A popular meme on social media makes a series of allegations about the musical tune pitch A=432Hz and A=440Hz, including that the latter was a standard imposed by the Nazis to manipulate their enemies. Multiple experts told Reuters these allegations are unfounded.
“Did you know? Jimi Hendrix, along with John Lennon, Bob Marley and Prince all tuned their music to a specific FREQUENCY OF 432Hz! It is known as the “BEAT OF THE EARTH”, has substantial HEALING benefits, and ancient Egyptian and Greek instruments were discovered tuned to 432Hz.”, the meme reads. “However, since 1953 all music has been tuned to 440Hz. This frequency has NO SCIENTIFIC RELATIONSHIP with our universe and actually causes the brain to become agitated. The Nazis in WW2 used this frequency against their enemies to make them feel and think a certain way.”
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In music, pitch is how “high or low a note sounds,” the BBC explains here. As explained by Encyclopedia Britannica, a given musical pitch, like A=432Hz and A=440Hz, is determined by “the frequency of vibration of the sound wave that produces it.” ( here )
Currently, most instruments are by default tuned to A=440Hz (meaning the note a', the second note a above middle c, should be set at frequency 440 Hz), although not all major orchestras around the world do this, Tor Halmrast, Emeritus professor at University of Oslo’s Department of Musicology, wrote in 2012 ( bit.ly/3xiStjz , see page 13)
Claims about these two musical pitches through history and its purported effect on the human brain have been long circulating the internet and been challenged by people in the music industry and academics ( here , here , here ).
Experts contacted by Reuters agreed that the meme presents claims that lack evidence as well as historical inaccuracies.
Susan Rogers, Professor of Music Production and Engineering at Berklee College of Music ( here ) told Reuters that “there is no empirical research suggesting that the universe has a preferred acoustic frequency.”
Coincidentally, Ian Cross, professor and director of the Centre for Music and Sciences at the University of Cambridge ( here ) told Reuters that the claims have “no empirical basis.”
Prince Charles Alexander, also a Professor of Music Production and Engineering at Berklee College of Music ( here ), said that “most listeners’ sensibilities are not fine tuned enough to discern the difference [between A=432Hz and A=440Hz].”
In 1939, at an international conference in London organized by the British Standards Institute ( here ), a group of European nations first issued a joint recommendation to set the standard for concert pitch at A=440Hz (meaning the note a', the second note a above middle c, should be set at 440 Hz).
According to a 1939 Nature article, the recommendations, which also established that such value “shall be maintained within closest limits possible” by all musical performances and in recorded music, was forwarded for submission to the International Standards Association (ISA) - which became the International Organization for Standardization in 1947 (ISO by its acronym in French), see page 15 bit.ly/3rLO6fM - and other international committees.
This pitch for the note a’, appears to have been first proposed by Johann Heinrich Scheibler
( here ) at the Stuttgart Congress of Physicists in 1834, according to Cross.
By 1917, this “standard pitch” of A=440Hz was already being followed by the American Federation of Musicians, according to Halmrast ( bit.ly/3xiStjz , see page 13).
After World War II, ISO issued the recommendation in 1955 (R 16-1955, bit.ly/3iiMqXP ), which was turned into a standard in 1975. This is the standard today ( www.iso.org/standard/3601.html , bit.ly/3iiMqXP ), and has been largely although not solely adhered to, according to Cross.
Prior to the 1939 meeting, tuning varied across different sites in Europe. The work of Alexander Ellis, a British mathematician who first did a systematic study of the history of pitch standards in 1880, showed it went from “from 374 to 567Hz”, as documented in the essay “Perfect Pitch: 432 Hz Music and the Promise of Frequency” ( here )by Ruth Emily Rosenberg, associate professor at the University of Illinois Chicago ( here ).
A historical account of the standardization to pitch A=440Hz can be found here.
NAZIS AND STANDARIZATION
Contacted by Reuters, Jeffrey Herf, professor of history at the University of Maryland and author of The Jewish Enemy: Nazi Propaganda during World War II and the Holocaust ( here , here ), dismissed the claim that Nazis used musical pitch A=440Hz to manipulate their enemies, as the meme alleges.
“I’ve never heard anything remotely like that. It’s absurd,” he told Reuters via email.
In her essay ( here ), Rosenberg traced back the origin of the alleged link between the Nazis and the standardization of pitch A=440Hz to an article published in 1988 ( here ) which claimed that Joseph Goebbels, Minister of Propaganda in Nazi Germany ( here ) had been instrumental in the 1939 meeting. The article, however, makes no mention of this frequency being used to make their enemies “feel and think a certain way”.
It is true that Germany attended the 1939 meeting, along with France, Italy, Great Britain and Holland, as described in this article published in Nature magazine in that year ( here ).
NOT ALL MUSIC TUNED TO A=440Hz
Moreover, not all music around the world has since been tuned to A=440Hz, as the meme claims.
“I remember being in Japan in the ‘80s on tour with Prince and our pianos had been tuned differently,” Rogers said, also noting that “Cuban music tunes to A-436.”
In an interview with NPR in 2016, classical pianist Simone Dinnerstein mentioned how the National Cuban Orchestra was tuned to A-436 ( here ).
Cross concurred that “some orchestras have from time to time flirted with an increase up to A=450 Hz, which has the effect of making their sound seem brighter”. Audition documents by the New York Philharmonic, for example, state the orchestra tunes to A442
( bit.ly/2Vj6MaG, bit.ly/37eF5Cp ).
Reuters found no documented evidence that ancient cultures tuned their music to A=432Hz, as the meme alleges.
Armand D'Angour ( here ), professor at Jesus College at the University of Oxford, whose research has focused on ancient Greek music ( here ) told Reuters the claim is unfounded.
“We don’t know the absolute pitches of ancient strings, which in any case would have been variable depending on resources, location, circumstances etc. It is a fantasy to suggest that we know that any tuning was pinpointed as A=432Hz,” D’Angour said.
Heidi Köpp-Junk, Assistant Professor in Egyptian Archaeology at the Institute of Mediterranean and Oriental Cultures, Polish Academy of Sciences Warsaw ( here ) also said “there is no evidence” that instruments in ancient Egypt were tuned to A=432Hz.
False. Meme includes unfounded claims and historical inaccuracies about frequencies 432Hz and 440Hz, according to experts contacted by Reuters.
This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our work to fact-check social media posts here .
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