BIT Studio

BIT Studio

Mindfulness Meditation & Musicking

* Using 40 Hz pitch for chanting

Gamma Waves
Lee Bartel is a professor in the University of Toronto‚Äôs Faculty of Music, and he was the founding Director of the Music and Health Research Collaboratory. He recently released a research paper on the potential of using low frequency vibrations in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, and he refers to the specific resonance of 40 Hz as key to what is referred to as intra-brain communication (Moore 2016).

He was recently featured on CBC Radio, Spark with Nora Young, where he explained, “So for one part of the brain to communicate with another part of the brain, like the short-term memory to the long-term memory, that happens probably at 40 Hz. People with Alzheimer’s [and other dementia-related disorders] have decreased power in the 40 Hz area.” This likely means there is less “writing to long-term memory.” As part of a research study, they have experimented with having Alzheimer’s patients sit in a special chair equipped with subwoofers. It’s early days, but the results have been promising. After six sessions of 30 minutes “we saw people on average gain 12 per cent on the total Alzheimer’s test. That’s enough to move them from a medium level of Alzheimer’s to mild, or from mild back to normal” (Young 2016).

Bartel goes on to say, “We’re using the same approach with fibromyalgia, where there seems to be a problem with brain connectivity. So we’re boosting 40 Hz and what happens is subjects have decreased pain and use less medication, and sleep better, and have less depression, and so on.”

Bartel suggests that the subwoofer-generated vibro-tactile response plus the auditory immersion of the 40 Hz sound stimulates and boosts activity at that frequency thereby improving the connectivity across different areas of the brain (Young 2016). This type of audio prescription (vibroacoustic therapy and audioceuticals) is relatively new in the medical field and it will be interesting to see how it unfolds (Clements-Cortes 2016).

Low E
When the note A is at 440 Hz, low E on the piano is at 41.2 Hz and low Eb is at 38.9 Hz. So, 40 Hz is located about halfway between E and Eb.

The standardization of A440 was established in the 1930s so that recording studios in New York could sync harmonically with recording studios in Los Angeles. Before then, there was no worldwide standard on pitch. A432 was commonly used partly because, among other quasi-scientific reasons, it was based on a C256, which has binary implications (that is, two to the eighth power is 256). But every country, even every city or concert house, had their own opinion regarding pitch.

What are the implications of a low E being close to 40 Hz? Many stringed instruments (some ancient) have an E as the lowest and/or most important string, such as the lute, guitar, sitar, double bass, and electric bass guitar. And what about chanting and meditation? What pitch was the original OO(h)MMM? Is a low E at 40 Hz where our ancient forefathers intended our tonal centre to be?

Naturopathic medical practices were not developed without reason. Acupuncture is effective and some herbal medicines, typically created over time through trial and error, are very successful and inexplicably work. So what about sound? Did early civilizations naturally gravitate to a 40 Hz fundamental in pursuit of inner peace and harmony? A nondescript E41.2 seems to have settled into being our default tonal standard for instrumental tuning. Did our society lose sight of the holy grail of pitches, the sweet spot for intra-brain communication, to accommodate the needs of the recording industry?

A427: Hertz Too Much?
Today’s chromatic scale is based on the equal division of 12 notes within any octave. The equal temperament standard, developed in Bach’s time as a means of facilitating secondary dominant chord progressions, was a tuning compromise to accommodate modulations between tonal centres within any single piece. Because of the equal division of chromatic intervals, we are able to reverse engineer the harmonic series from any given pitch.

A427 is where A would be based on a low E set at 40Hz. If 40 Hz is the optimal frequency for brain connectivity, perhaps we should move to an A427 standard so that our brains are given the best environment for success. Tests have shown that exposure to 40 Hz vibrations in as little as six sessions of 30 minutes can have a significant impact on mental stability, specifically an average gain of 12 per cent on the total Alzheimer’s test.

Setting A to 427 Hz is not a major deviation from the norm. In the early 1700s, Joseph Sauveur was the first to propose a standardized pitch, and he recommended A427. The Paris Opera House in 1811 used A427 for their orchestral tuning (Randel 2016). Remember that until the 1930s, there was no international standard for pitch. Given that the sweet spot of intra-brain communication is 40 Hz, is an A set at 440 Hz too high?

Mozart K261
The natural harmonic series is built on resonant frequencies. Picture a guitar with the lowest string, E, vibrating. You access the harmonics by touching the string at specific points. To play the 2nd harmonic, touch the string in the middle, or 1/2 way (E). To play the 3rd harmonic, touch the string at the 1/3 point (B); the 4th harmonic at 1/4 (E); the 5th harmonic at 1/5 (G#); and so on. Each string has the potential to vibrate all of these pitches at any given time.

These resonant frequencies are also additive. For example, using different guitar strings to play a B (3rd harmonic) and an E (4th harmonic) at the same time could create sympathetic vibrations elsewhere, such as on the 1st harmonic (E), on the 4th harmonic (E), or even on the 5th harmonic (G#). This is most apparent in old churches where upper harmonics tend to occur naturally and often. For example, when church choirs sing a low root and a fifth (like a Gregorian Chant), it would not be unusual to hear the third of the chord resonating somewhere in the hall.

Lee Bartel suggests that we listen to music in the key of E to promote the vibro-tactile experience of deep vibration (Young 2016). But what about brain connectivity?

When A is at 440 Hz, the key of E provides a fundamental at E=41.2 Hz. Pieces written in the key of A provide a fundamental at A=27.5 Hz and a resonant frequency dominant (V chord) of E=41.2 Hz, plus 2 cents. The nature of sympathetic vibrations is such that the fundamental low E could naturally occur in works that might not even include a low E, simply as a result of resonant frequencies. Because of the additive nature of resonant frequencies, any piece in any key can create harmonics across the sound spectrum.

I suggest that if the entire harmonic range were lowered by half of a semitone, low E at 40 Hz would become an integral part of our day-to-day existence.

As an interesting exercise in brain-massaging pleasure, I recommend listening to Mozart’s Adagio for Violin and Orchestra K261, written in the key of E, remixed down one half of a semitone through the magic of 21st century technology (that is, a pitch-altering iTunes app) to be Mozart’s Adagio K261, written in the key of E and performed in the key of Eb and a half.

As mentioned earlier, the Paris Opera House in 1811 tuned to A427. It would not be a stretch to imagine that the premiere of Mozart’s Adagio for Violin and Orchestra K261, composed in 1776, was performed using an orchestral tuning of A427 featuring a low E at an enlightening and brain-friendly frequency.

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