Tuning instruments to the same pitch became necessary when two or more instruments began to be played together. To a certain extent, that problem was solved in the early 18th century by the invention of the tuning fork. However, while it was a step in the right direction, it wasn’t the complete answer.
Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, and all the other composers all used tuning forks to tune up their orchestras. But still, they were usually tuned from a different pitch from each other.
Their pitch was determined by whose tuning fork they happened to be using at the time. They were not standard, and they were different from each other.
A Lack Of Standardization
It was clear that there needed to be a standard way of tuning that everyone could use. One standard was set in the 18th century when A4 or “A above middle C” on the piano became the positional measurement of the tuning standard. This lies in a range of 400Hz and 480Hz.
Heinrich Hertz proved the existence of electromagnetic waves in 1830. The cycles per second were described in units that were named after him or “Hertz” (Hz).
Therefore, the standard was set midway in the A4 range or at 440Hz. This became the standard pitch reference for tuning. A reference point to make sure that instruments all sound in tune.
In the last ten years or so, an alternative system has emerged, supported by a range of theories and applications. This alternative is set at 432Hz, not 440Hz. And there are some interesting reasons applied to why it may be a better system.
But is that true? Was it a new alternative? What is this 432 Hz vs 440 Hz debate about? I shall get to that later…
The World We Live In Today
Unfortunately, the world we live in is plagued by false information. Any idiot can set up a website, Twitter account, or Facebook page and start expounding rubbish. And they do.
Furthermore, the people that control these sites do nothing. It costs money, and we can’t have that. They aren’t rich enough, are they?
But there is a worse situation…
People who either have the authority or try to claim to have it, get away with indiscretion. They get caught doing something they shouldn’t, and the cry goes up, “Oh… it’s fake news! Poor me, I am innocent.”
Most of the time, they are guilty, as history has shown. Nevertheless, it’s put on the internet, and some people believe it.
The question, “Is 440Hz better than 432Hz?” is one of these situations that is fueled by misinformation. I shall be explaining exactly why a little later.
Where Did It Originate?
The 432Hz system is sometimes referred to as “Verdi’s A.” It was the Italian composer who made a statement saying that the 432 system was better. This was because he claimed it was “mathematically consistent with the universe.”
Verdi was not a mathematician, so where his statement came from is hard to understand. And, incidentally, neither was he the poor son of an illiterate family he always pretended to be. His family was quite wealthy landowners and traders.
Nor was he the first to draw attention and make the suggestion. It was first suggested in 1713 by Joseph Sauveur, who was a French physicist. I shall make no more comments on Mr. Verdi.
Some Adopted And Accepted The Idea
It was a small step from there for the 432Hz System to become described as the “frequency of the Universe.” And from there, more claims were made that it had special healing powers and very real spiritual benefits.
What is The 432Hz System?
Let’s try and understand what it is and what the differences are. The 432 System is an alternative system to the 440Hz international standard for tuning instruments.
The 432Hz is also sometimes called the “Scientific Pitch.” Or, as I have already mentioned, the Verdi pitch. It has its basis in the setting for middle C, or C4, at 256Hz. This differs from the 440 system, where it is set at 261.62Hz.
The Schiller Institute
The 432Hz system gained a following in the 1980s, encouraged by the Schiller Institute. It was from there that some of the more controversial claims were made for the alternative system.
One of the arguments for the system is that the musical octaves for C would offer whole number increments in both the decimal and binary systems for counting. When expressed in Hz, the C octaves will remain as whole numbers. That makes it more concise.
To illustrate, let’s just list the octaves up from C4 under the 432Hz system:
- C7…2048Hz, etc.
Why Is The 432Hz System Preferred By Some?
The consensus among those who prefer it is that it is easier on the ears. They also claim that it has a brightness and clarity that 440Hz does not have.
Then, others claim that the 432Hz system is more in tune with nature and thus harmonically appealing. They claim that makes it ideal for relaxation and meditation. A claim that is objective, of course, and very difficult to prove.
Does It Sound Different?
As you might expect, and if you have good pitch, then it does sound a little lower than 440Hz. But is there a noticeable difference? To some, yes, there is.
And, if you compared the same piece of music side by side using both systems, then you would hear a very slight difference. Some websites allow you to do this if you are interested.
Just To Complicate Matters
The IOS, or to give it its full name, the International Organization for Standardization, has decided that the standard pitch is 440Hz.
Unfortunately, some won’t accept that standard. In Boston and New York, the symphony orchestras use 441Hz and 442Hz, respectively. In parts of Europe, 443Hz and 444Hz.
So, the conclusion we can draw is that there is no accepted standard at all. People will operate as they see fit. However, the 432 Hz vs 440 Hz debate rumbles on. But, what are the arguments for and against each system? Let’s now consider that a little closer.
440Hz Is The Standard Set, So Stick With It
There are several reasons why we should use 440Hz. If some tune to 432Hz, they won’t be in tune. And, some instruments cannot be tuned, for example, some steel drums. If they are set at 440Hz, they are going to be out of tune with an alternative tuning pattern.
Switching to a new standard at this stage would be unfeasible. For a start, the vast majority of electronic tuners use 440Hz, though some can tune to a range of settings. So does most musical software.
Even if a realistic and justifiable reason to change were found, it would be no easy or welcome task.
A Spiritual Significance to 432Hz?
Most population groups would dismiss that argument without any consideration at all. While it may not have any real spiritual significance, there are some issues related to it.
People claim they feel calmer and more peaceful, which is why a lot of music for meditation and “New Age” music uses 432Hz.
They claim inner peace because the music is cleaner and clearer, and, therefore, less stressful. The same people claim that 432Hz aids in the spiritual development of the individual.
Studies Have Been Conducted
I use the term studies because they are consistent and conducted without bias. However, some of the “studies” that attempt to affirm this argument have very small sample sizes. That doesn’t usually give an accurate representation or analysis.
A further problem is that these studies are usually conducted, and results are published by adherents to 432Hz. That is an indication that their findings should be treated with a degree of caution.
There is no actual proof that the 432Hz system encourages spirituality or assists any healing processes.
The Element of Doubt
It can’t be ignored that this exists, and much of it is caused by the adherents to 432Hz. The amount of misinformation posted about the benefits of 432Hz is unproven and could be regarded as fiction. Any real benefits, historically or spiritually, are ruined by the level of this misinformation process.
We go back to the effect of how some people’s online activities are used to hide their failings. And also to improve a false standing they pretend to have.
It Is A Personal Thing
At the end of the day, there is little in the way of concrete evidence the 432 Hz system is better. But, if people have a better experience with this system for their listening pleasure, then what’s wrong with them using it?
The Two Camps
This appears to be an unbreachable chasm in some quarters, although it must be said not all. They each have their position regarding this difference of opinion.
Those That Favor 440Hz Reject 432Hz
These people are essentially made up of two groups. Some reject the 432Hz based on the amount of misinformation that is allowed to be circulated. An understandable position.
Others are conformist in their approach. They believe that the 440Hz system is the one laid down by the International Organization for Standardization. Therefore, we should use that. Again, an acceptable argument.
Primed To Accept It
Some people are primed to accept 432Hz as being a better system by what they have read or been told. Therefore, they are going to be biased in that direction. The element of subjectivity does not exist in their rational thought. They have already made up their mind.
Give Me Facts
The argument from some of the supporters of 440Hz is simple. Give me the facts and show me the evidence. Of course, that does not exist without a real, unbiased, and large enough study. And there hasn’t been one. So, in their eyes, the argument is closed.
However, what if a recognized study were conducted and it proved unequivocally that 432Hz had some spiritual basis? Then, it is still unlikely they would accept it.
I don’t want to make it sound like there is a war going on between them. There isn’t. Just a discussion about which might be better, which for some becomes rather consuming at times.
If you are someone who prefers the sound of 432Hz, that is fine for you. But, it is not helpful or persuasive to others to publish or reproduce false and misleading information. And, like it or not, that is what happens.
If you are going to start quoting information, make sure it is reliable and comes from a trusted and approved source. Not from some keyboard warrior.
You might prefer it, but that is not a justifiable reason to spread misinformation about unproven benefits. And, other people’s opinions are not proven benefits. They are what they say they are, opinions.
What Is My Opinion on 432 Hz vs 440 Hz?
I’ll tell you that later. In the meantime, let’s take a brief minute to look at how to tune to 432Hz should you want or need to.
Tuning in 432Hz
Because most instruments are tuned to 440Hz, most digital tuners have 440Hz as their default setting. However, there are plenty of tuners that offer both options. I have included some examples at the end of the article.
All of them are great tuners that display the tuning standard you prefer on the screen. And you will be able to tune your instrument using those devices.
Can You Convert Music To 432Hz from 440Hz?
There are some tools for making this conversion you will find online. You will find them in the usual places, and they will convert songs into a range of frequencies, not just from 440Hz to 432Hz.
Here are the three tuners I mentioned that all offer the choice of 440Hz and 432Hz. But, also some other tuning options as well.
- Korg OT-120 Orchestral Tuner
- KLIQ MetroPitch – Metronome Tuner for All Instruments
- GUITARX X7 – Chromatic Tuner Metronome and Tone Generator for All Instruments
What Do I Think?
I said I would come back to this, but this is not a definitive answer, because there isn’t one. Some years ago, I was asked to go along to do a session on bass guitar. I was told that it was a new client for the studio and that they didn’t know much about them.
It transpired that it was two “New Age” music writers who were preparing the mix for their first album. It was virtually complete, but on the playbacks, they decided that two of the tracks would benefit from some bass guitar.
They left me on my own to tune up with the tracks playing in my headphones. Being tuned to 440Hz, it didn’t cross my mind that they were recorded using 432Hz. No one told me, and I was sitting there like an idiot, unable to tune my Precision and then play to what I was hearing.
There were no digital tuners in those days. My ear said I was in tune with the piano. The music said I wasn’t.
After the problem was finally solved, we did the session and ended. But, to me, the difference was hardly noticeable other than I was out of tune. There was a slight difference in pitch but did it really matter? To the listener, not really.
It Had Always Been 440Hz
I had previously played all my music tuned to 440Hz. Probably as most people at the time did. Was I even aware of an alternative? Aware, yes, but I never bothered to find out because I had never come across it.
I knew people did some “funny tuning things,” but that was it. I never knew there was an alternative tuning.
But let’s just consider that last statement, “alternative tuning.” You might find that the ‘original’ tuning used was 432Hz. In fact, 432Hz was the standard tuning used for over 600 years before 440Hz arrived in the late 1930s. So, is 432Hz an alternative tuning or the original tuning?
Surely it can be a matter of preference for individuals to decide. They are both valid tunings, so why not let them live side by side. With things like tunings, I don’t think we can speak in terms of absolute situations. They are both valid, and it is just a matter of which you prefer.
However, 440Hz is the standard that has been set. I can’t see there being any radical change in that scenario.
Interested In How Things Sound?
We can help with that. Take a look at our handy articles on How to Tune a Mandolin, How to Tune Your Cello, How to Tune a 12-String Guitar, How to Tune a Ukulele, How to Tune a Banjo, and the Best Apps to Tune Your Violin for more information on tuning different instruments.
432 Hz vs 440 Hz – Final Thoughts
Let’s just close by considering other tunings another way. Do we say to guitarists who don’t slip outside the standard E-A-D-G-B-E format to try other tunings?
Of course, we don’t. It is creative experimentation. And why not? New territories are being explored. Some will work, and some won’t. Some will sound better to your ear than others.
And that is the key, isn’t it? What sounds best for you. Let your ears judge and tell you what you prefer rather than what someone else says or something you read somewhere.
Until next time, let the music play.