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A brief internet search for "432 vs 440" will bring up a large number of chat discussions and videos discussing whether the tuning makes a real difference. These often seem to boil down to the question of whether people can perceive the difference in music tuned one way versus the other.

But I think the more important question is: does the tuning have an effect on the perception of music, regardless of whether that perception is conscious?

In other words, I'm not interested in whether someone, hearing music tuned one way or the other, can identify which is which. I'm just wondering whether there is objective evidence for a measurable effect.

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    On RationalWiki: A440 - Conspiracy theories and woo
    – Andrew T.
    Apr 22 at 15:12
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  • @uhoh hardly related. There might be reasons for how various keys feel, while 432 Hz story is a conspiracy theory, pseudoscience and bad research. Apr 24 at 4:01
  • @user1079505 The distinction is certainly important, thanks! in Stack Exchange a related post does not necessarily mean the questions and answers are similar or the same. The distinction in the answers can be substantial and that difference may be interesting fo future readers. The other reason that adding a related post is that it adds it to the linked question list here (and vice versa).
    – uhoh
    Apr 24 at 8:01
  • As I recall, this created a major uproar back in the 60s, when someone (was it the guy leading the NY Philharmonic?) decided to change the standard for his group.
    – Hot Licks
    Apr 24 at 22:13
52

Yes. When you tune music up or down people hear it differently. Everyone agrees on that. Pitch it down and it will sound warmer, pitch it up and it will sound brighter. This happens all the time when we decide to transpose a piece up or down a half step (say, from C to C#). If you transpose a piece by less than a half step (say 20 hz or so) then you get a less dramatic version of the same effect.

But despite what another post says there is nothing special about 432 hz in particular. Some people think so because of an (anti-Semitic?) conspiracy theory about the geographic resonance of the earth and some bad math. But they are wrong.

They might revoke my PhD for saying this but actually here's a youtube video by Adam Neely that does a MUCH better job of explaining the 432/440 debate than the bogus academic papers cited by another post.

Here's the basic issue. If you turn piece of music down by some amount it will sound "warmer." Maybe you like that, maybe you don't, but there is NO mathematical or psychoacoustic reason why 432 should be objectively "better" than 440 or 432 or 428 or whatever.

As for that paper. I'm a statistician as well as a musician and I can tell you that just because something is published in a peer reviewed journal (especially in an Elsevier journal) doesn't mean it's not bogus. I just looked at the first paper cited (from 2019) and it is clearly bogus (because I'm in academia I can actually read it even though it's pay-walled).

First of all, the study itself is tiny (only 30 or so subjects) and badly designed.

Second, note that they ONLY compared 440 vs 432. They didn't check whether what would have happened if they compared 440 to some other random "lower" tuning (say 428). And although they measured a bunch of stuff only a few of the results were statistically significant, which (to statisticians) is a marker that they engaged in what we call "p hacking," which is kind of like searching through every verse in the bible until you find one that seems like it predicted 9/11. So at BEST they only showed that "turning music lower means it's more relaxing." But we already knew that. And we don't always want our music to be "relaxing."

Thirdly, if you read between the lines of their introduction (and look at their citations), you can tell that the authors buy into the Lyndon LaRouche/Shiller institute's "the earth vibrates at 432 and there is a worldwide conspiracy to keep the truth from the masses" conspiracy theory. So they probably designed this study specifically to build support for their conspiracy theory.

Maybe the other studies are better (although one of them is just someone's undergrad thesis), but I wouldn't bet on it. Unless they compared other frequencies aside from 432 to 440 (and it doesn't look like any of them did) then they haven't shown that there is anything special about that frequency in particular. They probably would have gotten the same results if they chose 431 or 433 or 435.

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    Not sure I feel like your 1st paragraph says. Having played for 60 odd yrs, sometimes the same pieces in various different keys, the feeling of those transpositions didn't reflect what you say - to me. O.k. some orchestras prefer to tune higher for that sort of effect, but I wonder whether that affects strings, say, more than any others. I'm sceptical of the whole concept. Maybe if I was 'blessed' with AP it would be different.
    – Tim
    Apr 22 at 14:41
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    Any discussion of mathematical "elegance" in relation to Hz is problematic since the numbers you get are based on our arbitrary decision to divide a minute into 60 seconds, and the fact that we use a base-10 number system. If we divided minutes into 100 seconds and used a binary number system then different frequencies would seem more "mathematically elegant." But none of this has any relation to how they sound. Apr 22 at 17:02
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    Personally I think the elegant thing to do would be to base everything on the Planck frequency. This leads to roughly A=425 Hz (if we declare the Planck frequency to be an A) or A=451 Hz (if we declare it to be an Ab).
    – Micah
    Apr 22 at 17:38
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    I thought the question was asking whether A432 vs. A440 has any effect, not whether A432 has any more potent effect than, say, A428. If your answer addressed A428 vs. A440 instead but found A428 to have "A432-like effects" compared to A440, I'd actually ask you to rephrase but not scrap it.
    – Dekkadeci
    Apr 23 at 12:18
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A definite NO.

The other answers miss the point and answer a different question altogether.

When you tune music up or down people hear it differently. Everyone agrees on that. Pitch it down and it will sound warmer, pitch it up and it will sound brighter.

But...

This has nothing to do with tuning. If you write a piece in A (=440) you can pitch it down to A(=432), and yes, it will sound "warmer". Does that make (A=432) tuning warmer or brighter? No, because you can pitch the same piece down further to (A=415.3), making it even warmer. But this "supersuperwarm" tuning is 100% the same as using our original (A=440) tuning, but simply transposing down by a semitone to G#.

In short, no argument about pitching up or down applies to discussions about tunings, because you can transpose melodies regardless of the tuning.

The thing that does matter is whether you use the equal-temperament or some other system. But this has nothing to do with the absolute pitch of A.

The absolute pitch of A might be baked into some instruments and perhaps even environments (due to resonance) but this makes the question still different: "do our tools impose constraints on the absolute pitch of A that we use".

TLDR (added after reading one of the comment)

Changing the root of tuning does not bring anything that wasn't already covered by transposition.

Moving melody up and down does change how it sounds - due to how our brains work and how instruments are built, but musicians have been using that trick for centuries, using semitone steps. There is no indication that using SMALLER steps will have BIGGER impact. And no logical reason why such impact, if any existed, would take form of a single value, universal across different instruments and brains.

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    Thank you! I was finding myself agreeing a lot with the other responses, but feeling that something was missing, and this was it. :) Apr 23 at 10:56
  • It's quite possible that A415.3 is actually "so warm that it's distressing", at least to those literates with absolute pitch who read the title of a piece such as "Minuet in G Major" and find that the piece is not playing in G Major. (Granted, I do typically find those downtuned Baroque pieces no warmer and the rare Baroque organ music uptuned by a whole step no brighter.)
    – Dekkadeci
    Apr 23 at 12:25
  • I don't really follow the argument being made here. I'm not sure why you're accounting for pieces that are both retuned and transposed - tuning and transposition will both affect how a piece sounds, but I don't see why the fact that they could possibly "undo" one another is relevant. If you argue that tuning has no effect on listeners, I'd think you could make exact same argument that transposition has no effect, either - "no argument about pitching up or down applies to discussions about transpositions, because you can retune instruments regardless of the transposition". Apr 23 at 18:55
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    @NuclearHoagie Proponents of the A=432 suggest that it's somehow "better", because it's lower - so it has a special "lower" quality. I say that making something "lower" does not require tuning - it's enough to transpose. There might me (I don't think there are) some arguments for the A=432, but if they say something along the line of "it's lower", then they are objectively wrong.
    – fdreger
    Apr 23 at 21:28
  • I like the way you're thinking, but this answer only works under that assumption that transpositions of a piece (read: remaining w/in A=440Hz) are perceived identically to the original. Since the question is whether 432 is perceived identically to 440, I think you may be assuming the conclusion here. The notion that frequency-shifts by a constant ratio are imperceptible is to be called into question in a question like this.
    – user45266
    Apr 25 at 7:42
5

A ratio of 3/2 still yields a fifth. A perfect cadence doesn't become deceptive by changing from 440 to 432. On the other hand, after a hard Saturday night, it may be easier for choir members to sing in C# or even C rather than in D.

Setting A to 417 has also been suggested as the "Solfeggio Frequencies" but how accurate was Guido's clock?

There are other pseudo-scientific claims made for various tunings (just, Pythagorean, various meantone tunings, Wendy Carlos recirculating, various Werkmeister suggestions, Vincenzo Galileo's 18/17 ratio...

Also 17, 19, 29, 31, 41, 53 etc. equal tunings. Not to mention the difference between the son clave and rumba clave.

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  • What's the theory behind 417? Anyway, clocks did not have minute hands until several centuries after Guido, let alone second hands, so however accurate his clock may have been, it certainly was not precise enough to measure audible frequencies.
    – phoog
    Apr 22 at 20:41
  • Tuning to 417 is suggested by "Solfeggio Frequencies" which another pseudo-scientific music and health theory. I didn't bother to figure out why. I do know the 432 was used in the 1800s because it has lots of divisions and makes lots of intervals (not minor thirds though) into integer frequencies.
    – ttw
    Apr 22 at 22:49
  • At 417 the note is much closer to what we consider Ab in standard A440 tuning. You might as well say you're tuning to 441.8. Apr 23 at 20:44
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Whenever, I read a claim that some values of any measurement (musical or not) are special due to mathematical properties of the numbers, a crackpot warning light turns on in my head but my first question is whether or not the measurement is dimensionless. If it is then I will read on a little before assigning it to the crackpot category. However, if it is not dimensionless then the claim is immediately dismissed.

A dimensionless quantity is not dependent on some arbitrary unit of measure. If we met an alien civilisation then we could expect them to agree on the values of dimensionless quantities. Examples are the mathematical constant pi or the number of protons in a carbon atom. If I saw an article claiming that atoms with prime numbers of protons had a special property then I might read on (but my crackpot warning light would remain on).

However, frequency is not dimensionless. The 440 marked on my tuning fork is dependent on the definition of the second which is highly arbitrary. The current definition is very technical and irrelevant in a music group but the original definition relates to the length of the day of this planet together with historical decisions to split it into 24 hours, hours into 60 minutes, and minutes into 60 seconds. Our alien would be highly unlikely to share this definition and hence they would probably not agree that my tuning fork was 440. If our civilisation collapsed and another human civilisation developed without access to our knowledge,they would probably not agree. Even if they also decided on 24 hours per day etc, they would have a different length of day as the rotation speed of the Earth is not constant. When we learned this, we had to add to the definition of the second that it referred to the specific day 31 December 1899.

So, the particular numbers we assign to various frequencies are massively unlikely to have any special significance. If the French had succeeded in decimalizing time along with other measurements (mass, distance, etc) then we might be using the same tuning today but we would not call it 440. If we had chosen a different reference year then the numbers would be close but still slightly different.

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    Solid reasoning on why the number itself can't have much meaning. This addresses why 432 isn't special. However, I don't think your answer addresses why A = 432 cannot be any different from A = 440... (in the sense that 431 and 433 or any other random Hertz value could also be different simply because they aren't a 12-EDO transposition from A = 440).
    – user45266
    Apr 25 at 10:41
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    A good point but that seemed to be already well covered. So, I just concentrated on whether 432Hz could be special. My point was that both it and 440Hz are arbitrary.
    – badjohn
    Apr 25 at 11:18
-4

Yes, there is evidence to suggest that music tuned to A = 432 Hz induces both physiological and affective changes in comparison to A = 440 Hz, and that those effects point to a general "relaxation" of mind and body.

The journal EXPLORE, in 2019, published the article "Music Tuned to 440 Hz Versus 432 Hz and the Health Effects: A Double-blind Cross-over Pilot Study."1 That study found that

432 Hz tuned music was associated with a slight decrease of mean (systolic and diastolic) blood pressure values (although not significant), a marked decrease in the mean of heart rate (−4.79 bpm, p = 0.05) and a slight decrease of the mean respiratory rate values (1 r.a., p = 0.06), compared to 440 Hz. The subjects were more focused about listening to music and more generally satisfied after the sessions in which they listened to 432 Hz tuned music. (SOURCE)

2020 saw the publication of two studies.

A randomized trial of 42 dental patients2 demonstrated

Significantly lower anxiety level values were observed at 432 Hz (8.7±2.67) and 440 Hz (8.4±2.84) compared to the control group (17.2±4.60; p<0.05). The salivary cortisol level at 432 Hz (0.49±0.37 μg/dL) was significantly lower than 440 Hz (1.35±0.69 μg/dL) and the control group (1.59±0.7 μg/dL; p<0.05). (SOURCE)

And later that year, an Italian study3 of the sleep effect of tuning on 12 spinal cord injury patients found that

After listening to music at 432 Hz there was a significant improvement in sleep scores (+3.6, p=0.02), while there was no improvement in sleep scores listening to music at 440 Hz (-1.50, p=0.34). (SOURCE)

In 2021, International Journal of Human Sciences published "The magic of frequencies - 432 Hz vs. 440 Hz: Do cheerful and sad music tuned to different frequencies cause different effects on human psychophysiology? A neuropsychology study on music and emotions". That study concluded that

In the most comprehensive analysis with no reference to the cheerful or sad character of the sample, the participants who listened 440 Hz pieces reported rather negative mood after listening music compared to the participants who listened 432 Hz pieces. Moreover, men were observed to report even higher levels of negative mood after listening 440 Hz pieces, compared to their mood after listening 432 Hz pieces. All the findings thus reached imply that different tunes lead to variation in reported moods, even though they do not bring about changes in sympathetic and parasympathetic activation levels. (SOURCE)

An earlier study was made in 2018 by an undergraduate student in Sweden.3 That study concluded that there was no significant difference in emotional responses; it did not look at physiological responses.


1 Calamassi, Diletta, and Gian Paolo Pomponi. 2019. "Music Tuned to 440 Hz Versus 432 Hz and the Health Effects: A Double-blind Cross-over Pilot Study." EXPLORE, 15 (4): 283-290. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.explore.2019.04.001

2 Ravena, Pedro Christian, Camila Almonacid, and Marcelo Ignacio Mancilla. 2020. "Effect of music at 432 Hz and 440 Hz on dental anxiety and salivary cortisol levels in patients undergoing tooth extraction: a randomized clinical trial." Journal of Applied Oral Science, 28, e20190601. Epub May 11, 2020. https://doi.org/10.1590/1678-7757-2019-0601

3 Calamassi, Diletta, Alessia Lucicesare, Gian Paolo Pomponi, and Stefano Bambi. 2020. “Music Tuned to 432 Hz Versus Music Tuned to 440 Hz for Improving Sleep in Patients With Spinal Cord Injuries: A Double-Blind Cross-over Pilot Study”. Acta Bio Medica Atenei Parmensis 91 (12-S), e2020008. https://doi.org/10.23750/abm.v91i12-S.10755.

4 Erdal, Barış, Yeliz Kındap Tepe, Serdar Çelik, Büşra Güçyetmez, Burhanettin Çiğdem, and Suat Topaktaş. 2021. “The Magic of Frequencies - 432 Hz Vs. 440 Hz: Do Cheerful and Sad Music Tuned to Different Frequencies Cause Different Effects on Human Psychophysiology? A Neuropsychology Study on Music and Emotions: Frekansların Sihri – 432 Hz 440 Hz’e karşı: Ayrı Frekanslara göre akortlanmış neşeli Ve hüzünlü müzikler Insan Psikofizyolojisi üzerinde Farklı Etkiler yaratır mı? Müzik Ve Duygular üzerine Bir nöropsikoloji araştırması”. Journal of Human Sciences 18 (1):12-33. https://doi.org/10.14687/jhs.v18i1.6108.

5 Palmblad, S. 2018. "A = 432: A superior tuning or just a different intonation? How tuning standards affects emotional response, timbre and sound quality in music." Lisans bitirme tezi, Medya Sanatları, Estetik ve Anlatımı, Skövde Üniversitesi, İsveç. http://www.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:1215149/FULLTEXT01.pdf

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    What is the difference between lowering concert A, and playing a piece written in, say, F, but playing it in E? If dropping the pitch a little has some effect, what about dropping a lot?
    – Tim
    Apr 22 at 7:10
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    This may not be significant, but these studies don't all necessarily seem to mean the same thing by 'tuning' - in one study they mean pitch-shifting the recording in MAX, one study uses pieces prepared specially by a specific composer - Giorgio Costantini - who I imagine will have used a re-tuned instrument? And two other abstracts don't describe how the re-tuning was done.
    – topo morto
    Apr 22 at 9:23
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    For those interested in the scientific credentials of "Explore" then according to Wikipedia it has been described as a "sham masquerading as a real scientific journal" which publishes "truly ridiculous studies" Apr 22 at 16:41
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    None of this seems to say how the music was rendered at A = 432 Hz. This matters.
    – phoog
    Apr 22 at 19:44
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    It matters because the timbre of a tone is an important part of what people react to. So is the tempo of a piece of music. Both would be changed by simply slowing down a recording. Alternatively, playing music on an instrument designed for A=440 but tuned to a lower pitch means that you're using the instrument in a manner for which it was not designed. Maybe that unconventional use of the instrument is responsible for the study's finding rather than the difference in frequency.
    – phoog
    Apr 23 at 0:08

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