10 Myths of the Tuning Pitch Debate

10 Myths of the Tuning Pitch Debate

written by: Dameon Keller
by: Dameon Keller
Cymatics Cymatics

You may have seen one of the numerous articles circulating online, depicting two side-by-side cymatics patterns – the rippled images created by sound in water. One is of the note "A" in our modern standard tuning pitch of 440Hz, the other at 432Hz, which many claim is "better," for numerous reasons; some of which are true, some just silly. I'm actually quoted in the first, and most of the re-postings of these articles, which originated with one titled "Here's Why You Should Consider Converting Your Music to A=432." Which, by the way, you most certainly should NOT, for numerous reasons.

You may have also heard of the "528Hz Miracle Love DNA Frequency" and "The Ancient Solfeggios," which is a story full of plot-holes. The myth was first told in a time before people could just use Google to learn that a "frequency" is what we call the cycles-per-second (CPS) of a wave, and that in "ancient times," there was no second yet as a measurement of time, let alone any means of measuring the cycles of a wave within one. The "DNA Repair" claim has been tossed aside as of late, as the actual frequencies of our DNA, discovered in the late 1980's by my friend Susan Alexjander and Dr. David Deamer, have recently come to light in the articles and conversations. Classically trained musicians all know that "solfege'" simply means "major scale," which these 6 number-column "frequencies" are not, so if you don't see a red flag from the get-go, you'll likely fall for the rest of their confabulations. Such as...

1. Gregorian Chants Used the 6 "Ancient Solfeggio Frequencies"

is probably the easiest to disprove, if you have YouTube and a guitar tuner app. Which no one did back in the early 1990's when the claim was first made. And now that we all do, everyone's checking their facts, right? Wrong. So far I'm the only one I know of who has. Even just a quick Google search will tell you Gregorian Chant is sung in Just Temperament.

2. 528Hz is a Magic DNA and Water Restructuring Cure-All

Actually, it's simply a "C" in A440 Just Temperament. "The Pitch Game" has been waging for almost 200 years, and when they switched to Equal Temperament to accommodate keyboards and fretted instruments, singers and strings players protested. Because the higher the pitch, the more strain on the vocal chords and strings, and the higher the dissonance created by the intervals – the pulsing effect heard when playing two or more notes at the same time. In "Equal Temperament," as opposed to "Just," or "Perfect 5ths," the notes are equally spaced, rather than harmonically. If I'm losing you again, you're not alone – I didn't get it 'til a few years ago either. I actually believed that...

3. The Nazis Made Us Do It

The popular and often repeated story is that Radio Berlin proposed the A440Hz tuning pitch standard at a conference in the 1930's, but the truth is, it happened in the 1800's, proposed by the Royal Academy of Arts. The switch from Just to Equal Temperament was just going down, as well as the switch from using the note "C" to "A" when defining tuning pitch. So the Academy suggested one thing, meaning another entirely, and the court, who couldn't have cared less, settled on A440. The "Stuttgart Pitch" was so awesome that people have protested on the regular ever since, and Radio Berlin only showed support for the standard in the 1930's because, physics for broadcast purposes. It's not like Radio Berlin was playing a lot of pop music back in the 30s.

4. Numerology Proves A432 is Better

If you're the type to use a lot of numerology, this may surprise you – it's irrelevant when it comes to frequencies. Applying it to the numerical values that we place on frequencies or man-made (and widely varying) concepts like measurements of distance isentirely arbitrary. For example, one article claims that tuning to A432Hz is better because "The diameter of the sun is 864,000 miles (2 x 432) and the diameter of the moon is 2160 miles (432/2)." First of all, that's not even how numerology works, at all. Second, if that's the case, then all of you musicians who use kilometers instead of miles should be tuning your "A" at the 4thoctave to 1080Hz. That's actually a C#, not an A, and a very high one at that. Please don't do that.

5. Pitch Doesn't Matter, It's the Same Intervals

No, it's not. There's a Simpsons episode where Lisa repeats that famous quote about jazz, "Listen to the notes they're NOT playing." What the quote refers to is the intervals. These are the relationships between the notes in the scale. Again I'll spare you the math, but in the 4thoctave, C minus B equals a 14.69Hz interval. 14.69Hz is so low you can't hear it – but your brain perceives it as a pulsed beating dissonance, which is a brainwave entrainment frequency. The higher the tuning pitch, the more aggravating the intervals become. The lower the pitch, the more relaxing and natural they become. It's basic physics and neurology, also known as Sympathetic Vibratory Resonance. So science does actually prove that yes, you do actually really feel that one song that's kind-of sad, but no, you should not play it through headphones on repeat all day then wonder why you're mad at the world for no real reason. And rest assured, the suspicion that your pre-teen's music is warping their mind is actually more true than you wanted to believe.

6. Tuning to Either C528 or A432 is Better Than A440

No, because what I just said in #4. In Equal Temperament, C528 is A444Hz – way too high for guitars to stay in tune, and besides, you're rarely actually going to hit that high C =528Hz "magic bean" anyway. The truth is, the intervals in Equal Temperament will always be out-of-tune, by definition, no matter what you do. The only way to achieve pure, natural intervals is to utilize Pythagorean Fifths, or Maria Renolds Scale of 12 Fifths. But yes, A432 is a little better than A440, and A444 is horribly dissonant.

7. A432 is What Everyone Used To Tune To

No, classical musicians tuned to "C" before it switched to "A", and when they did, "A" was all over the place, hence the need for a standard. The Italian opera singer's "perfect pitch" at A421Hz was useless in France, where the organ was tuned to A435Hz. And what most people write about in terms of science, physics, or medicine (check your doctors tuning fork) refers to Scientific Pitch - or "Philosophers Pitch" - which is C=1Hz. Octaves are 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 63, 128, 256, etc. Also, 1Hz = 60 Beats-Per-Minute, or BPM. Easy for math and physics. In the Scale of 12 Fifths, which you can't tune your guitar to, C256 will give you A432. But in Equal Temperament, A432 is close enough. It's a do-able compromise, and it closely matches the C# the Sitar is tuned to, which is considered "Om" in the Vedic cultures, which is one of the few viable things about A432, but that everyone seems to miss in these online articles about A432.

8. Cymatics Patterns Prove A432 is Better

No, cymatics patterns can be very interesting and beautiful, or clustered and ugly. And that depends on the many variables, such as using water or other materials like salt or sand, the size of the plate or container, the volume of the audio signal, and the octave of the notes. None of the late Dr. Emoto's work in cymatics or water "tuning" has been repeated in front of witnesses, and it's regarded as total bunk by the scientific community.

9. You Should Retune All Your Music to A432

...and yes, there's an app for that. For one thing, most likely, not all of your music collection was recorded in A440Hz pitch to begin with, so just shifting it all down 8Hz equally will yield questionable results. For example, if you have Iggy and the Stooges' "Raw Power," or the Beastie Boys "Check Your Head" in there, they're already at A432. If you have the soundtrack to "2001: A Space Odyssey," it's way up at A444. So just dropping your whole collection down 8Hz is not going to work.

The Philharmonic Orchestra did not tune to A444 to achieve C528, as they are not even playing in Equal Temperament. They do it because they are an orchestra, and it's easier for the horns to be loud. I'm guessing the Beastie Boys recorded a song called "Namaste" in the Vedic C# Om on purpose, taking into consideration the late Adam Yauch's work with the "Free Tibet" movement. But Iggy Pop and "Search and Destroy" in C# Vedic Om? Probably not so intentional. Which leads us to claims like...

10. John Lennon and Many Others Recorded in A432 Back in the 1960s & 70s

No, someone did retune a bunch of their music down to A432, posted videos of "Imagine" and others on YouTube, and now people see those and without reading the video descriptions and comments, later report that the songs were recorded that way originally.

Some of the Beatles and other early rock & roll recordings are at a lower pitch, but this has more to do with the piano in the studio at the time (more likely a bit flat than not,) whatever tuning fork was on hand, or tuning by ear, as the electronic tuner wasn't invented until the 1980's. The only well-known modern musician to publically express interest in A432 is Prince, who shared the article I'm quoted in as his one lone response to a Facebook Q&A in 2014. Thanks, Prince, and R.I.P.

The often re-posted meme of the pine cone, the cymascope image, and the "crown chakra visual," is really a meter. It's designed to measure the viewer's knowledge of music and/or physics, and general

gullibility. Those who believe that C528Hz is a magic bean will get excited at the "evidence," and re-post it without a second thought. But let's examine this image closely. First, we have a pine cone. Fair enough. But then let's look at the cymatics image in the center. "528Hz or 102Hz." OR? Which is it? This doesn't make any sense, because 102Hz is around a G or G# in the 2nd octave, a pretty low note, compared to C528Hz in the 5th octave. Pretty hard to confuse a low G with a high C, but if you don't know anything about music or physics, I suppose anything is possible. Now, let's move on to the third image, labeled "Crown Chakra Visual." Ok, according to who? Or what? Regardless, the Crown Chakra is associated with the color violet, not the Heart, green, an octave of C528Hz according to the Law of Octaves, and, you know - calculators. So even if it were an image based on anything solid, it would be the wrong association to prove any validity of the center image. 528Hz, by the way, does not produce that pattern in a cymascope, or any of my cymatics equipment or software, and the low "G" that they suggest it might be, would not produce anywhere near that complex of an image either. And please believe me when I tell you, this is not the worst of the falsehoods I've come across.

It's difficult to blame the innocent and naïve beginner who simply Googles "Healing Frequencies" and finds this in the top results. However, it is a great example of why research and at least some understanding of the most basic math, music theory, and physics are – or at least should be – required of anyone claiming to have any understanding of said "Healing Frequencies" beyond an extremely superficial extent.

I see no difference between this, and posts by "Flat-Earthers" I have seen. please The "New-Age" and "Metaphysical" communities tend to be a trusting bunch, but let's not trade in one blind faith for another. Anyone can ask for your "faith" in their "intuition," while intentionally leading those down a false path who simply can't be bothered to do a few minutes of research on the topic at hand.

I do tune my guitars to A432Hz. On the rare occasions I play music with others, I insist on A432. Claims that "guitars just aren't made for it" are disproven by the beautiful resonance my Yamaha acoustic rings out at the lower pitch compared to "the standard," and I don't see many guitarists hesitate to "drop-D" or tune to E-flat to jam to some Black Sabbath either. I have set up several electric guitars to A432Hz,and they hold better tune for longer now than they did at A440Hz. People who claim keyboards can't be re-tuned have simply somehow missed the "Master Tuning" function in their settings (yes, a fellow professional recording engineer actually tried to argue this to me. It's approximately -34 cents, by the way.) Many old analog synthesizers and organs have a master tune knob as well. Fortunately for me, I mostly compose electronic music, and I have any pitch or temperament I desire available through both synthesizer software and by using fretless acoustic instruments.

If you are considering a more natural tuning system, especially for brainwave entrainment or any other therapeutic modality, I recommend ditching Equal Temperament altogether in favor of a temperament of fifths. There are many non-fretted string instruments (a zither, for instance) capable of any tuning pitch and temperament you like. Real Tibetan singing bowls, tingshas, and bells, didgiridoos and other natural instruments, as well as theremins and other electronic instruments and software, open a whole new world to fill the gap left by the cold, dead intervals produced guitars and conventional "standard" keyboards. If you really want to play a guitar or keyboard that bad, buy an Indian Harmonium and a Sitar. I am, let me know, we can help each other learn, it'll be fun. For tuning, I recommend the PitchLab app, available on both Android and iTunes. There is a paid (pro) version, but the free (lite) one is actually better, I found out the hard way.

For sound therapy tracks as well as "regular" music, I utilize Scientific Pitch C=1Hz, Maria Renolds' Scale of 12 Fifths Temperament (or Pythagorean Fifths if in C.) The tempos, key of the song, and the pulsed isochronic frequencies are all perfectly synchronized utilizing the formula of Hz=BPM/60, for zero dissonant "ghost intervals" and 100% pure harmony for mind, body, and spirit. So far, no complaints.

Thanks for your interest, and please feel free to contact me with any questions or comments.