Last Updated onApprox. reading time: 6 minutesOctober 23, 2014
432HZ AS INTERNATIONAL CONCERT PITCH? ONLY IF …
One aspect in the whole “432Hz tuning debate” is generally overlooked, but – in my opinion – of the utmost importance. If we want to implement a change in Concert Pitch – from 440Hz to 432Hz – then there is one very important aspect we have to keep in mind: instrument design. Not all instruments used nowadays can change Concert Pitch or can change the pitch enough. And not only modern instruments, but many beautiful old (vintage) and historical instruments as well.
Examples of instruments without pitch change capabilites are: Wurlitzer and Hammond Organ, Fender Rhodes, idiophone instruments (such as Vibraphone, Xylophone, Marimba, Glockenspiel) and instruments made out of one piece (Didgeridoo, Panflute, Ocarina, et cetera).
Examples of instruments with insufficient (limited) pitch change capabilities (from 440Hz to 432Hz) are conical wind and brass instruments: Saxophone (and variants: Tubax. Conn-O-Sax, Saxello, Aulochrome), French Horn, Flugelhorn, Tuba, et cetera. If the pitch change is as large as from 440Hz to 432Hz (8Hz difference) the difference in pitch change between the highest register and lowest register of the instrument can be as much as over a semitone. With other words: a sounding C in the low register would be so off-pitch in the highest register that it would become a sounding B.
Some instruments would require only relative small modifications to be able to be played in 432Hz. A Glockenspielor and Fender Rhodes for example would only need a new set of “bars”, slightly longer. A Vibraphone would already be more complicated, not only would it need a new set of bars, but would require longer “resonators” as well.
Instruments such as Clarinet could be modified easily by replacing the “Barrel” in between the mouthpiece and the body (with a longer one). Flutes can be manufactured to adjusted up or down a small amount by pulling out the head-joint, and a larger amount by using a replacement for the 2nd joint which has been re-sized. Since there are at most 3 simple, independent, lever keys on that joint, the manufacturing adjustment is pretty simple to make.
Some instruments though would need to be redesigned completely. A Saxophone for example would need a longer neck (or larger body). But this would mean the tone holes would need to be moved (and perhaps even slightly changed of size), also the mechanism that control the buttons would no longer fit, so these need to be changed as well. With other words, a new “blue print” needs to be made for the Saxophone AND the machinery that creates the parts (buttons, rods, et cetera) would have to change as well. With other words, a completely new production-line would be required.
More about this subject in the blog article “Instruments & Tuning“.
WHY IS IT SO IMPORTANT TO KEEP INSTRUMENT DESIGN IN MIND WHEN CHANGING THE CONCERT PITCH?Well, most people learn to play an instrument at school, at the local music school or local orchestra. The instruments purchased and/or recommended by these schools, teachers and orchestras set the “standard”. If instruments used are “stuck” (by design) in 440Hz, there is no other choice then to use that pitch.
Naturally a school or orchestra could decide to use 432Hz as concert pitch anyway, but that would also mean that various instruments would no longer be optional to play. Some partitures could perhaps be “taken over” by other instruments, but the pieces will no longer sound as they were created by the composer. Important instruments for particular music styles would simply be lost (and their unique sound with them), like for example the Saxophone for Jazz and the French Horn for Classical music. A Symphony Orchestra, Wind Ensemble or Jazz Big Band would simply not be able to perform their repertoire any longer and would not sound the way they do now and have in the past.
No real music lover will consider that an “acceptable loss” or the “price to pay” for change.
Until all important / popular instruments are available in 432hz, 432Hz as Concert Pitch can and will not become a (new) standard.
The “key” for the implementation of 432Hz as International Standard thus depends on the willingness of instrument manufacturers to start producing 432Hz designed instruments. Most manufactures are not yet ready to invest in setting up a secondary production line for 432Hz instrument. None like to take the first step, and with it take all the risks.
If a company such as Yamaha would become interested in producing 432Hz tuned instruments, then that would cover quite a number of instruments. They manufacture many different instruments (wind and brass instruments, vibraphones, et cetera). If a large company as Yamaha would not be interested, then perhaps an alliance of smaller companies, private investments or crowdfunding could lead the way.
Until we (musicians, composers/producers and sound engineers that support this pitch change) have convinced the instrument manufacturers that it is worth the investment, nothing will change.
PROPER EVIDENCE AND DOCUMENTATION
If we like the manufacturers to take C.P. A4=432Hz serious, then we have to make sure there is solid scientific reasoning behind the request for a 432-line of instruments. We (those who have experimented with pitch changes and have implemented it in their work) do know that it sounds and feels different then when using the standard 440Hz. But, the majority of topics and reasoning in 432Hz debates is in general too subjective, “hear-say”, circumstantial and lacks scientific backing …
Myths about the 440Hz introduction by Goebbels, The pseudo-scientific “Speed of Light” connection, the claim that 432Hz was the standard before 440Hz, have to be countered (by all who are truly serious about 432Hz as new concert pitch). There is no way the manufacturers are going to take the 432Hz request serious if general musical knowledge and historic facts simply debunk those myths used as validation for the 432Hz pitch claim.
Topics about health-related improvements (including the proclaimed prevention or reduction of possible damage to vocal folds and hearing) might be of interest, but for most manufacturers of no or lesser importance, specially without enough proper documented research. They are after all product manufacturers, health care is not their field of business.
More proper research should be done about how a change of pitch effects the natural frequencies and resonance of instruments (timbre) and how the resonance and reflection of sound in enclosed spaces (concert halls, et cetera) changes with the pitch change.
POSSIBLE “COMPLICATIONS” CONCERNING PREFERRED TEMPERAMENT FOR 432HZ
Those who are really “in to 432Hz” are aware that the present Temperament standard (Equal Temperament) is imperfect and rather unnatural. It does not contain a single perfect interval (based on the natural harmonics) accept for the octave. Within the “432-Community” the Temperament preferred is the Pythagorean Temperament or some of it’s variants such as Maria Renold’s “Scale of Fifhts”. There are those who prefer Just Intonation though. Now, it will be practically impossible to have an 432 instrument-line developed for all those – and possible other – temperaments.
If we want to make sure 432 instruments would still be compatible with the other already existing instruments that can change pitch (form 440 to 432) then perhaps it would be wiser from a practical point of view to have 432Hz designed instruments using the same Temperament as the other instruments use, thus 12-TET.
A debate about what temperament to use can be held within the “432-Community”, but could very well end-up splitting the “432-community” into smaller fractions with different demands. The “432 Community” is in that perspective no more “developed” then the any other community.
- The change of the Concert Pitch Standard depends on the availability of 432Hz designed instruments as “alternative” for those instruments that can not change Concert Pitch.
- In order for instrument manufacturers to become interested in making new production lines for 432-tuned instruments more scientific evidence have to be provided concerning acoustics, natural frequency and resonance related to pitch change.
- The myths and fairy tales surrounding the 432-topic need to be addressed by leading members in the “432-Community” in order to be taken serious by the music industry and instrument manufacturers.
If this is done well, then there would be a serious chance of implementing the desired Concert Pitch change from 440Hz to 432Hz.
Personally I would rather “suggest” having 2 standards. The 440Hz standard and the (new) 432Hz standard. This way vintage / historical and non-tunable instruments can still be used by those who wish to do so, while others have the freedom to use instruments designed for the 432Hz (new) standard. Should musicians and composers not have a choice in how they want to perform and produce music? Why “limit” the options by setting only 1 standard?