The Debate Over Middle A: Is Our Music Tuned All Wrong (Warning: Involves Nazis and Satan)

The notes on the Western scale didn’t always sound the way they do today. In the Olden Day, middle A on a keyboard floated on a range of frequencies approximately. It might have been as low as 415 Hz or as high as 466 Hz. Since all the other notes on the keyboard are tied to middle A, these dependencies resulted in different tunings from instrument to instrument. A concerto played on a piano in Vienna might sound subtly different from the same concerto played on a piano in London. It was a problem of pitch.

By 1885, the Austrian government had had enough of this and recommended that the official frequency for middle A be 435Hz.  But then the Americans came along and in 1926 declared that middle A should be 440 Hz. That was followed by a 1936 ruling by the American Standards Association stated that the A above middle CD should, in fact, tuned to 440 Hz.  International Organization for Standardization (the ISO people), agreed in 1955 and then agreed again in 1975. It sounds like this.

Even though 440 Hz is the standard around the world, there are still plenty of people who aren’t happy with it. They believe that the more correct tuning for middle A is 432 Hz. I quote from Why Don’t You Try This:

The recent rediscoveries of the vibratory / oscillatory nature of the universe indicate that this contemporary international concert pitch standard may generate an unhealthy effect or anti-social behavior in the consciousness of human beings.

A=432 Hz, known as Verdi’s ‘A’ is an alternative tuning that is mathematically consistent with the universe. Music based on 432 Hz transmits beneficial healing energy, because it is a pure tone of math fundamental to nature. There is a theory that the change from 432 Hz to 440 Hz was dictated by Nazi propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels. He used it to make people think and feel a certain manner, and to make them a prisoner of a certain consciousness.

Wow. Who knew that this argument would invoke Godwin’s Law so quickly?



Here’s a test. What do you hear?

Now try this.

Finally, here’s another example of how 8 Hz can make a big difference in the sound of a guitar.



Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ 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.

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