The courtiers of King Saul knew that music could be therapeutic for a troubled mind. The Bible tells us that “whenever the [evil] spirit of God came upon Saul, David would take the lyre and play it; Saul would find relief and feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him” (1 Sam. 16:23)
Why did Davids music make Saul feel better? The Talmud merely notes that beautiful sounds restore the spirits, without being more specific.1 Could the harmony of the sounds have caused chemical releases in his brain that pacified him? Did the melody perhaps inspire him with its beauty and elevate his thoughts away from his distress? Or was its rhythm contagious, exciting him to tap his feet with joy? Music has many ways of affecting us, and we can only imagine why and how it helped Saul to change his mood.
We do not know whether David also sang to Saul as he played the lyre; in antiquity, instrumental music was often an accompaniment to song. We may wonder whether David played a well-known song, perhaps a dance tune or a drinking ballad. Or perhaps he played the sort of music that helped a prophet to receive divine inspiration. Alternatively, David may have chosen a soothing tune.
Music moves us in many different ways. A melody, an important element of music, is a relation between tones, actually more than a series of tones strung together. We can hum a melody, sing it, play it on one instrument or on many, vary its rhythm, and add harmony, but it