No, this isn’t the opening to some bad music theory joke (but it could be if you leave a good punchline in the comments!).
Most musicians are probably familiar with “concert pitch,” A=440Hz. This is the tuning standard in many parts of the world (although some countries and ensembles do tune higher).
But have you ever wondered how we settled on A=440 as the standard tuning pitch?
I did, and my research led me to rumors of Illuminati involvement, mind control, and the vibration of the universe. Pretty deep stuff for something we bemoan at every rehearsal.
Before we continue, I want to make it clear that I do not believe the conspiracy theories below. I’m sharing this only for entertainment purposes for Halloween.
A bit of background:
It wasn’t so long ago that tuning was not standardized, and different countries used different tuning standards. During 19th century Europe, France tuned to 435, England tuned to 439, and Italy tuned to 432 (which was probably influenced by Giuseppi Verdi’s strong opinions on the subject).
While this wild west of tuning practices certainly allowed countries musical autonomy, it also made it difficult for musicians to adapt to so many different practices. (Can you imagine the assortment of clarinet barrels necessary to accommodate these different tuning standards?) Not to mention the poor pianists who have little control of their instrument’s tuning…
Italy began pushing for standardized tuning at A=440Hz during the late 19th century, and the American Federation of Musicians endorsed this during the early 20th century. Eventually, this was standardized throughout many countries in the world, and the rest is history.
440 vs. 432
Historically, pitch has risen over time. Supposedly this tuning standard of A=440Hz was decided upon because 439 was a prime number and this was a better solution. However, there are many fierce advocates to standardize tuning at 432 because it is the vibration of the universe. According to this article, 432 is “mathematically consistent with the universe… [which] transmits beneficial healing energy, because it is a pure tone of math fundamental to nature.” The argument for 432 is also bolstered by the historical support of opera titan Giuseppi Verdi. Additionally, the Schumann Resonance (not named after composer Robert Schumann) has found that 8Hz vibrates with 432Hz, making it the fundamental electromagnetic beat of the earth.
Believe it or not, there is an entire science devoted to the study of the effects of sound and vibration, called cymatics. According to some cymatics studies, 432 is easier to listen to and can even open the heart chakra, or the “feeling” chakra.
In opposition to this is 440Hz, which many people believe causes unnatural behavior, aggression, and other negative effects. (Side note: believing in behavioral issues resulting from music is nothing new – many believed that the ancient Greek modes could also affect the temperament.) Some staunch anti-440 people believe that the government played a part in the standardization to 440 to exert “musical mind control” and use it as a military weapon. This article says some believe that “The monopolization of the music industry features this imposed frequency that is ‘herding’ populations into greater aggression, psychosocial agitation, and emotional distress predisposing people to physical illnesses and financial impositions profiting the agents, agencies, and companies engaged in the monopoly.”
The standardization to 440 also happened right around World War II, and one advocate for the standardization to 440 was Joseph Goebbels, leading Nazi propagandist. Supposedly, Goebbels believed that tuning at 440 influenced people to act and think in certain ways. Whereas some claim that 432 controls the heart chakra (feeling), 440 controls the eye chakra (thinking).
Given these claims, some people believe that a greater power is exerting mass mind control using the standardization of tuning at A=440.
Apparently, some organizations are actively advocating for the switch to 432 as a universal tuning standard. Nearly 100 years after A=440 became standard, this is unlikely to happen, but you never know…
If you want to read more on the subject and listen to recordings of music played at 440 and 432, check out these links:
- Music Tuned to 440 Hz Versus 432 Hz and the Health Effects: A Double-blind Cross-over Pilot Study
- Musical History and Cult Control by Leonard G. Horowitz
- Musical Mind Control, Another Music Conspiracy Theory Or Hidden Truth?
- The great 440 Hz conspiracy, and why all of our music is wrong: Alan Cross
- Episode 141 – The Physics of the A=440 Hz Conspiracy
- The Invisible Thing That (Almost) All Your Music Has in Common