If you’ve been around the sound healing community long enough, chances are you’ve come across the idea that music at 432 hertz is more healing than music with standardized tuning to 440 hertz.
For quick background— hertz (hz) is a unit of measurement used to measure cycles per second. So when we say something is pitched at 432hz, we say it’s vibrating 432 times per second.
The stories are compelling. You may have heard that musica at 432 hertz is the frequency of the heart— and that music at 440 hertz is a chaos-inducing frequency introduced by the Nazis, or the Rockefellers, who were leading a war on consciousness.
After exploring this idea for several years, I’ve yet to find any compelling evidence that music at 432 hertz is more healing than music tuned to 440 hertz, and I encourage you to think critically about this claim. While there is nothing wrong with tuning your instruments to 432 hertz, I personally don’t think it’s meaningful; the instruments we use for our popular ‘The Sound Healing Symphony’ are tuned to 440.
Here’s an analogy —
Understanding the beautiful patterns inherent in music is like learning to draw a circle. Tuning your instruments to 432 hertz is like saying the circle will be better on slightly different paper, a very slightly thinner paper that might be incompatible with most printers today.
So, why bother considering theory that music at 432 hertz is more healing?
If it’s just a niche theory, why consider it at all?
Here’s the thing….if it were true— it would be beautiful.
In the words of my music teacher, Sarah Glass, who is also our singer for ‘The Sound Healing Symphony’—
“If there was any evidence to support the idea that music at 432 hertz was more healing … .everyone would be down, every musician would want to make the change. Who wouldn’t want to play at the frequency of the heart?”
As more and more people are tuning into the soothing power of music for wellness, wouldn’t it be amazing if we could alter human consciousness just by playing music at a slightly lower pitch?
How incredible would it be if playing our instruments in a slightly different frequency would make us calmer, happier and more connected with one another?
The idea is so tempting that it feels cynical to just dismiss it without due consideration. I really want to believe this is true, but I’ve struggled to find any meaningful evidence to bolster that desire.
Tuning our instruments down comes at the cost of collaboration. Since 440 hertz is standardized, many instruments, such as flutes or vibraphones, cannot be tuned down. Some instruments, such as the harp, would be a total nightmare to tune down. So if you choose to play music at 432 hertz, you could only play with people who have instruments in that tuning, which is currently a very small group.
If you buy your crystal singing bowls set to 432, chances are slim that the flute player next door will be able to join your performance.
If we’re going to stand alone on this music at 432 hertz mountain, it would only make sense to make this choice for meaningful and valid reasons.
Why was music standardized at 440 hertz to begin with?
Back in the day, before the invention of tuning forks and digital audio, pitch standards varied widely. Musicians tuned their instruments to one another, or to their local organ, and tuning varied wildly from locale to locale. In the 1800’s, Germans adopted a “Stuttgart standard” of 440 hertz, Britain varied between 433 and 455, and France was at 435 hertz. You may have heard that Italy had a lower pitch, and that the famous opera composer Giuseppe Verdi was in favor of music at 432 hertz.
(Side note: The lower a pitch standard, the easier it is for opera singers to hit higher notes.)
Then came trains— increased communication and transportation. Similar to the advent of standardized time zones, traveling musicians pushed the idea of pitch standardization.
In 1936, the American Association of Standards recommended A 440, and The International Organization of Standardization adopted this in 1955.
“In the 1930s, the broadcasting industry made a push towards total standardization of concert pitch in Europe and North American. Success was achieved at a 1939 international conference held in London.”
Music was almost standardized at 439 hertz! Music producer and educator Rick Beato argues that 440 prevailed over 439, because 439 was a prime number, and divisions of it were difficult to generate electronically.
And by ‘international’, we mean to say that representatives from France, Germany, Britain, Holland and Italy (the US & Switzerland sent messages). I’ve been struggling to find information about pitch standards around the world, and Sarah Glass posits that in many classical music traditions around the world, pitch was relative.
Here’s an online tone generator so you can hear how 440 sounds. You can also tune it down and listen to 432!
Thinking critically about music at 432 hertz vs. music at 440 hertz
First off, measurement is arbitrary, and often standardization is arbitrary. If we claim something has spiritual significance because it’s precisely 432 ft, we forget in Europe that would be 131.67 meters. Hertz is a measurement of “cycles per second”. But the second is an arbitrary construct that didn’t exist until the 16th century. I really like this essay by Jakub Marian, who explains the arbitrary nature of a second.
That’s why the argument that music at 432 hertz is representative of the Pythagorean Tetractys doesn’t make much sense to me. First, the ratio of this is 4-3-2-1, so wouldn’t that imply there’s magic to be found at 4,321 hz? Yet this extremely high-pitched frequency is more likely to be used as a torture device.
Secondly, the Pythagorean Tetractys is about ratios. There’s a mathematical and musical wonder in recognizing that frequencies with ratios at 4:3 and 3:2 and 2:1 sound incredible together. This is the basis of the octave, the perfect fifth, and the perfect fourth— foundational aspects of music theory.
432 Hertz and The Schumann Resonance
The most confusing claim that I’ve heard about 432hz is that it’s a multiple of the Schumann resonance, and therefore mirrors the heartbeat of the earth.
The Schumann resonance, named after German physicist Winfried Otto Schumann, refers to a set of electromagnetic resonances in the Earth’s electromagnetic field spectrum. This geophysical and electromagnetic phenomenon is widely used as a metaphor for the heartbeat of the earth.
What’s really confusing is that the fundamental frequency of the Schumann resonance is commonly reported as 7.83hz. Did someone round up to get 8hz? 432 is not neatly divisible by 7.83.
What’s also strange about the 8hz claim is that yes, 432 is divisible by 8…but isn’t 440, also divisible by 8?
Honestly, this seemed so off-base that I was sure that I just didn’t comprehend the math behind the original claim. But this mathematician and PhD in Music Theory seems to agree that’s not a reasonable comparison, for significantly more in-depth reasons.
Maybe it’s just a lower pitch
Lower frequencies could be more calming to us, but that doesn’t prove anything special about 432.
When researching studies that explored the benefits of music at 432 hertz, I became familiar with the work of Diletta Calamassi, from the University of Florence, and her collaborator Gian Palo Pomponi.
The two authored a study in 2019, that consisted of 33 participants listening to music tuned to 440 hertz on one day, and music at 432 hertz on the other day. This was a blind study. Despite the small sample size, the study reports that heart rate and respiration rate slightly slowed when participants listened to music at 432 hertz.
This is interesting and I hope the conclusions of this study spur further research on the topic.
As Sarah Glass points out, this study compared 440 and 432 (a higher and lower pitch). If they wanted to test for a preference of 432 specifically, we need to include additional pitches – for example, 452, 445, 430, 425, etc.
If lower frequencies are indeed more calming, we could get more powerful effects simply by playing lower, deeper tones. We can incorporate lower octave instruments such as gongs and large crystal bowls, and sing in lower registers. Slower rhythms do calm us, so perhaps slower frequencies do as well.
About the Author
Simona Asinovski is an entrepreneur and musician who nerds out about the science of sound. She’s also a founder at Sound Meditation Presents. If you’re curious about sound meditation, explore Simona’s upcoming sound bath training course in July, which includes a portion on music theory with instructor Sarah Glass.
Beato, Rick. “What’s the Deal with a = 440 Hz vs 432 Hz? Let’s Talk!” www.youtube.com/watch?v=LjR0WpWwLrE&t=95s. Accessed 1 June 2023.
Calamassi, Diletta, and Gian Paolo Pomponi. “Music Tuned to 440 Hz versus 432 Hz and the Health Effects: A Double-Blind Cross-over Pilot Study.” Explore (New York, N.Y.), vol. 15, no. 4, 2019, pp. 283–290, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31031095, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.explore.2019.04.001.
Cavanagh , Lynn. A Brief History of the Establishment of International Standard Pitch A=440 Hertz . 1968.
Jakub Marian. “The “432 Hz vs. 440 Hz” Conspiracy Theory.” Jakubmarian.com, 2019, jakubmarian.com/the-432-hz-vs-440-hz-conspiracy-theory/.
Morris, Hugh. “The Pitch of Living.” VAN Magazine, 17 Feb. 2022, van-magazine.com/mag/432-hz-tuning/.
“Origin and History of Solfeggio Frequencies – MindEasy.” Mindeasy.com, 22 Feb. 2023, mindeasy.com/history-of-solfeggio-frequencies/. Accessed 26 May 2023.
Richardson, E. G. “The International Standard of Musical Pitch.” Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, vol. 88, no. 4570, 1940, pp. 851–864, www.jstor.org/stable/41359645?read-now=1&seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents.
Weinstein, Jerry L. “Musical Pitch and International Agreement.” The American Journal of International Law, vol. 46, no. 2, 1952, pp. 341–343, www.jstor.org/stable/2194075?read-now=1&seq=2#page_scan_tab_contents. Accessed 2 June 2023.