All Our Music is Out of Tune. ALL of It. Here’s Why.

Back in 1953, the International Standards Organization sought to bring some sanity to music.  To make sure everyone everywhere was in tune with each other, it was declared that middle A on a piano keyboard should be forever tuned to 440 Hz.  The established ratios that led to all the other notes would be keyed off that 440 Hz tone.

This ensured that a piano in London sounded the same as a piano in Tokyo as a piano in Mumbai as a piano in Moose Jaw.

This standard has served us pretty well.  But if you listen to certain scientists, the ISO got it wrong.  Middle A should have been set at 432 Hz.  Why?  So that our music would be more harmonious with the rest of the universe.

This might sound like some tinfoil hat/new age bullshit, but it’s not.  There are some pretty compelling arguments for 432 Hz–although it’s probably a little late to change things now.

Still, it’s interesting to make some audio comparisons.  Check out this video. Which tuning sounds better to you?

 

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

8 thoughts on “All Our Music is Out of Tune. ALL of It. Here’s Why.

  • February 10, 2014 at 12:11 pm
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    “This might sound like some tinfoil hat/new age bullshit, but it’s not.” …. and then you link to a new age b.s. website for proof….

    Reply
  • February 10, 2014 at 12:12 pm
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    well 440 sounds crisper and cleaner to me, and thats from a 58 year old who wears hearing aids. I may have chosen 442 when I could not hear, but hearing anything now sounds wonderful!

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  • February 11, 2014 at 5:45 pm
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    I agree with tom, the 432 sounds, well… Off key.

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  • February 12, 2014 at 2:03 am
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    I agree with Tom also, 440 does sound crisper, but I like what my sons said better. Matt says 440 sounds “warmer” and Luke says the 440 version is like watching high definition TV except with sound.

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  • February 14, 2014 at 9:49 am
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    440 is crisper, 432 is darker in tone color.

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  • February 14, 2014 at 9:04 pm
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    As a professional piano tuner I deal with instruments every day that vary in pitch from lows down to A415 to 444 and then some. While I think all instruments should be pitched the same I think as valid a case can be made for the low as the high. What does occur though is the matter of texture change with various pitch levels. Too low and you get more ‘twang’ and too high and you get thinner metallic texture.

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  • February 18, 2014 at 2:50 pm
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    What this doesn’t take into account is that modern guitars are designed around A440 resonance, so for a fair comparison you would have to build a guitar designed for the tension change of the lower pitch. Not so critical on a piano that has a very rigid frame, but I suspect that less tension might lead to longer string life, and I’m guessing that pianos might stay tuned a bit longer. You would also need to adjust the string gauge slightly on both to compensate for the tension change, and adjust for mallet density.

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  • November 4, 2014 at 8:46 am
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    Interestingly enough, I’m finding everyone here commenting on the texture of the sound, rather than its harmonic sound. Like Edwin said, the texture will change because most instruments are designed around a 440 base, and such a change in their fundamentals–physically–will drastically alter the colouring of the sound. But the whole idea of 432 isn’t about the colour of the sound, but how the harmonics interact. The only true difference between 440 and 432 is just that: its harmonic base.

    Probably the only true way to test the difference in sound would be with synthesized instruments, and/or electronically generated sound. Its easy enough to adjust on a keyboard, or using MIDI on a computer, and the character of the sound won’t change. That’s something I’d be curious to listen to.

    …But the websites referenced aren’t exactly… Reputable, cause you know, new age BS and all that.

    Reply

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