The Secret to Playing Music

I love music. I am entranced by classical orchestral pieces. I play any instrument I can get my hands on. So the question is, why did it take me so long to try this?

I started learning piano at a young age . . . not because I wanted to but because it was in the house and mom said I had to learn it before I got my dream instrument: a violin. I am majorly self-taught, but have had a few teachers over the years who taught me how to read music and add expression to what I play.

Recently I’ve been studying violin. Our neighbor and her friend play fiddle quite well and often participate in old-time fiddler’s groups across the country. When we get together they always want to teach me a new piece, and I’m eager to learn. However, it was only a few weeks ago that I really made a leap. It started when I read something about tuning to a certain frequency.

Before I take the deep dive, I must admit that many people consider this to be nothing more than a conspiracy theory. So don’t get your hopes up: it may not be some magical way to start playing perfect music, but on the other hand, I wouldn’t be writing this if I didn’t think it helped.

The secret I discovered was no more than a thread at first: something my dad said he’d heard in a cooky podcast. I tried it. And WOW, it was cool.

So we researched it, and here’s what I found!

First off, I should probably explain a little bit about tuning itself. Most tuners are factory-set to tune to 440 Hertz (abbreviated Hz). Depending on your tuner, you’ll be able to see this number displayed on the screen and be able to change it with the buttons on the tuner itself. When you tune your instrument, the tuner will display the note you’re playing, and tell you if you’re sharp or flat. As you adjust the tuning, you’ll see the display change. When you reach the “perfect pitch,” the tuner will show that you’re in tune. But by changing the number 440, you change what you tune to, so that an instrument that is in tune at 440 Hz will be slightly sharp on all the notes at 432 Hz. The lower the number of Hz, the lower the number of vibrations per second, the lower the sound. The difference between 440 Hz and 432 Hz is minimal: less than a half-step on the keyboard, so if it’s such a small difference, why does it matter? Basically everybody tunes to 440 because that’s what all the tuners are set to, but could there be something wrong with that? Or perhaps advantages to tuning to 432 instead?

If you type in “432 Hz” to a web-search, you’ll find a ton of stuff on this. A lot of people become very opinionated on this subject, and sometimes it’s hard to find an unbiased opinion. If that’s what you’re looking for, I’m afraid you’ve come to the wrong place because personally, I developed a strong bias after about 30 seconds of playing a newly-tuned violin. The question: can I actually prove that it’s any more than a conspiracy theory?

I think that there are many concepts in the universe that cannot be proven with the information we have on hand, but which we can draw rather convincing conclusions for based on what we do have: information, sure, but also intuition. There’s a lot to the human brain that hasn’t been discovered. So really, what I’d encourage you to do is to draw your own conclusion. Listen to a few samples that I’ve linked below, see if you hear a difference between 440 and 432 Hz.

For now, here are a few things that stood out to me.

First of all, the number 432 is mathematically special: it’s the sum of four consecutive primes: 103, 107, 109, and 113. It is exactly three gross, or 12 squared. An equilateral triangle with perimeter equal to area has a square root of 432. Just for this, it seems, a lot of people have started using this tuning.

Second, there’s a ton of information on the internet about these frequencies in comparison. Everything that I have read points to 432 being related to a “natural” frequency, whereas 440 is referred to as “aggravating” or “grating.” If this was wrong or unimportant, I think you’d find a lot of conflicting opinions, or a lot less information altogether. Why would someone take the time to write about it if it didn’t make a difference?

Then again, it is also said that a man by the name of Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi minister of propaganda, made the change to 440 Hz as the standardized tuning, and that this was to inspire the people to war to align with Der Fuhrer’s wishes, and it was Der Fuhrer himself that said, “If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.”

My personal conclusion is this: when I started playing at 432 Hz, it felt right. I definitely noticed a difference in the music, both in the sound and in my own development. A switch inside my brain seemed to have been flipped, and over the course of the next few days I improved drastically. All the notes lined up and glided together smoothly, but the music itself, the frequencies that I was producing as I played, sounded better.

I would encourage you to tune an instrument to 432 Hz for a few days, playing frequently, and see if you notice a difference in your ability to play. A lot of people seem to draw hasty conclusions after listening to samples, and there’s something to that, but I think there’s a lot more to actually making the music yourself.

If you’re not musically inclined, find some music you like and listen to it at 432 Hz for a few days! This change can be done inside of Audacity or Garageband.

So if this is all a conspiracy theory, or if people only say that because they can’t prove that it’s not, is still up for debate. But I think you’ll find that 432 Hz not only sounds a lot nicer, but helps you concentrate, get better sleep, and appreciate music a lot more.

The great 440 Hz conspiracy, and why all of our music is wrong: Alan Cross

432 Hz, a new concert pitch

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