View Full Version : A Small but Significant Controversy in Music

Magda Hassan
02-10-2011, 05:39 AM
A Small but Significant Controversy in Music

Posted by Sean W. (http://www.lazytechguys.com/author/ltgsean/) on Wednesday, November 17, 2010 · View Comments (http://www.lazytechguys.com/commentary/soundproduction/a-small-but-significant-controversy-in-music/#comments)

http://www.lazytechguys.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/440_Tuning_Fork-300x199.jpg (http://www.lazytechguys.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/440_Tuning_Fork.jpg)A small controversy exists between the world wide accepted music tuning frequency where A = 440 Hz vs. the alternative frequency where A = 432 Hz. This controversy, though small, is said to have a profound impact on the music we listen to today, and for the last 60+ years. There are even stories about Nazis playing a part in this dispute. This debate also tends to involve conspiracies but I’ll keep it more factual based.
What is A = 440 Hz?
A = 440 Hz is the musical term for how the note A will be finely tuned, so that it vibrates at 440 cycles per second, or hertz. This accepted standard is consistent among all music instruments created and is designed to make it easier to match other instruments. The frequency A = 432 Hz is slightly lower pitch, but it, instead, is considered the “Universal Tuning”.
A Quick History
A = 440 Hz is the standard note frequency for middle A that the American Standards Association recommended in the mid 1930′s. It quickly was adopted in other countries and with all music instrument manufacturers. Before this time, the primary pitch used was A = 435 Hz.
Why was A = 440 Hz chosen? This part seems to have a bit of lore behind it, but the popular theory is that a Nazi propaganda minister named Josef Goebbels pushed for it to cause our bodies to be out of harmony with nature. Nature, it seems mathematically, also resonates at 432 Hz, not at 440 Hz. In any case, 440 Hz has been accepted and is the standard in use today.
A Little Bit of Tech
A = 440 Hz tuning is not perfect, matter of fact it’s far from perfect. When using 440 Hz as the reference pitch, the measured frequencies of the other notes start to fraction off. For example when A = 440 Hz, Middle C becomes 261.63 Hz. The E above = 659.26 Hz. The rest of the scale is fraction off in a similar manner.
A = 432 Hz tuning, on the other hand, is perfect. When using 432 Hz as the reference pitch, the measured frequencies of the other notes all become whole tones. Middle C = 256 Hz, E above = 648 Hz. This stays consistent throughout the entire note range.
Listening to music in 432hz is said to have a much more natural feel and a smoother sound. Other said benefits are less irritation at louder volumes, so we can listen to the music at a much louder volume. The last said benefit is a better tighter mid and low frequencies. Unfortunately, this is hard to prove, since the test’s are solely on how the music feels and sounds to us as individuals. The general consensus is that 432hz tuning does improve the sound and feeling.
The major problem with tuning to 432 Hz is that the standard is 440 Hz. Any acoustic piano would have to be retuned to play in 432 Hz which takes a professional. Digital keyboards will sometime have the ability to fine tune the pitch but not all. Lastly, the spacing of the frets on guitars are tuned for 440 Hz, so perfect 432hz becomes a bit more difficult to achieve.
To hear 432 Hz at it’s best, you will need a good set of stereo speakers or a nice set of headphones. A song recorded fully in 432 Hz will yield the best results. There are some that can be found on youtube where you can hear a song completely recorded in this alternative frequency.
This experiment can also be done with decent results any popular song recorded after the 1940′s. You’ll want to use a audio edi ting programs which will allow a user to pitch a file up or down (Pro Tools, Peak, Audacity, Logic, etc). You’ll want to fine tune pitch down the song 32 cents (-32 cents).
Most pro keyboards have the ability to adjust the pitch. For guitar players, use a chromatic tuner that will tune to that frequency. Most chromatic tuners, though, only go to 435 Hz.
A Person Note
I find this very intriguing. As I’m testing these theories, I did notice some differences. The low end sound of the pitched down recording did sound more solid and clear. I also tuned down an electric piano and the difference was quite noticeable. I’m going to be dwelling deeper into this and follow up with recordings and examples.

Ed Jewett
02-10-2011, 05:45 AM
I will have to stay attuned for the next fork in this story, since it seems to resonate with me.