Pitching the argument: the reality of 432 Hz versus 440 Hz tuning

Music

I once noticed a post on my Facebook page arguing in favour of what is called Scientific Tuning. This is where A4 (just below ‘middle C’) =432 Hz instead of 440 Hz, the modern standard to which all tuners automatically calibrate, and most of the music you hear is tuned to.

The post itself was of a kind I had seen before, and it featured the ‘tuning of the universe‘ argument. The idea that as our brains vibrate at 8 Hz, and the solar system vibrates at a perfect multiple of this, music pitch based around A=432 Hz has ‘greater resonance’ with the spheres and our own physiology. Some even use ‘representations’ of how water molecules and snowflakes look based on varying frequencies. What is especially interesting about some of these sites, other than some highly dubious arguments with little scientific backup, is their connection to a product – they invariably wish for you to ‘see the light’ about the ‘truth’ of 432 pitch, then buy their music recorded at this frequency! (Quick – it’s for the good of your wellbeing!)

I agree that we are tuned into the universe’s vibrations. As creatures which have evolved on this planet; made of matter which has been constantly recycled for thousands of millennia, long before before humans appeared. It could only ever be so. But our ears are incredibly complex and amazing instruments, capable of discerning minute pitch differences. We also have an in-built system for relative pitch (the sequencing of one sound connected to the preceding and following sound).

This is not only how we appreciate and enjoy music, but how we developed speech patterns as a species across the globe. It stands to reason, therefore, that the pitching of music is entirely relative. An out-of-tune guitar (with itself, as opposed to any other sounds) would sound unpleasant. This is because while one note in isolation is always on set pitch, a chord will include several pitches which are not quite correctly aligned, and therefore out-of-tune. The overall tuning of the instrument only matters when performing with another. Even then, the instruments only have to be in tune with each other to produce pleasing-sounding harmonies.

Another classic argument propagated by those opposed to the A=440 Hz tuning is that is was first proposed by Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda chief. It is true that Goebbels commented on the effects of 440 tuning, but many had done so before. Several orchestras were already tuning closer to 440 than 432. The general tuning of ‘middle C’ seems to have risen slowly since the 18th century, highlighting the benefits of standardisation in pitch across the globe. This had already begun to happen before WWII, and was only officially standardised in the 1950’s, after the war had ended (Goebbels committed suicide in the final days of the European conflict). It was also increasingly commonplace for instrument manufacturers to use 440 tuning by the 1920s, as this blog states.

In terms of inducing ‘mass hysteria’, or even attempting to illicit a greater emotional response from a populace through music, 440 tuning would only work at large-scale events, with hundreds of people present, if not more. It could then be argued that the hysteria comes from the crowd (consider the almost war-like ‘crowd mentality’ witnessed and experienced at sporting events) rather than the music’s pitch itself. As social animals, we are designed to be ‘swept along’ by crowds and emotions. It is how we connect. Once again, everything is relative, and I can’t see any proof that the tuning of the music to a specific pitch is a useful means of social control, nor is it detrimental to human wellbeing.

Finally, there comes the acid test: Use a controlled experiment, playing listeners the same clip of music but tuned to different pitches. Professor in sound and acoustic research Terry Cox did this very experiment. His results found no preference whatsoever in listeners hearing music played at 432 Hz, compared to 440 Hz. You can hear the clips he used and read his full explanation and results here.

In conclusion, I agree there are good physic-based reasons that music pitched at A=432 Hz. should sound better. However, I strongly encourage you to worry about the bigger problems in life and enjoy music for what it is: the organisation of pitch and rhythm. These pitches, like physics, and indeed like the human condition, are all relative: They are not only what you make them, but what you interpret them to be.

Music & Wellbeing (Part 6): Music Therapy & Educational Wellbeing

Music Therapy

Music and educational wellbeing

So far, we have investigated the value of music in physical and mental wellbeing. As previously discussed, a better education leads to greater feelings of wellbeing, particularly in later stages of life (Merriam & Kee, 2014). With that in mind, if we are to consider the value of music on our physical and mental wellbeing, we must also discern its role in our education.

There have been recent arguments for the evaluation of wellbeing in the school system, examining what good practice is already in place, and also discussing ways to implement further measures (Aggleton, Dennison & Warwick, 2010). A recent study by McFerran & Rickson (2014) also highlighted the positive effect of music and music therapy in educational wellbeing. Both of the above studies allude to the wider benefits in the community and later on in the child’s life, once they reach adulthood. In this chapter, I aim to examine current thinking on the effects of music on improvements in children’s learning.

The act of participating in musical activities, or playing musical instrument, is seen by many to be of great importance to children’s development (Scripp, Ulibarri, & Flax, 2013; Swanwick, 1988, 1994;). As well as teaching self-discipline and providing feelings of achievement, it acts as ‘a powerful therapy for all sorts of childhood conditions. It develops body, brain and soul in balance’ (Ben-Tovim, 1979, pp. 15-16). Music has been considered to share many similarities with language throughout our history (Thaut, 2005, p. 171). It has long been used as a method of communicating new ideas and concepts to children in a classroom environment (Welch, 2005, p. 254; Barrett, 2005). The use of music in teaching pre-school children acts as both an ‘aid in language development while promoting musical development at the same time’ (Wiggins, 2007, p. 55). Recent studies, such as those carried out by Rickard et al (2010) noticed significant improvements in the verbal memory of primary school children who had spent time studying and playing music.

Such improvements, however, stop a little short of the now famous ‘Mozart effect’. This term is derived from an experiment in which students who listened to at least ten minutes of Mozart’s music performed better in special awareness tests (Rauscher, Shaw & Ky, 1993, quoted in North & Hargreaves, 2008, p. 346). The popularity of these studies allowing the idea that certain genres of music can increase intelligence has since filtered into popular assumption. However, the theory that listening to music increases intelligence quotient (IQ), excluding any other factors or stimuli, is in itself a ‘massive oversimplification and overgeneralisation of the original scientific findings’ (North & Hargreaves, 2008, p. 346). I agree that there are too many additional factors to be considered when taking into account music as stimulation for learning. I find it unreasonable to rely on an almost magical ‘Mozart Effect’ for better results in a classroom environment. I believe music needs to be employed intelligently as a communicative and participatory tool in teaching practice. Student engagement will be increased through activities they regard as ‘fun’ and consequently topics can be digested more effectively. In my opinion, the musical method should stimulate creativity in the children, and better equip them for future learning in other subjects (Scripp, Ulibarri, & Flax, 2013).

While Wiggins (2007) conducted her research in the United States of America, there is an emerging global consensus to collaborate her view surrounding music as an effective tool in teaching. A similar study undertaken in Australia investigated the effects of shared music activities in pre-school children at ages 2-3 years old. The researchers then successfully linked these to a positive range of skills by the time the subjects reached ages 4-5 years old. The children demonstrated higher abilities in ‘vocabulary, numeracy, attentional and emotional regulation, and prosocial skills’. (Williams et al, 2015). The children in these tests proved to be more developed in terms of numeracy, literacy and prosocial skills, than children who had not partaken in shared music activities at a young age; more, even, than children who had participated in shared reading activities at the same age as part of the same research (Williams et al, 2015). This builds upon previous research in Germany, which suggests the level of skills such as numeracy in children may be largely down to the home environment of the child, not to mention other factors such as the educational level of the mother (Anders et al, 2012). Williams et al (2015) use the studies of Anders et al (2012) as one of the bases for their own research. While the German studies are not music-specific, they do not preclude the theories on which the Australian study was conducted. Similar investigations on older children by Hille & Schupp (2015) demonstrated not only an improvement in school performance, but greater conscientiousness and improved social awareness.

So what about children with special educational needs? ‘Special educational needs’ (SEN) is a term which encompasses a wide variety of physical and mental circumstances which might impede learning, experienced both within and outside of the educational system. In the classroom environment, examples of SEN include children with speech, sight or hearing impairments, dyslexia, dyspraxia, delayed cognition, Down’s syndrome and those on the Autistic spectrum (ASD). Studies carried out by Dieringer & Porretta (2013) have shown that the use of music during lessons improves concentration in children on the autistic spectrum. The data returned by their research showed significantly less propensity on the child’s part to diverge into off-task behaviours. They showed higher levels of concentration when music was used as part of the learning process. They reasoned that ‘music can act as an extra auditory stimulus providing additional environmental structure, thus prompting children with ASD to stay on task.’ (Dieringer & Porretta, 2013, p. 8). Dieringer & Porretta (2013) also conclude that looking into this area of study further could lead to improvements in other aspects of life for children with ASD, not least enhanced inclusiveness with other children.

While Dieringer and Porretta (2013) demonstrate in their study that off-task behaviours are reduced when music is used, they argue that further research needs to be conducted into whether or not ‘improved performance or learning actually took place’ (2013, p. 9). However, similar research by Gerrity (2013) focused specifically on improved learning in children with autism during music lessons. The findings of this research conclude that improvements in musical ability and understanding did in fact occur.

What is interesting about the studies carried out by Gerrity (2013), and those undertaken by Dieringer & Porretta (2013) is that they both focus on children with varying levels of autism inside the regular public school system. However, research by (Sandiford, Mainess, & Daher, 2013) has shown how music is of enormous help to teachers in specialist schools for children with profound and multiple learning difficulties (PMLD), including the most severe cases of autism. My caveat to this would be that such improvements depend on a number of interlinking circumstances. This is similar to the findings of Anders et al (2012). These include, amongst other factors; teaching style; available resources (learning support and funding, for example); environment (at home and school); and parental support.

(This article was first published in July 2015)

REFERENCES

Anders, Y., Rossbach, H., Weinert, S., Ebert, S., Kuger, S., Lehrl, S., Von Maurice, J. (2012) ‘Home and preschool learning environments and their relations to the development of early numeracy skills’, Early Childhood Research Quarterly, Vol. 27, pp. 231–244. Available From http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ecresq.2011.08.003.

Barrett, M. (2005) ‘Musical communication and children’s communities of musical practice’, in Miell, D., MacDonald, R. & Hargreaves, D. (eds.) Musical communication. United States: Oxford University Press, pp. 261-280.

Ben-Tovim, A. (1979) Children and music. Great Britain: A. & C. Black Ltd.

Dieringer, S. & Porretta, D. (2013) ‘Using music to decrease off-task behaviours in young children with autism spectrum disorders’, Palaestra, Vol. 27, No. 1, pp. 7-9.

Dennison, C., Warwick, I. & Aggleton, P. (2010) ‘Evaluating health and well-being in schools’, in Aggleton, P., Dennison, C. & Warwick, I. (eds.) Promoting health and well-being through schools. United States & Canada: Routledge.

Gerrity, K. (2013) ‘Conditions that facilitate music learning among students with special needs: a mixed-methods inquiry’, Journal of research in music education, Vol. 61, No. 2, pp. 144-159. Available from: 10.1177/0022429413485428.

Hille, A., & Schupp, J. (2015) ‘How learning a musical instrument affects the development of skills’, Economics of Education Review, Vol. 44, pp. 56-82. Available from: 10.1016/j.econedurev.2014.10.007.

McFerran, K. & Rickson, D. (2014) ‘Community music therapy in schools: Realigning with the needs of contemporary students, staff and systems.’ International Journal of Community Music, Vol. 7, No. 1, p. 75. Available from: 10.1386/ijcm.7.1.75_1.

Merriam, S., & Kee, Y. (2014) ‘Promoting Community Wellbeing: The Case for Lifelong Learning for Older Adults’, Adult Education Quarterly, Vol. 64, No. 2, pp. 128-144. Available from: 10.1177/0741713613513633.

Rickard, N., Vasquez, J., Murphy, F., Gill, A., & Toukhsati, S. (2010) ‘Benefits of a Classroom Based Instrumental Music Program on Verbal Memory of Primary School Children: A Longitudinal Study’, Australian Journal of Music Education, No. 1, pp. 36-47.

North, A. & Hargreaves, D. (2008) The social and applied psychology of music. United States: Oxford University Press.

Sandiford, G., Mainess, K., & Daher, N. (2013) ‘A Pilot Study on the Efficacy of Melodic Based Communication Therapy for Eliciting Speech in Nonverbal Children with Autism’, Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders, Vol. 43, No. 6, pp. 1298-1307. Available from: 10.1007/s10803-012-1672-z.

Scripp, L., Ulibarri, D., & Flax, R. (2013) ‘Thinking Beyond the Myths and Misconceptions of Talent: Creating Music Education Policy that Advances Music’s Essential Contribution to Twenty-First-Century Teaching and Learning’, Arts Education Policy Review, Vol. 114, No. 2, pp. 54-102. Available from: 10.1080/10632913.2013.769825.

Swanwick, K. (1988). Music, mind, and education. USA & Canada: Routledge.

Thaut, M. (2005) ‘Rhythm, human temporality, and brain function’, in Miell, D., MacDonald, R. & Hargreaves, D. (Eds.) Musical communication. United States: Oxford University Press, pp. 171-191.

Welch, G. (2005) ‘Singing as communication’, in Miell, D., MacDonald, R. & Hargreaves, D.J. (eds.) Musical communication. United States: Oxford University Press, pp. 239-259.

Wiggins, D. (2007) ‘Pre-K Music and the Emergent Reader: Promoting Literacy in a Music-Enhanced Environment’, Early Childhood Education Journal, vol. 35, no. 1, pp. 55-64. Available from: 10.1007/s10643-007-0167-6.

Williams, K., Barrett, M., Welch, G., Abad, V., & Broughton, M. (2015) ‘Associations between early shared music activities in the home and later child outcomes: Findings from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children’, Early Childhood Research Quarterly, Vol. 31, pp. 113-124. Available from: 10.1016/j.ecresq.2015.01.004.

Music & Wellbeing (Part 4): Music & Movement

Music Therapy

This blog is a continuation of my mini-series examining the value of music on our overall wellbeing. The next two installments will look at the physical benefits of music as a means of healing and rehabilitation.

I got rhythm: Music & Movement

Levitin (2006, p. 174) states that the cerebellum, as one of the earliest parts of our brain to evolve, is responsible for motor functions, including timing:

The Cerebellum is the part of the brain that is involved closely with timing and with coordinating movements of the body…From phylogenetic studies – studies of brains of different animals up and down the genetic ladder – we’ve learned that the cerebellum is one of the oldest parts of the brain, evolutionarily speaking. In popular language, it is sometimes referred to as the reptilian brain. Although it weighs only 10 per cent as much as the rest of the brain, it contains 50 to 80 per cent of the total number of neurons. The function of this oldest part of the brain is something that is crucial to music: timing (Levitin, 2006, p. 174)

As one of our oldest brain functions, our propensity for rhythm is therefore hardwired into us. Combine these automatic functions with the reward-centre activation we experience when listening to music (Salimpoor et al, 2015), and it goes quite some way to explaining our natural need to set things in order; an ‘unconscious propensity to impose a rhythm even when one hears a series of identical sounds at constant intervals’ (Sacks, 2008, p. 264).

Sacks (2008) discusses studies which demonstrated that the motor cortex and subcortical motor systems were activated when listening to music, or even merely imagining it. He argued that keeping time, in both a mental sense and as a physical act, depends ‘on interactions between the auditory and the dorsal premotor cortex’ (Sacks, 2008, p. 262). The human mind is unique in its ‘functional connection between these two motor activations’ (Sacks, 2008, p. 262) which are so intricately integrated with each other. Further to this, when listening to music is coupled with a physical activity, such as finger-tapping or any other movement in the body, several more areas of the brain are utilised. These include the cerebellum and the areas of the frontal lobes commonly associated with ‘higher perceptual and cognitive control’ (Thaut, 2005, p. 179).

According to Thompson (2015), utilizing music’s effects on the brain has yielded a positive response in stroke patients with impaired motor skills:

Patients who engaged in this intervention, called music-supported training, showed greater improvement in the timing, precision and smoothness of fine motor skills than did patients who relied on conventional therapy. The researchers postulated that the gains resulted from an increase in connections between neurons of the sensorimotor and auditory regions…the hope now is that active music making-singing, moving and synchronizing to a beat-might help restore additional skills, including speech and motor functions in stroke patients (Thompson, 2015)

Thaut (2005) has also recorded positive results when using ‘rhythmic auditory stimulation to facilitate walking’ in patients who have been partially paralysed following a stroke (Sacks, 2008, p. 276). Again, we see rhythm at play here to increasingly useful effect. Similar research carried out by Jun, Roh, & Kim (2013) investigated the benefits of music therapy in rehabilitating stroke patients. They discovered that better results, and improved mood, were increased by providing music-based movement treatments on a more regular basis (Jun, Roh, & Kim, 2013, P. 29).

Parkinson’s Disease is another condition in which music has been proven to help in alleviating symptoms. Parkinson’s Disease is a progressive neurological condition (www.parkinsons.org) caused by the ‘degeneration of cells in the midbrain that feed dopamine to the basal ganglia, an area involved in the initation [sic] and smoothness of movements’ (Thompson, 2015). These symptoms worsen as the disease progresses (Ross & Singer, 2014). In later stages of the disease, it is not only movement which is slowed down, but also the ‘flow of perception, thought, and feeling’ (Sacks, 2008, p. 274). This highlights the roots of the disease in the brain rather than in other parts of the body, much in the same way that the body can be affected after a stroke. Most studies conclude that music supplants a rhythm where the patient’s brain has stopped carrying out movement functions automatically (Jun, Roh, & Kim, 2013; Sacks, 2008; Thaut, 2005; Thompson, 2015).

As we saw when looking at musical interventions on stroke patients, one of the key factors to the success of music therapy in patients with Parkinson’s Disease is down to timing. In regard to Parkinson’s Disease, there are particular observations to be made about the patient’s own perception of timing:

‘An observer may note how slowed a parkinsonian’s movements are, but the patient will say, “My own movements seem normal to me unless I see how long they take by looking at a clock. The clock on the wall of the ward seems to be going exceptionally fast.”’ (Gooddy, 1988, quoted in Sacks, 2008, p. 276)

Regarding this example of relative time, using music has a positive effect because it ‘imposes its own tempo’, effectively overriding the impulses to speed up or slow down that Parkinsonion patients experience (Sacks, 2008, p. 276). Sacks (2008) continued that for as long as the music lasts, the patients’ rhythms returned to pre-illness speeds of movement. In other cases, where one side of the body is operating at a different speed to the other, getting the patient to play on an organ brought his limbs back into synchronicity again (Sacks, 2008, p. 277).

In many of the case studies provided by Sacks (2008), he mentions that the patients ‘come alive’ and in some examples shake off all visible signs of Parkinson’s Disease; walking more fluidly; singing; and even dancing energetically. In one case, an especially motionless patient is seated at the piano and not only frees up in her movement, but plays beautifully from memory; the act of imagining the music has the same effect as physically hearing it (Sacks, 2008, p. 278).

The phrase ‘come alive’, to me, suggests a happier state of mind when music is present in these patients. This is similar to the stroke patients in Jun, Roh, & Kim’s (2013) study that experienced an ‘improved mood’. While music is being applied here seeking physical improvements, it is simultaneously improving the patient’s mental wellbeing. Therefore, music can be seen to have an overall positive effect on the patients’ combined wellbeing. I agree with the research in these chapters, and believe that further implementation of music-based interventions within the National Health Service will show quicker recovery times in patients. This, in turn, should lead to a greater overall mental wellbeing in the patients as their health improves. As for the National Health Service, they are optimistic about the positive use of music as a means for treating stroke and Parkinson’s patients. However, they wish to see larger studies with more varied groups of patients. (National Health Service, 2008).

(This article was first published in July 2015)

REFERENCES

Jun, E., Roh, Y., & Kim, M. (2013) ‘The effect of music-movement therapy on physical and psychological states of stroke patients’, Journal of Clinical Nursing, Vol. 22, No. 1/2, pp. 22-31. Available from: 10.1111/j.1365-2702.2012.04243.x.

Levitin, D. (2006). This is your brain on music: understanding a human obsession. Great Britain: Atlantic Books.

National Health Service (2008) Music aids stroke recovery. Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/news/2007/January08/Pages/Musicaidsstrokerecovery.aspx (Last accessed: 07/05/2012).

Parkinson’s Society (2015). Available at: www.parkinsons.org

Sacks, O. (2008). Musicophilia: tales of music and the brain. 2nd Edition. United Kingdom: Vintage Books.

Salimpoor, V., Zald, D., Zatorre, R., Dagher, A., & McIntosh, A. (2015) ‘Review: Predictions and the brain: how musical sounds become rewarding’, Trends in Cognitive Sciences, vol. 19, pp. 86-91. Available from: 10.1016/j.tics.2014.12.001.

Thaut, M. (2005) ‘Rhythm, human temporality, and brain function’, in Miell, D., MacDonald, R. & Hargreaves, D. (Eds.) Musical communication. United States: Oxford University Press, pp. 171-191.

Thompson, W. (2015) ‘The Healine [sic] Power of Music’, Scientific American Mind, vol. 26, no. 2, pp. 32-41.