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The Five Elements - Ninja Magic for Guitarists!


Fire, Earth, Metal, Water and Wood

The law of the five elements has long been a huge part of martial arts, philosophy, mystical and alchemical practices and many areas of the healing arts and Eastern medicine. By understanding the properties of each element we can unlock the nature of its power. We can then explore the idea of this power and use it as a strategy or we can conceptualize an expression of its energy. There are many different interpretations of the five elements and their meanings and they vary from culture to culture and by the applications that they are used in. In my studies I have found the Japanese names of the five elements and the path of their natural and destructive cycles to be the most in tune with how they apply to music. These elements are Fire, Earth, Metal, Water and Wood. Many times you will see Ether or Air as one of the five elements usually in place of Wood, but I like to think of Air as the invisible sixth element that binds the main 5 together.

Understanding the Cycle

Each element has its place in a natural and destructive cycle of life. In a natural cycle for instance, Fire burns Wood and creates ash that becomes part of the Earth the ash gives nutrients to the Earth which produces Metal in the form of minerals and ore. The Water that is present in the Earth and that is acquired from rainfall mixes with these minerals giving nutrients to plants and the cycle begins anew. In a destructive cycle you see how one element overpowers another for instance, Fire can melt Metal and Metal can pierce through Wood and Wood can grow up from and break through the Earth and the Earth can absorb Water and Water can put out Fire. So we see the nature of these elements and we can see how understanding their nature can give us insight in other areas of life. Aside from the cycles of these elements as they intertwine, each individual element has it’s own unique energy characteristic. In the Ninja arts there are evasive and attack maneuvers all based on the elements. For example an Earth evasion technique would be something like hiding in a tree trunk or a ditch, using the Earth as a means of hiding or a Water technique like remaining underwater in a river using a small shoot of bamboo as an air source. By understanding the nature of the elements the Ninja is able to apply the concepts of each to blend in to his surroundings and use their energy for his next attack.

Ninja Magic for Guitarists

In this same manner, the five elements can play a huge role in the Alchemy of music. Understanding the ideas behind the energies and how they work can open our minds to see new ways of writing and expressing ourselves through music. Let’s take a look at a song structure and see how it may relate to the elements. We start with the Wood energy, which is a growing energy (very much like an intro or beginning of a song grows). Then we move into Earth energy, which is a stable energy (or the main verse or body of your song). From there we ad some Fire which is our expanding and explosive energy (your hook or theme). After repeating this cycle we fade into Water energy, which is a dissolving or sinking energy (much like an outro or fade out). This is a very basic song format that I translated into elemental energies, but look at the possibilities that await us if we can use the energies to create a unique song structure or to highlight particular moods. Outlining techniques based on the energy they portray can open our minds and ad a magical presence to our expression of life through music. There is so much that can be written about the Alchemy of music as it has been a part of Shamanism, Healing, Spirituality, Eastern Philosophies and much more. There are so many studies about the charkas, elements, Solfeggio frequencies, music and sound therapy etc. that the resources are limitless. My attempt here is to give you a slight glimpse as to how sound; vibrations and energy all carry a power within them. When amplified by our musical expression, this power can transform our lives and have a deep and meaningful impact on all who listen.

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