What About The Magical 432Hz Tuning Standard?
Updated: Feb 24, 2020
(an excerpt from "The Dub Room Experience")
The "magical, more natural, more relaxed, spiritual" 432Hz tuning reference point. A topic that has been going around for the past few years and is seemingly gaining momentum and study. Basically it goes like this - If you tune your instrument to A=432Hz as opposed to the current standard A=440, musical enlightenment ensues. There are examples all over youtube. I've listened to several. Whenever a "blind" A/B comparison is given, I've consistently chosen 432Hz... about half the time. The problem with this comparison is that we are looking for objective results in a highly subjective study.
Now I do think that the "study of the affects of 432Hz on nature" is totally cool. It could even potentially be a very important study. But there is a massive difference between this and using 432Hz as an instrument tuning reference point.
The potential that 432Hz has to vibrate raindrops into a pretty pattern has zero relevance in the context of the intonation of an instrument.
In my experience, tuning reference as far as how it "feels" has everything to do with the particular instrument at hand. Without an instrument, 432Hz or any "standard" for that matter has no context and is completely irrelevant.
I do believe that every instrument has a "sweet spot" and although manufacturers attempt to make 440Hz be that spot, there are just too many variables to be able to really control the best natural "voicing" for an instrument in a manufacturing environment where inlays and shiny finish ultimately sell more product. High-end drums tend to get this sort of attention to detail, but there are far less variables, as there is only 1 note per drum to deal with. But at the end of the day we are talking about either pitch, which is always entirely at our discretion and control, or "voicing" - which is not entirely in our control, but is to a certain degree. You can change the voicing by modifying the instrument or by changing the center reference point of its tuning. Two separate instruments will not necessarily enjoy the same reference point, even if the same make and model. I'll add that trying to "force" a 432Hz reference point upon an instrument that is supposedly optimized to a 440Hz reference point is in my opinion, a shot in the dark at best. Will it sound "different"? - of course. Will the instrument actually resonate more "appropriately"? Possibly. Will it work the same way for every instrument - No way. If you want to find "that thing", it starts with the chosen materials and how the instrument is put together - and even then you are at the mercy of where THE INSTRUMENT wants to "live".
We should instead listen to the instrument and allow the instrument to "tell us" where it wants to be centered, then we may start to find the "more relaxed, calming, peaceful" or however you want to perceive it qualities of the instrument.
In my experimentation with seeking that "sweet spot" via different tunings (with guitars & Piano), I have had some pleasant results that I would describe as having less dissonant overtones or a more "productive" sympathetic ring, if you will. In the case of the guitar, the walls seemed to vibrate more, allowing the sound to sort of "bloom" in a way that it didn't in the more "forced" state of intonation. I consider this tuning point to be superior for this particular guitar.
As for a "magic" existing at any center or reference point, to put it bluntly - it means nothing out of the context of being applied to a given instrument, and every instrument is a different situation.