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Is 432 Hz the natural frequency?

Updated: Jan 26

-In Tune Series Part 2-


Demystifying controversial beliefs within the field of sound healing and modern-day spirituality.


I’ll just give you my conclusion straightaway. Tuning the reference pitch of your musical piece to 432 Hz will not give you the promised magical healing effect. (Darn I wish it would have been that simple!) Just listening to the frequency of 432 Hz itself (out of a musical framework) does generally not have that nature-aligning effect either. The matter is more complex than that. It unavoidably leads us to a highly overseen question: which temperament is being used? I will also share some possible benefits of tuning to 432 Hz. If you are interested in a deeper investigation, read me along, as I’m taking a dive into the rabbit hole.



Introduction


It’s a movement, a bit of a hype, let’s say. Recently quite a bunch of people globally decided to tune their music to 432 Hz instead of the dominant – just a little less recent – 440 Hz. Especially in the new age and wellness scene this tuning has become quite popular. What are the core statements of this theory? In short, 432 Hz would be a natural universal frequency and 440 Hz would be a frequency in dissonance with nature. Tuning the fundamental key of a musical instrument or song to the key of middle A being 432 Hz would mean to align your own natural frequency with the frequency of the earth, and ‘the universe’. Being exposed to the 440 Hz frequency (and music that is built on this ‘reference pitch’) could potentially bring you out of tune with the universe and thus your natural self, according to the 432 Hz theory. What is true about these statements?



My personal past experience with it


Personally I had a bit of a history with this tuning. As it was a teaching in sound healing courses I took and a bit of a ‘fact’ among people that researched the matter I kind of took it for granted that there should at least be some truth in it. I tuned my piano to 432 Hz and some years later I was playing in the Awaken Love band in India (the band connected to my guru), that was entirely tuned to this frequency.

I decided to play more frequently in 432 Hz and I also got myself some new instruments in this key. In these years I recorded 3 albums in 432 Hz, and kind of moved along with it. As I wasn’t too rigid about it, I found myself regularly playing in a different key (436 Hz, 440 Hz, 442 Hz,…) simply because some of the present instruments around happened to be in that other key.


I came to the conclusion I actually never felt something particularly more natural or better about one frequency or the other. Did I miss something? Maybe I’m just not sensitive enough? This was the point I realised I actually choose this frequency because other people believed in it. It wasn’t my direct experience. I decided to double-check my sources.



A funny little titbit


I’ll just start off with an interesting and funny titbit I encountered starting my research. Surprisingly enough, most (!) of the popular so-called-432Hz-music on YouTube and Spotify that I randomly played, happened to be in an entirely different key, after measuring it with a tuner and some of my instruments next to it. Some of them have been played several million times by listeners who expect the magical 432-healing effect, unknowingly listening to something very different. You can listen to some examples (*1 , 2 & 3) and possibly double-check it yourself with a tuner.



The 440Hz pitch standardization


How did 440 Hz become the standard reference pitch? It wasn’t always like that. Before the 19th century musicians were tuning their instruments in a wide variety of pitches, highly depending on personal preference. In the 19th century the need came up for a pitch-standardization. This was pushed on the one hand by a trend in the European classical music scene to gradually heighten the reference pitch. This produced a brighter and more spectacular sound. Pieces that were written for 420 Hz suddenly were played as high as 450 Hz, causing great pressure on the vocal chords of the singers. This was one factor that brought up the need for a (lower) standardized pitch. Different composers, among them Giuseppe Verdi, pleaded in these days for a lower, fixed reference pitch because of this reason. On the other hand there was the dawn of industrialisation and globalisation that invited a generalised and eventually globalised tuning. This would enable anyone on planet earth to play in harmony together, without too much hassle.


By 1926 an informal standardisation of 440 Hz was reached in the US. Europe followed a bit later with an agreement on the 440 Hz standardization in 1939. By 1955 it was recognised by the International Organization for Standardization to be the standard pitch.

For some decades there wasn’t much debate around this standardization. That changed in the late 1980’s.


Generally more and more people started to question whether or not their way of living was still ‘in tune with nature’. Also music started to be a part of this debate since a return to the ‘natural’ frequency was proposed as an alternative for the settled 440 Hz. The German based political oriented Schiller Institute launched a campaign that promoted the ‘return’ to 432 Hz. They also called it the Verdi-tuning or ‘scientific pitch’, claiming that this tuning is the only natural tuning and that 440 Hz was inserted by the nazis to manipulate and destroy humanity. From there on the proposed theory started to have a life of its own, attracting both nature-lovers and conspiracy theorists.



5 core arguments of the 432 proponents


The 5 core arguments underneath are the main pillars on which the theory of the ‘healing 432Hz frequency’ is generally built today.


1) 432Hz is in tune with the Shumann resonance and thus with the frequency of the Earth.


The space in between the ionosphere and the earth’s surface can be seen as a massive resonance chamber. The cavity is naturally excited by electric currents in lightning. This global electromagnetic resonance is called the Shumann resonance (or frequency).

In fact it consists of a number of extremely low frequencies (ELF) around 7,83 Hz (fundamental), 14,3 Hz, 20,8 Hz, 27,3 Hz, and 33,8 Hz. The fundamental (7,83 Hz) has the highest intensity. These frequencies are varying slightly due to solar-induced disturbances amongst other factors.

The German physicist Winfried Otto Schumann predicted all of this mathematically in 1952 and since then the phenomenon is recognised globally by the scientific community. (*4) Funny enough the Shumann resonance is more popular in new-age and esoteric circles than in the scientific community. That is partially due to the 432 Hz theory. If this mathematical prediction is accurate indeed the fundamental resonance (around 7,83 Hz) has a huge effect on any living being on the earth’s surface. Up until this point the applied reasoning sounds logical.



Now there are 4 reasons why connecting the Shumann frequency with 432 Hz is highly irrational:

- Some people suddenly have decided that 7,83 Hz should be just simplified to 8 Hz, cause 8 is a round number. 8 Hz in terms of a fundamental pitch is an entirely different frequency! When we use the law of octaves (and thus multiplying the number) on 8 Hz, we arrive at some point at 512 Hz. This is a C in 430,5 Hz (not even 432 Hz). When we multiply 7,83 Hz we arrive at some point at 501,1 Hz. This is a C in 421,5 Hz, very far from 432 Hz! In short: 8 Hz = 430,5 Hz and 7,83 Hz = 421,5 Hz! If 7,83 Hz is indeed the so-called ‘frequency of the earth’, we should all tune our music to 421,5 Hz, because 7,83 Hz is a C in A421,5! 8 Hz looks more beautiful, there’s no comma, it’s easy to remember and it fits with the theory of 432 Hz only (!) if the Pythagorean temperament is used. With equal temperament (to which all of our music is usually tuned) it doesn’t even exactly equal 432 Hz, but ends up to be 430,5 Hz.

- The Shumann frequencies fluctuate due to solar-induced disturbances amongst other factors! It is not a constant, stable pitch.

- Most of the harmonics of the fundamental Shumann frequency are by definition in a different frequency than the fundamental, although harmonics of electromagnetic frequencies follow different laws then acoustic laws.

- The Shumann frequencies are electromagnetic frequencies, travelling at a speed of around 300 million meters per second. The speed of acoustic sound is about 340 meters per second. It’s just an entirely different range of frequencies and thus impossible to match the Shumann frequency with acoustic sound. (*6)


Without a doubt we can conclude this argument doesn’t carry any truth in it.


2) The sacred music from the ancients was tuned to 432Hz.


Some even go as far as stating that all music before the standardization was tuned to 432 Hz. Others say it was the preferred tuning of the main classical geniuses. Yet others find support in the ancient Egyptians and pre-historic musicians. Let’s take a closer look at the tunings from the past.



To give you an idea of the huge variety in reference pitches that were used by the classical geniuses from the last centuries, here is a great overview of examples:

1640

Vienna Franciscan Organ A = 457.6

1711

​John Shore’s tuning fork, a pitch of A = 423.5 He invented the tuning fork, one of which still exists today

​1780

Stines, for Mozart, A= 421

​1714

​Strasbourg Cathedral organ A= 391

​1759

​Trinity College Cambridge organ A = 309

​1780

​Organ builder Schulz A = 421.3

​1780

​Stein’s tuning fork A = 422.6

​1811

​Paris Grand Opera A = 427

​1812

​Paris Conservatoire A = 440, as modern pitch

1834

​Vienna Opera A = 436.5

​1836

​Pleyel’s Pianos A = 446

1846

​Philharmonic pitch was A = 452.5 (very high) which lasted till 1854

1871

​Covent Garden Opera House A = 440

​1877

Mr Hipkins piano tuner A = 448.8

​1878

​Her Majesty’s Organ A = 436.1

​1878

Vienna Opera A = 447

​1879

​Covent Garden Opera A = 450

​1879

Steinway of England A = 454

1925

On the 11th of June the American music industry adopted A = 440

​1936

​American Standards Association adopted A = 440. yet; New York Philharmonic and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, use 442 Hz

​1939

​American Standards Association adopted A = 440. yet; New York Philharmonic and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, use 442 Hz

(*5)


The measurement of seconds was only applied since the end of the 16th century. The tuning fork was invented in 1711, but it was still hard to measure exactly the ‘cycles per second’. The term ‘herz’ was only adopted in 1935 when it became possible to measure very accurately. So how did all the musicians before the 1700s tune their instruments?!

They used their ears and intuition. There simply was no technological device to measure. With the age of enlightenment (the dawn of science) came an obsession with measuring everything. Before that people didn’t seem to have that need so much.


Would Pythagoras, the Egyptians, the Sumerians and the shamans from pre-historic times all have been able to intuitively tune their instruments to the natural frequency of 432 Hz, as the theory goes? We can only know by measuring the few surviving instruments from past. Archaeologists all come to the conclusion there is no evidence that ancient instruments were tuned to 432 Hz. Armand D'Angour, speciaslist in ancient Greek music, as well as Heidi Köpp-Junk, professor in Egyptian archeology state that there is no evidence that ancient instruments in these cultures where tuned to 432 Hz. (*7) Also measurements of pre-historic instruments show to be in a wide variety of reference pitches.


What DID matter to the ancients was ratios between the tones, or let’s say the temperament that was used in the scale. (More about that in an upcoming article.)



3) 432Hz creates more beautiful geometric patterns in cymatics experiments in comparison with 440Hz


Sounds can become beautiful geometric patterns when they vibrate with specific materials. In the field of ‘cymatics’ this relationship between geometry and sound is explored. Usually a metal plate is used in combination with sand or grains, sometimes water. A whole bunch of videos are online, showing that the geometrical forms as a response to 432 Hz are much more beautiful than the ones responding to 440 Hz. With a bit of a critical eye on the videos this theory proves to be inaccurate. In the video underneath they are ‘proving’ their statement while the 440 Hz shapes are given about half of the time to form a geometrical form compared to the 432 Hz. Of course the shape looks more beautiful and complete in 432 Hz when the sand had more time to be aligned.





What is more important though is to consider that metal plates (just like any other object) are resonant bodies that have a specific frequency. If a metal plate is tuned to a specific frequency (determined by the shape, thickness and the used material) it will resonate stronger when that same frequency is played to it. As a result the geometrical pattern will differ from the pattern that appears if the plate would be made from a different material or in a different shape.


4) There is scientific research that clearly shows the benefits of 432Hz.


Unfortunately the scientific community didn’t investigate the matter very deeply so far. As far as my research goes only 4 small-scale scientific studies have been conducted on the subject. All of them are stemming from Italy. No coincidence it seems, as 432 Hz is very popular in Italy. Likely that is because its connection with Verdi (who is falsely claimed to had his music always tuned to 432 Hz). (*8)


These are the links to the 4 studies:

In all of the introductions of the studies from 2017, 2019 and 2020 it is made clear that the people setting up the studies all have affinity with the 432-theory. In one of the introductions even the argument of the ‘8 Hz Shumann frequency’ is brought up, which makes the critical ‘scientific factor’ very questionable. In another introduction it’s said that the music from the past was tuned to 432 Hz, which again is a very dodgy statement to start a scientific study with. Anyway, here are their results…


The findings of the 2016 study point at the effectiveness of music – both with 440 and 432 Hz - in lowering anxiety levels in oral surgery patients. Further it suggests that lowering cortisol levels is stronger with 432 Hz than with 440 Hz music. The authors add to their conclusion that this sort of research is somewhat controversial due to its preliminary nature and the lack of established protocols.


The 2017 study found that musical interventions in both tunings could be linked to weight gain among rats, but that the weight gain was greater among rats exposed to 440 Hz.

The results of the 2019 study show a lowered heart rate in people listening to 432 Hz compared to 440 Hz. The results of the 2020 study show an improved sleep of people listening to 432 Hz compared to 440 Hz. The authors of all of these studies emphasize that further research is necessary before making any conclusions.



5) It just feels better!


When no logical argument has any grip on the 432-believer, there is this argument left: “it simply feels better!”. Throughout the years I’ve come to observe that the great majority of people, even many musicians, don’t notice any difference if unknowingly the reference pitch of a song or instrument dropped down 32 cents. Those people that merely trust their feeling in this matter I would love to invite for an in person experiment.


As I outlined in part 1 of this series we are all highly guided by our subconscious beliefs. No matter how conscious we ought ourselves to be, suddenly we may find ourselves blindly following deep-rooted hidden beliefs. Imagine: you are a nature-lover, favouring health and spirituality (yes, I’m one of them!) and you are suddenly told 432 Hz is a natural frequency and the 440 Hz from the radio channels is unnatural and destructive (check, happened to me!). Next to this you have no or little knowledge of music or frequency. You might also reason that of course 440 Hz was not chosen to be a healing frequency. Now suddenly people are considering the effect of frequency and music and on top of that coming up with a magical healing frequency. At least your conscious or subconscious mind will consider it! When all the math seems to be too complicated, you might just take the easy road and follow ‘your feeling’. This actually might end up meaning to follow your subconscious preference for a natural tuning and with that the ‘so-called-healing-432-frequency’ because others believe in it.



The natural overtones and equal temperament


A last and crucial argument I like to share here, in favour of demystifying the subject. This regards the natural overtones. Let’s say you tune your music to 432 Hz, or you would even simply play with any instrument the 432 Hz frequency, this tone consists of an entire range of other tones; overtones. They follow a natural pattern of which the ratios are absolutely fixed. In many instruments – especially Tibetan singing bowls – the overtones are actually louder in amplitude than the fundamental pitch. If you are using the reference pitch of 432 Hz that means you are tuning your fundamental pitch to this frequency. Naturally you end up with a series of overtones that are not in line with the equal temperament, and thus if you would measure them in relationship with a fundamental 432 Hz it would be out of tune! As basically all of our modern-day music is tuned to equal temperament, let’s suppose now we would use 432 Hz with this tuning system and look at the disharmonious ratios in relation to ‘nature’. (To understand overtones, temperament and tuning systems more in depth, I’ll write another article just on this topic later on.)


Underneath you find the first 16 tones in the overtone scale (with the example of C tuned to A440 Hz as a fundamental). With it I’m writing the cents (percentage from 1 semi-tone to another semi-tone) difference from the fundamental in case equal temperament is used and as well the corresponding reference pitch of 440 Hz.


​Tone

Tone

Ration to Fundamental (Interval)

Harmonic

Difference in cents

Reference Pitch


​C

do

=fundamental

1

0

440 Hz

C

do

1 octave higher

2

0

440 Hz

G

sol

octave and perfect fifth

3

+2

440,5 Hz

C

do

2 octaves

4

0

440 Hz

E

mi

2 oct + major third

5

-14

436,5 Hz

G

sol

2 oct + perfect fifth

6

+2

440,5 Hz

Bes-

si b

a little lowaer than B flat, not on keyboard

7

-31

432 Hz

C

do

3 oct

8

0

440 Hz

D

re

3 oct + major second

9

+4

441 Hz

E

mi

3 oct + major third

10

-14

436,5 Hz

Fis-

fa#

not on keyboard

11

_49

427 HZ

G

sol

3 oct + perfect fifth

12

+2

440,5 Hz

A-

la b

not on keyboard

13

+41

450 Hz

Bes-

si b

1 oct > previous Bes-

14

-31

432 Hz

B

si

15

-12

437 Hz

C

do

4 octaves

16

0

440 Hz

Let’s say you bang a singing bowl that is tuned to 432 Hz. The chances are high its overtones come out loud and clear. Let’s say the singing bowl amplifies strongly the 5th harmonic. The E is strongly out of tune with the equal tempered scale and corresponds with 428,5 Hz in the case of a fundamental in 432 Hz. Does that mean this singing bowl in the key of 432 Hz is suddenly out of tune with nature and thus itself? No, we have to conclude our equal tempered scale took us off from the natural series of overtones. So unless you dropped equal temperament entirely and apply just intonation (based on the ratios of the overtones) tuning to 432 Hz is simply no topic.



The benefits of tuning to 432 Hz


Hallelujah, so isn’t there ANYTHING to say about the benefits of the 432 Hz reference pitch?! Well… maybe there could be at least some possible reasons why you would tune your music or instrument to it:

- Simply the fact that people start considering the effect of sound and investigating its healing qualities I believe is a positive trend. Although stating that 440 Hz is created to manipulate and destroy in my opinion is very far out (I didn’t even dive into the conspiracy theory of the Nazis and 440 Hz here), it certainly wasn’t chosen to be healing or beneficial! Tuning music to 440 Hz is a part of our crazy, invasive, industrialised, western consumption world. Although there is no evidence that 440 Hz is destructive, it could be something to just plug out from this frequency. If a big group of nature-lovers collectively tunes the reference pitch to a consciously chosen frequency, the power of collective intention could be felt. It would carry values of love and generally the intention of health and happiness. That being said, the power of a healing intention can be put into any frequency, including 440 Hz. With this argument I’m just emphasising the power of collective intention and a shift in the values behind music.

- Although an 8 Hz difference (less than a third of a semi-tone) is very small, 432 Hz might simply resonate with you.

- If you are used to play or listen certain songs in 440 Hz you will consciously or subconsciously notice a small difference. The fact that it’s slightly lower might raise a calming effect. The chance that you will have this calming effect with music (or an instrument) you never played or listened to before is rather small though.

- The acoustic resonant chamber of your instrument might resonate more with 432 Hz, depending on how it’s built (used materials and its shape).

- If you happen to find yourself in a resonant acoustic space that vibrates more strongly in 432 Hz than 440 Hz, that could be great to consider. If you develop a listening ear, that ear will guide you.



Conclusion


Clearly the 432-theory has little ground to stand on. The reference pitch is a tiny little aspect of a musical creation. There is so much going on in a musical piece! Focussing on this one little aspect, giving it all importance, in my opinion shows a lack of understanding of what’s happening in the totality of the listening experience. I believe if we want to investigate the healing effect of sound we should more strongly consider other aspects in sound and music; the natural harmony of ratios between notes, the play with the intervals, the depth of a drone or the intention behind the play, the current mood of the musician or sound worker, to name just a few. I strongly feel that all frequencies are divine and have the ability to heal. What makes them healing or destructive might have more to do with the bigger context, and likely even more with how you perceive them.


In Love and Truthfulness,



Recommended articles and videos


Sources


1) A very popular 432Hz song that is actually in 440Hz

2) A 432Hz-song that is actually tuned in 437Hz

3) A ‘spiritual detox in 432Hz’, actually tuned even higher than 440Hz


Photos are from Sophie Snoeckx, Chelkis, Unsplash (by Privedence Doucet, NASA), Hand Ollermann and the overtone ladder artwork by Tuula


About the In Tune Series


This series contains articles and occasionally videos on vague, mystic and often controversial topics within the field of sound healing and modern-day spirituality. I’ll shine some light on some very ‘settled’ beliefs within this field, and investigate whether or not they really are ‘in tune’ with ‘truth’.

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