A Debate On The Tuning Of Musical Instruments

A Debate On The Tuning Of Musical Instruments

The subject of this article has been generating much debate in recent years. It’s about the pitch pattern according to which musical instruments are tuned. This standard tone was established by an ISO standard in 1953 and is 440 Hertz. For, in the case of the piano, the central octave. The current debate is about whether it would not be more convenient. To use a standard tone of 432 Hz, given that, according to its advocates. This would be the tone that most agrees with a supposed vibration of the universe. And would therefore be more favorable to improve human health. Among other reasons not related to the absolute ear.

What Is A Pitch Pattern?

In order to understand this question a little better. It is important first to know what a pitch pattern is and how it has evolved throughout history. Given that there are no absolute tonalities in nature, that is. We cannot find in it a tonality of a certain frequency that it corresponds to a certain note. In order to determine the notes of any musical scale and the frequencies of these notes. We need a first pattern frequency according to which the rest of the frequencies are determined.

440 or 432 hertz tuning

Therefore, since no “objective” pattern can be found in nature, it must be conventional. This means that the pattern tone has to arise from an agreement between people. Then be established through some kind of regulation (such as ISO standards). So that all scales of all musical instruments are constructed on the basis of that tonality.

In nature there are no absolute tonalities because we cannot find in it a tonality of a certain frequency. In such a way that we can say that it corresponds to a certain note.

Pattern Tones In History

Historically, musical instruments have been tuned according to an innumerable variety of different pattern tones; this variety has not only occurred from year to year or between different periods but also between different countries. Various scholars of the subject have indicated that for example in Germany between 1915 and 1940. If one was going to listen to different orchestras with different organs. These could be tuned in pattern tones that oscillated between 420 and 450 Hz. This shows that in times not very distant from ours the pattern tone. It was not fixed but was within a wide range of frequencies.

In the Ancient Age the range of pattern tones was much more varied than in the 20th century. So that not only did it vary by zone or country. But each instrumentalist, organ tuner or pianist took the pattern tone that was most convenient for them. The main reason for this variety, as explained above, is that there is no “objective” tonality in nature whose frequency can be identified with a musical note. It has become apparent that in times not far from our own the pattern tone. It was not fixed but found within a wide range of frequencies.

Prof. Hugo Landolfi Buenos Aires School of Piano Technology

This great variety of pattern tones was taken to a unification through a convention, which today is 440 Hz. for the central piano. The establishment of such a standard tone as universal was arrived at in a purely conventional way, as could not be otherwise. Already in 1917 in the United States the 440 was almost the most widespread standard tone; in 1939 in most European countries the standard tone was around 435 Hz, but there were variations of the same depending on the countries and orchestras considered. In the same year, in London, there is a first meeting of the standardization commission that proposes to take the standard tone to 440 Hz.

According to historians this meeting was driven by technicians, especially Germans, who were dedicated to broadcasting. We cannot fail to clarify something that is sometimes confused: it was not Agent Goebbels who was behind this, because at that time he was not yet interested in the subject. The beginning of the war puts that meeting on hold, and no agreement is reached until a second meeting of the ISO commission, also held in London in 1953, in which 440 is set as the universal tuning standard tone.

432 Hertz As Pitch Tone?

Now, to return to the topic we were initially concerned with, what happens to the 432 Hz frequency? In the first place, we can say that the defenders of this tone (which we must clarify, is not a pattern tone of tuning but is proposed as a replacement to 440 Hz.) use all sorts of reasons of the most varied to do so, which are usually more related to the New Age, with a pseudo-spirituality misunderstood and not with technical-musical issues.

Basically they maintain that the frequency of 432 Hz. and its harmonics are more in relation, and so they say, with “the harmonics of the universe” which, as we have already seen, is absolutely absurd because we can take any frequency that occurs to us and find in nature many elements that are going to be in agreement with the harmonics of that frequency, whatever frequency we take. On the other hand, it is also said that frequency 432 favors human health but does not say in what way.

In Summary

There are many arguments in favor of tone 432 as a new tuning pattern. However, none of these arguments has been validated through really serious research that could at least refute them and much less corroborate them. These explanations simply remain on the plane of mere hypotheses and in principle, on that plane, it would make no sense to change the standard tone from 440 to 432 whose benefits have not been established or corroborated by scientific research.

Many arguments have been made in favour of tone 432 as a new tuning pattern. However, none of these arguments has been validated through really serious research that could, at least, refute them and much less corroborate them.

For this reason, unfortunately for its advocates, we find no compelling reasons why the 432 can replace the 440, which are also two purely conventional frequencies. We invite you to investigate this subject, about which there is a lot of material on the Internet and it is an unfinished and totally valid debate, but regarding which, from what we have studied and analyzed, we have not found valid reasons to defend 432 as a new universal tuning pattern.

Leave a Comment