problems held in place by verbal loops.

The primordial scream

In NLP a strategy is a sequence of internal pictures, sounds, self talk, and feelings as well as what we see, hear and feel in the outside world that allow us to achieve specific outcomes. A simple example for my rain strategy: it starts to rain. I feel rain drops on my skin. I look up at the sky. I put my hand out. I feel raindrops on my hand. I say to self, “Oh, it’s raining”. I reach for my umbrella.

Some strategies can be counter productive. There is a great example from a Tony Robbins video where Tony is working with a young man who stutters. Of course, the young man has a strategy for stuttering, so Tony goes about installing a new strategy.

A great first step in any new strategy installation is to use a primordial sound. By primordial we mean any sound that does not contain words. The meaning of the sound is entirely in the tonal elements. Using a primordial sound over-rides the verbal ‘story’ because it fills the client’s auditory channel. This allows a ‘fresh start’ in the strategy.

Without going into detail, Tony gets this young man to shout a ‘warrior shout’ as the first step in a new strategy that begins to rewire his brain. This forms a new foundation for a new strategy.

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