A well-established fact is that people with certain forms of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, have decreased brain activity in the 40 Hz area. Recent research by Lee Bartel et al has shown that exposure to 40 Hz vibrations from an external source can, in as little as six sessions of 30 minutes each, have a significant impact on mental stability, specifically an average gain of 12 per cent on the total Alzheimer’s test.
When the note A is tuned to 440 Hz, low E on the piano is at 41.2 Hz and low Eb is at 38.9 Hz (see chart below). Therefore, 40 Hz is located about halfway between low E and low Eb on the piano. What are the implications of a low E being close to 40 Hz?
The standardization of A at 440 Hz 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 because it was based on a C256, which, in addition to quasi-science notions of planet alignment and galactic resonance, has binary implications (that is, two to the eighth power is 256). But every country, even every city or concert house, had their own standard regarding pitch.
Many stringed instruments have an E as the lowest and/or most fundamentally 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 meditative OM? Is a low E at 40 Hz where our forefathers intended our E to be?
Ancient medical practices were not developed without reason. Acupuncture is effective, and many herbal medicines, typically created over time through trial and error, inexplicably work. Did early civilizations gravitate to a 40 Hz fundamental in the pursuit of inner peace and harmony? Was 40 Hz the natural remedy for dementia? And did our society lose sight of the holy grail of pitches to accommodate the practical needs of business and the recording industry?
Using the equal temperament tuning system, which is the standard found on all modern pianos, A427 (versus A440) is where A would be if a low E were set to 40 Hz (see below). Tuning A to 427 Hz is not a major deviation from the norm. In fact, the tuning fork was invented in the early 1700s by Joseph Sauveur and he was the first to propose a standardized pitch, recommending a tuning convention of A at 427 Hz. Even 100 years later in 1811, the Paris Opera House was known to use an A427 for their orchestral tuning.
Is an A set at 440 Hz too high? If 40 Hz is the optimal frequency for brain connectivity, a standardized A at 427 Hz might provide our brains with the best aural environment for success.
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 in E for Violin and Orchestra, composed in 1776, may have been performed using an orchestral tuning of A427 featuring a low E at an enlightening and brain-friendly frequency.
As an interesting exercise in brain-massaging pleasure, I recommend listening to Mozart’s Adagio for Violin and Orchestra K261 at a tonal centre one half semitone lower than standard. The piece is written in the key of E and lowering the pitch by one quarter of one full tone using a program like Audacity, the piece becomes Mozart’s Adagio for Violin and Orchestra K261, written in the key of E and performed in the key of … wait for it… Eb and a half. Enjoy your 40 Hz fix!