Hertz Too Much


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!

Community Music: Gestalt

There are three areas in Music and Mental Health that have emerged as possible candidates for government support through the healthcare system.

Music and Mental Health is a focus of study that has eluded direct verifiable research for decades. The evidence for its success had been primarily anecdotal, and almost everyone has a meaningful story about how someone they knew somewhere was positively affected somehow by music. The subjective nature of art-in-general makes both quantitative and qualitative analysis difficult to define and pursue.

The trend toward more tangible research was perhaps influenced by the 2007 bestselling book by Daniel Levitin called This Is Your Brain On Music. In around the same time was a flurry of activity in studies using EEG and fMRI technology to examine brain activity during artistic endeavours. A very famous paper, and subsequent YouTube/TED Talk success, was Dr. Charles Limb’s research on brain activity during musical improvisation, which he titled This Is Your Brain On Improv.

Many more studies have been done regarding how the body’s chemical imbalances can affect a person’s behaviour, perspectives and attitudes, providing direct links to quality of life and mental health. Words like dopamine, serotonin, cortisol, oxytocin, and endorphins have become part of our day-to-day vernacular and most of us have a general idea of which ones are good and which ones are bad. Advances in computer, chemical and medical technologies have provided significant tools for the examination of music in healthcare.

Three potential areas for healthcare infrastructure to support Music and Mental Health are the following:

  1. Audioceuticals
  2. Music Therapy
  3. Community Music

Audioceuticals: We naturally emit sound waves from our bones, muscles, and brains in a very narrow spectrum range up to 125 Hz. Sound wave therapy, or shockwave therapy, has been around for a long time and has had some success. For example, studies have shown that bones heal faster when exposed to 50 Hz and 25 Hz vibrations. A 50 Hz pitch is close to the lowest G on a piano, and a 25 Hz pitch is one tone lower than the lowest note A on a typical piano.

There are five types of brain waves, each occupying a unique frequency range and each affecting the brain’s behaviour in different ways. Of particular interest is the 40 Hz vibration and its relationship to Alzheimer’s disease. Located in the Gamma wave spectrum, it has been known for several decades that people with certain forms of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, have decreased brain activity in the 40 Hz area. Recent research 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. The 40 Hz pitch is located between low E and low Eb on the piano. This type of vibro-acoustic therapy for mental health could be easily accessible and supportable through government assistance.

Music Therapy: Success stories include 1) the Alzheimer iPod Project providing customized song lists to patients suffering from dementia, 2) solutions for Parkinson’s Disease patients that address issues in rhythmicity, and 3) mobility exercises that assist seniors with fall prevention. Recent advances in Neurologic Music Therapy support solutions for stroke, traumatic brain injury, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, cerebral palsy, Alzheimer’s disease, autism, and other neurological diseases affecting cognition, movement, and communication.

Government financial support for music therapy is currently available in Canada only in Ontario through the College of Psychotherapy. The application process is cumbersome and lengthy, and once attained, rarely yields any financial compensation from government.

Community Music: The word gestalt is German and literally means form or shape. It’s meaning in English has evolved over the last 100 years to encompass a grander definition implying wholeness, or a perception of oneness. The most common and simplest definition of gestalt in use today is the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The word is associated with many fields of study: gestalt psychology, gestalt therapy, gestalt theory in art, gestalt principles of design, gestalt language processing, and the list goes on.

This blog entry is called Community Music: Gestalt because I have found the communal aspect of music-making to be the fundamental component for achieving improved mental health and wellbeing. In all of my research, including the material covered today, it is the active participation and group-sharing of experience that provides the most comprehensive solution for personal and societal needs.

-Regarding the brain, cognition, creativity and connectivity, including advances in neuroplasticity, are enhanced.
-Regarding chemical activity, creating natural highs and positive brain environments are ubiquitously produced in communal music settings.
-Regarding vibro-acoustic therapy, the full spectrum of frequencies are produced in most community music settings stimulating blood flow and addressing dementia issues.
-Regarding music therapy and neurologic music therapy, community music supports an interactive and experiential environment facilitating engagement at a personal and connected level.
-Regarding physical health, participation in instrumental and vocal ensembles, including drum circles and the Parkinson’s Choir, can promote facial and diaphragmatic muscle activity while connecting fine-motor control to the brain at the cognitive level.
-Regarding socialization, community music addresses many fundamental psychological needs while introducing some of the pillars found in AA and other 12 Step programs, including involvement, compassion, helping others, and communication.
-Also, there is a broader application in using community activity of every kind to bring a heightened awareness of social justice and cultural activism.

The gestalt of Community Music provides the foundation for Music and Mental Health solutions in healthcare, bringing non-invasive, non-chemical, community-based, and artistically-driven opportunities to a locally managed environment.

Classical Improvisation

Musical improvisation today is found extensively in jazz, free form, and rap, but it formerly held a more prominent role during the pre-classical era of music history.

Ernest Ferand states in his book titled Improvisation in Nine Centuries of Western Music that “sections of polyphonic masses were as much subjected to improvisation as opera arias,” and evidence of it is found not only in hymns and dance music, but also in madrigals, chansons, chamber duets, motets, sonatas, sacred concertos, and secular songs. Unfortunately, improvisation became less popular through the eighteenth century, appearing primarily in classical works as free solo cadenzas and in concerts by featured composer-performers.

Authors, such as Derek Bailey, refer to “the petrifying effect of European classical music on improvisation,” calling today’s classical music “formal, precious, self-absorbed, pompous, harbouring rigid conventions and carefully preserved hierarchical distinctions.” From a philosophical perspective, many other authors have joined him in condemning the elitist snobbery that goes hand-in-hand with the reverence for geniuses and timeless masterpieces.

Thomas Turino discusses the presentational-versus-participatory nature of our society today. That is, we tend to do more watching than doing. North American society tends to embrace a Eurocentric view of arts and culture, placing an emphasis on both the quality of
the art and the quality of the performance, which tends to limit enthusiasm for creative participation if the individual feels that he or she is not good enough.

Richard Schechner discusses the tendency of Western culture to separate the entertainment component of performance from the ritual aspect of sharing, again a commentary on the importance of involvement in the arts as not just presentational, but as a communal part of society.

It is possible that a return to our historic roots of improvisation and participation would provide a welcome change to the exclusionary state of the arts in Western society today.