The usual way to specify a tuning is to give the frequency of the note A4. The modern standard is A = 440 Hz, where Hz is a unit meaning “per second”, so “440 Hz” refers to 440 vibrations per second (such as those of a string). To tune to this frequency, a musician would either listen to a tone played by some tuning device and tune by ear or use an electronic tuner.
The 432 Hz conspiracy
If you Google “432 Hz”, you will find a tremendous number of articles and YouTube videos about the tuning A = 432 Hz and its presumed healing and soothing properties. If you dig a little bit deeper, you will also find an “explanation” of this phenomenon. Presumably, the 432 Hz tuning is in some way tuned to the vibrations of nature itself, whereas the 440 Hz tuning was introduced by Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi minister of propaganda.
Yes, that’s right. There are millions of people in the world who believe that Goebbels dictated the tuning to make people feel more anxious and warlike.
Now, why should 432 Hz be so great? According to proponents of the theory, the number 432 has special properties. And, indeed, it is an interesting number. It is a sum of four consecutive primes: 103 + 107 + 109 + 113. It is exactly three gross, where gross = 144 is a traditional unit. An equilateral triangle whose area and perimeter are equal has the area of exactly the square root of 432.
Then you will find many mystical arguments, such that there are 432 Buddha statues on Mount Meru, or that it is somehow related to the location of chakras. There is even a claim that scientists in Nike found out that the best golf balls have 432 dimples…
Why the explanations of 432 Hz are all nonsense
I cannot say with certainty that there is no difference in the psychological effects of A = 432 Hz and A = 440 Hz, but I suspect there is no significant difference, since orchestras around the world used to tune to anywhere from 400 Hz to 470 Hz, and I think that if 432 Hz were some kind of a sweet spot, someone would have noticed by now.
What I can say with certainty, however, is that the arguments about numerical or mystical properties of the number 432 are utter nonsense. It is important to understand that 432 Hz refers to the number of vibrations per second, and “one second” is a rather arbitrarily chosen unit.
It was historically defined in many imprecise ways, such as certain fraction of the time that passes between two new moons. Later, it was defined as a certain fraction of the mean solar day, which is the average time (over one year) the Earth needs to rotate around its axis relative to the Sun, and when it was discovered that even the average is not constant due to various tidal effects, the second was eventually redefined as “the duration of 9,192,631,770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the caesium-133 atom”.
So, yeah. The 432 Hz tuning, the divine tuning of nature itself, is ultimately defined as one vibration per 21279240.2083 periods of radiation of an uncommon chemical element. Very spiritual, indeed.
Why do we use A = 440 Hz? (spoiler: no Nazis)
In Bach’s era, there was no standardized way to tune instruments. The same piece could sound much higher or lower depending on where and when it was performed, and even organs in two different churches in the same city could be tuned in completely incompatible ways.
The pitches musical instruments produce change over time due to heat and mechanical wear and tear, so until the tuning fork was invented in 1711, there was no simple way to make tunings consistent among different regions and even performances in one region. However, even after the invention of the tuning fork, there was no single standardized tuning. Ensembles in different regions used tuning forks resonating at different frequencies.
And then, in the 19th century, the era of pitch inflation started (to be more precise, there was another era of pitch inflation before that, but we would need too many technical details to discuss it, so we won’t). You see, it is the relationship between the thickness of a string and its tension (i.e. “how many times you turn the tuning peg”) that tells you how high the string sounds; the higher the tension, the higher the sound, and the thicker the string, the lower the sound. That’s why the double bass has huge thick strings, whereas the violin has thin strings.
It turns out that strings sound better (up to a certain point) when their tension is higher. The way instrumentalists increase tension now is that they simply buy a thicker set of strings, which, when tuned to the same pitch as thinner strings, produce higher tension. However, in the 19th century, obtaining thicker strings was not that easy. Manufacturing of strings was a complicated procedure, so rather than changing the manufacturing process, it was much easier to tune the same strings to a higher pitch to increase tension and thus improve the sound.
Orchestras, competing with one another over better sound, started to tune their instruments higher and higher. This eventually led to problems for singers, who complained about having to perform pieces in higher registers than they were originally meant to be performed in. At the urging of singers, the French government made the tuning A = 435 Hz officially standard in France in 1859, and many orchestras and Opera houses in Europe adopted this standard. In Britain, however, the French standard was interpreted in an erroneous way, due to which British orchestras commonly tuned to A = 439 Hz.
In 1939, there was an international conference held in London that resulted in a recommendation to use A = 440 Hz, as a compromise between the various tuning systems used at the time, some of which reached beyond 450 Hz. This recommendation was further supported by the fact that the BBC required their orchestras to tune to 440 Hz instead of 439 Hz because 439 is a prime number, and the corresponding frequency is hard to generate electronically (with standard electronic clocks). Eventually, in 1955, the standard A = 440 Hz was adopted by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).
Virtually all commercially produced contemporary music is tuned to A = 440 Hz. Nevertheless, most symphony orchestras ignore the standard and tune to 441, 442 or 443 Hz instead, while orchestras specializing in older music may sometimes tune in a tuning close to the one for which the piece was originally written, which may range from 415 Hz to 470 Hz).
By the way, I have written several educational ebooks. If you get a copy, you can learn new things and support this website at the same time—why don’t you check them out?
MythTuning to 432 Hz is better than 440 Hz. Or more accurately, tuning to A=432 Hz and using a “just intonation” tuning method (scientific tuning) is better than using A=440 Hz and “equal temperament” tuning (concert tuning).
Is 432 Hz Better than 440 Hz? Is Concert Tuning Better Than Scientific Tuning?
It’s theorized that using a starting pitch of A=432 Hz and a “just intonation” tuning method (scientific tuning) is more natural and mathematically symmetric than using A=440 Hz and “equal temperament” tuning (concert tuning).
While our research seems to confirm aspects of this “Scientific Pitch vs. Concert Pitch” AKA “440 vs. 432” theory, there are a few major problems with it:
- There is no inherent reason to connect a starting pitch and tuning method. These are two separate concepts.
- Many pitches and tuning methods have been tried over the years and each has been shown to have unique drawbacks.
- Modern studies are generally lacking regarding the effects of frequencies on our biology.
- Just intonation (meaning intonation only, or “just ratios”) cannot produce a set of pitches that work well in every key. This means you can’t play in all keys on one instrument using this tuning method, some harmonics don’t work well, some chords don’t sound right, and it has general limitations as a pitch standard for concerts because of this (see a history of pythagorean and just intonation tuning, see basics of music theory, keys, harmonics, scales, chords, and intervals for why this matters). This is likely the main reason composers (who are almost all pianists) like Bach switched to more “well tempered” tunings over the years (see Just Intonation and Harmonics). Concert tuning may have its problems, but at least all keys and chords sound “pretty good” played in it (especially important for concerts and for not having to re-tune your piano every-time you switch keys).
This is to say:
- Scientific tuning (just intonation and A=432 Hz) creates a “pretty” harmonics that can be seen visually using cymatics experiments (see below) and has real merit for those playing single notes in a solo performance (like singers and violists)…
- … But for concerts, pianists, and composers, concert tuning (A=440 Hz and equal temperament) is much more consistent and practical (despite its sometimes slightly disharmonious nature).
We discuss the details of the above, cymatics experiments, and the history of the pitch debate below. First, I suggest watching the following video , it does a good job of explaining some technicalities that should be considered in “the 432 vs. 440 debate”.
Why It’s Impossible to Tune a Piano. A string produces a mechanical wave when plucked, its frequency determines its pitch, this is sound. If you “fret” the string and shorten it by a ratio it produces a different sound, this is pitch. We can use pitches to create scales. When notes are played together we get chords. Only equal temperament tuning results in all chords and scales sounding good together (without changing the tuning). This video explains the mathematics behind just intonation and equal temperament, and it shows off a cymatics experiment as well.
What are 440 and 432 Hz? Scientific Pitch Versus Concert Pitch
There are lots of different ways to express the 440 Hz vs. 432 Hz debate, but specifically, the debate is over Scientific Pitch vs. Concert Pitch and is just as much about the tuning method as it is about the starting pitch.
- 432 Hz AKA Scientific pitch (“Verdi Tuning”, philosophical pitch, A=432 Hz, middle C=256). This uses a starting pitch of A=432 Hz and “Pythagorean” (ratios) and/or “just intonation” (ratios of small whole numbers) tuning methods. This results in whole numbers pitches and symmetric and visually pleasing patterns in cymatics experiments… but some awkward harmonics.
- 440 Hz AKA Concert pitch (“the pitch standard”, “standard western tuning”, A=440 Hz, middle C=261.63). This uses a starting pitch of A=440 Hz and “equal temperament tuning” to separate notes by logarithmic equal distances (100 cents). This results results in non-whole number pitches and “messy” patterns in cymatics experiments… but all keys, chords, and pitches are usable.
TIP: Want to try hearing the difference? Keep in mind you need to not only change the starting pitch of A (the A above middle C, AKA the A4 above C4) but also the tuning method. Some music programs (like Logic) will give you the option, or you can do it by hand on a stringed instrument (by tuning each string to its respective starting pitch).
Understanding Pitches, Tuning, and Cymatics for the 440 Hz Debate
Above we summarized the argument, below we give the details needed to understand each aspect of the “440 Hz debate”.
Summary of the Benefits of Just Intonation Vs. Equal Temperament
Starting pitch aside, we can sum up the benefits of each tuning type by saying:
- Equal temperament results in all keys on a piano being playable in any interval, key or scale.
- Just tonic results in beautiful cymatic patterns that resonate with the physical universe (but only when single notes and certain intervals are played).
Understanding the Mathematics of Just Intonation and Equal Temperament
All tuning types use mathematics to define their tuning.
- Just tonic and pythagorean use ratios like 3:2 ratio for dominants, 11:8 for sub-dominants, 2:1 for octaves.
- Equal temperament uses imaginary numbers, square roots, and complex mathematics like for a minor second and for a major second (each step increases by a power of 1/12).
- To compare the two: a Tritone (an augmented fourth or diminished fifth) in equal temperament is = 1.414214 and just intonation is = 1.4000000. This means, on a stringed instrument for an example, a tritone is defined in just intonation by cutting the string in byand by in equal temperament. Each gives a slightly different result, in this case equal temperament is off by +17.49 cents (it gives 582.51 cents, while just intonation gives 600 cents). See all mathematical comparisons of the tunings here. The ratios may seem more mathematical to you, but I reckon Ramanujan would have appreciated modern western tuning due to its use of complex mathematics (despite his heritage).
Piano Tuner Shows Classical Repertoire Performed in Historical Tunings. Here is a comparison and discussion of different tuning methods done by a classical pianist.FACT: In most tuning systems used before 1700, one or more intervals on the twelve-note keyboard were so far from any pure interval that they were unusable in harmony and were called a “wolf” (likely because it sounds like a howling wolf). The only real conspiracy here is the conspiracy of composers trying to avoid “wolf” harmonies.
Understanding Starting Pitch Vs. Tuning Method
- If you just consider starting pitch, and not tuning method (and thus use only equal temperament standard tuning), both will produce “messy” results (on all other notes except A4).
- If you consider only tuning method, and not starting pitch (and thus use only 440 or 432), both tuning methods will produce “messy” results” (on all other notes except A4 in 432).
Only 432Hz with just intonation produces the “pretty” geometric patterns featured in the cymatics experiments below (and this is only true when some combinations of notes or single notes are played).
When people say “scientific tuning” they are referring to both starting pitch and tuning method.
TIP: This is to say, for 432 Hz to look great mathematically you have to crunch the numbers like this (Scientific Tuning), if you crunch the numbers like this (equal temperament) both 432 Hz and 440 Hz lack elegance. Ratios are prettier, equal tempered’s complex mathematics and cents are better for tuning pianos for general use and for concerts.
The Pitches and Cymatics
Cymatics is when sound is represented visually. Since all waves are energy, it is easy to translate a sound wave to an accurate visual, and this sort of demonstration is the best proof that the 432Hz debate has merit.
As you can see in the video featuring a cymatic experiment below, 432Hz paired with just intonation creates a visually pleasing, symmetric, geometric representation of the sound, while 440Hz and equal temperament a less pleasing and less symmetric one.
This makes sense on paper, as dividing notes by “100 cents” each is less natural than using ratios (see “why the conversation came up in the first place”).
Think about a violin, if you fret a given string so you divide it in half, you get an octave. Just intonation says “divide the string and you get an octave”. However, equal temperament says “move 1,200 cents and you’ll get an octave”. Both cents and ratios work perfectly for an octave, however, cents gives a “slightly-off” result for any other interval (and thus, in some respects, is a little like using feet and inches rather than planck lengths).
Despite this, as we have noted above, cents and equal temperament generally work better when all factors are considered (as those pure ratio-based notes don’t play well together, on say, an 88 key piano). See table of just intonation compared to equal temperament.
Just Intonation (scientific pitch) vs Equal Temperament (concert pitch).TIP: Consider using effects or a distortion pedal, or playing a disharmonious harmony on purpose. Western music may be “a little off”, but one can argue that gives music life, character, and energy.
FACT: Tuning forks of the 1700 and 1800’s can be found that set ‘A’ from everything to between about 400 Hz to 500 Hz. It’s likely the attempt to standardize tuning arises, simply, out of necessity as travel becomes more popular and possible throughout history.
Verdi Tuning / Scientific Tuning Chart – C=256 and A=440
When C=256 and A=440 and a mix of Pythagorean and intonation tuning is used, the result is this whole number elegant pattern of frequencies (notice that the octaves of C below are an exact round number in the binary system).
Any other method, including concert pitch tuning, results in “messy” fractions when a single note is played, the problem is in harmonics and thus scales and chords, not single notes.
You can see the popular equal-tempered fraction-based frequencies here. You can see a comparison chart at viewzone.com.
The 440 Hz vs 432 Hz Conspiracy: Why is There a Controversy Over Pitch Types?
There are two controversies over pitch, one is conspiracy oriented and the other is more level headed:
- As noted above, the controversy says: The pattern 432 Hz creates is more mathematically pleasing. Composers made the wrong choice with 440 Hz and equal temperament tuning, but there was no underlying conspiracy.
- The general conspiracy says: 440 Hz was specifically chosen for its negative effects as a tool of psychological warfare. There is essentially no truth to back this up, but has become part of the conversation none-the-less.
Anyway, here is the actual story behind 440 Hz (Scientific pitch).
The Story Behind Scientific pitch
The Scientific pitch was first proposed in 1713 by French physicist Joseph Sauveur (and thus is also sometimes called Sauveur pitch), promoted briefly by Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi in the 19th century (why its sometimes called Verdi pitch), and then advocated by the Schiller Institute beginning in the 1980s (as a conspiracy theory). 432 Hz is thought of as more symmetric, as we noted below, but reasoning for promoting it differs with each advocate.
The Schiller Institute Versus the Beatles
Since the 80’s scientific pitch been the subject of many conspiracy theories, in no small part due to the very controversial Schiller Institute, which has been its main promoter.
Lyndon LaRouche, the leader of the Institute, claims among other things, that concert pitch, rock music, and acts like the Beatles were “a product shaped according to British Psychological Warfare Division specifications”. Specifically, he claimed that the asymmetric waveform of 440 Hz was being used in a negative fashion to “depress” society.
So Is 440Hz a Conspiracy?
While I agree that 432Hz has merit, I found no evidence that 440Hz was chosen for any malicious reason. Rather, it seems much more like it was chosen and stuck to for the same reason that us Americans use Feet and Inches (cause’; we picked a standard and we are sticking with it, it works… And arguably better than 432 for practical purposes).
TIP: See “The Foundations of Scientific Musical Tuning” for the Schiller perspective.
FACT: Ultimately sound manifests as a classical wave, that means it must travel through something to be heard. In a broad sense, we are made out of the same stuff sound travels through (molecules made of star stuff). So an elegant pattern might be more central to our experience than western science gives it credit.
Cymatics Experiment tonoscope 432-440Hz.TIP: Many would consider the topic as strictly pseudoscience (as explained by this Reddit post), but some make solid arguments for 432 Hz that are hard not to at least consider (as explained by viewzone.com). I would submit both have merit.
Facts About Frequency
Below are a few facts about frequency and harmonics to help you understand the debate.
Frequency is based on “seconds” (frequency = cycles-per-second, 1 cycle per second is 1 Hz). Seconds are a human-invented measure of time (see time is relative).
According to Scientific American, for stringed instruments (specifically a piano): “The precise formula for the frequency (f) of a note on a vibrating string based on length (L), tension (T), and density (μ) of the string is shown below”.
Pitch is relative. Regardless of which pitch you tune a string to, the other pitches must be relative to that. The fretted guitar is a good example of this. If I tune up or down, it doesn’t matter. Each fret still represents a relative half-step interval.
Harmonics, Bach, and Well Tempered Clavs
Taking frequency into account alone, it makes sense to use a ratio tuning (you divide the string, you change the note, very natural). However, the problem is when we pair notes together and change keys it creates disharmony. Thus, way back when J.S. Bach and others were like “actually I want my stuff to sound good” and thus created types of “equal tempered tuning” (why Bach is for “a well tempered calv”; AKA a clav tuned using equal tempered tuning instead of just intonation).
Today we use some complex mathematics to determine pitch and then divide those values into units of 100 cents.
Return to Verdi Tuning (Classical Revolution #3).
Other Factors of Note
- The difference between 440 Hz and 432 Hz isn’t something the average non-musician can hear.
- If you drop Hz, generally by any amount, you get a more relaxed sound. If you increase Hz, you get a more tense sound.
- Staying in perfect pitch as an orchestra depends on temperature, acoustics, and instruments. It’s not reasonable to think an orchestra could or would stay in perfect pitch relative to their starting pitch.
- Different tunings have been used at different times in different places. Tuning varied wildly over time, and standard tuning of 440 in western music is a very recent thing, although Bach and others begin changing pitches in the 1700’s (because just intonation was historically problematic; the Greeks had noted this as did many others).
- If a perfect tuning fork is used the chances are that people will tune to an exact frequency and will tune “by ear” to the instrument and the room.
The Importance of A=432hz Music.THOUGHTS: Orchestras may not be able to tune correctly, but electronic music can. So it is most certainly worth looking into the effects of sound waves and frequencies on listeners. If you are going to use just intonation for electronic music, make sure you take into account all aspects of the tuning debate (like issues with key changes and harmonics). Remember, you can’t only change starting pitch, you need to change tuning method too.
For the Composers Sake – Why Concert Tuning Makes Sense, Despite the Perks of Scientific Tuning
All theories aside, it’s hard to argue that the main goal of standardized pitch (for any group) was anything other than keeping traveling orchestras in tune for the sake of composers and ensuring songs were played as composers intended.
Tuning up or down drastically changes the tone of the music, and using different calculations for divisions of notes affects the way certain tones and intervals harmonize.
I can’t even imagine writing something in 400 Hz with just intonation for piano and having it played in 500 Hz on a well-tempered Clav it would hardly sound like the same song.
Here are some metaphysical musings on different frequencies including 528. Everyone really wants this to be a conspiracy, but I mean, people think the earth is flat… so keep that in mind.
Keep it Simple, not Every Pattern Humans See is a Conspiracy
As noted by viewzone.com, sometimes the simplest answer is the best. This logic could have us finding that there is no conspiracy, but perhaps also conclude that a non-440 Hz tuning is more “in-tune” with nature.
When you look at orchestras, acoustics, climates musicians play in, personal preferences, and then think about instruments staying in tune, it’s a little unreasonable to debate a few Hertz here or there. Composers have long been adjusting tuning methods, knowing full well they were off by a few cents.
In reality, an orchestra is going to sound best when they tune based on the room, the instruments, and each other. A string player is always going to adjust to harmonics on the fly, playing this note a little flat, this one a few cents sharp. Likely, it’ll sound good in the 440 Hz range. Of course 432 Hz is mainly in the 440 Hz range, so just on chance musicians would often tune there.
Starting pitch aside, people will naturally use a tuning much closer to just intonation and not equal temperament. So, with all this said, there is real merit in just intonation… its just that there is also merit in other pitches and other temperaments as well.
All of this said, the pitch standard makes sense for concerts, but in electronic music where everyone records in 128 beats-per-minute in the key of C, the debate starts to really matter.
It’s a problem if decades of recorded music is all out of tune with the universe when it doesn’t need to be, so hopefully real science will ignore the conspiracies and get to work studying everyone’s favorite mechanical wave.
One can’t rule out the perks of scientific tuning with an A=432 Hz starting pitch, but given the history of musical pitches and tunings, and lack of studies, it’s hard to conclude that concert tuning and 440 Hz are “bad”.
From the evidence I think its clear that 432 and just intonation are worth more examination, but for now, 440Hz and equal temperament are “better” for practical purposes. Thus, the idea that 432 Hz is better (as a general statement), or that 440 Hz is used with malicious intent is a myth.
- “Why is 432 Hz better than 440 Hz?” Viewzone.com
- “A440 (pitch standard)” Wikipedia.org
- “432 hz vs. 440 hz” Reddit.com
- “A Brief History of Musical Tuning” Schillerinstitute.org
- “Musical tuning” Wikipedia.org
- “Could You Tune Every Key on a Piano to a Middle C?” Scientificamerican.com
- “Scientific pitch” Wikipedia.org
- “Lyndon LaRouche” Wikipedia.org
- “Concert pitch” Wikipedia.org
- “The Foundations of Scientific Musical Tuning” Schillerinstitute.org
Are We All Mistuning Our Instruments, and Can We Blame the Nazis?
I’ve spent the last week listening to out-of-tune music.
Or maybe I’ve been listening to out-of-tune music all my life without realizing it. Yes, it’s possible. A small cadre of disgruntled listeners insists that we have tuned our instruments incorrectly for decades. And now they want to use digital technology to fix the situation—eliminating all those bad notes with just a click of the mouse.
Musicians don’t agree on much, but they tend to concur that the note A in the middle of the treble staff should be tuned to 440 Hz. The International Standards Organization even issued guidelines to this effect back in the ’50s. But the conspiracy theorists will tell you that this pernicious tuning was promoted by the Nazis—Joseph Goebbels, chief propagandist for the Third Reich, imposed the 440 Hz tuning as part of a heinous plan to warp the consciousness of the masses.
And the record labels may be in cahoots with these Nazis. “The music industry features this imposed frequency that is ‘herding’ populations into greater aggression, psycho social agitation, and emotional distress predisposing people to physical illness,” claims Dr. Leonard Horowitz in his paper “Musical Cult Control.”
Dr. Horowitz is a real doctor—a retired dentist, to be specific. But he gave up fillings and crowns some time ago to promote various conspiracy theories—including his views on tuning instruments. He also suspects the Rockefellers and the Illuminati may have participated in this sinister plot to pollute our songs.
Is it really possible that musicians have been tuning their instruments incorrectly during my entire lifetime? Has my piano tuner (perhaps a member of the Illuminati) been duping me all these years? Is the tuning app on my smartphone a kind of cultural malware designed to destroy music as we know it?
According to true believers, music would generate positive healing energy if A were tuned to 432 Hz. This tuning, they claim, is more aligned with the cosmos and the natural world. “The number 432 is also reflected in ratios of the Sun, Earth, and the moon as well as the precession of the equinoxes, the Great Pyramid of Egypt, Stonehenge, the Sri Yantra among many other sacred sites,” explains author Elina St-Onge. And who do you want to bet on: Stonehenge and the Great Pyramid or Goebbels and the Nazis?
These conspiracy theorists aren’t entirely batty. The tuning of instruments has always been filled with compromises and influenced by competing paradigms. Listeners take for granted the conventional “well tempered” tuning of modern instruments, but this itself was a controversial innovation in its day—it represented a rejection of the Pythagorean heritage and Renaissance thinking on music. But it also made possible the chromatically-rich compositions of Bach and his successors.
The decision to standardize the tuning of A to 440 Hz is a far more recent development. The rich musical traditions of Vienna and Paris were built on a lower tuning than we presently use. In the 19th century, both the French and Austrian government advocated tuning A at 435 Hz, and many other countries followed their lead. And if we can trust a tuning fork used by the manufacturer of Mozart’s pianofortes, his A was way down at 421.6 Hz—almost a G sharp in today’s paradigm. Giuseppe Verdi was an advocate for 432 Hz tuning, and even got the Italian government to pass legislation to this effect (some scholars still call it the Verdi tuning). The Pleyel pianos favored by Chopin came out of the factory with the A tuned to 446 Hz.
The decision to standardize A at 440 Hz gained momentum in the U.S. during the early 20th century. No, you can’t blame Joseph Goebbels for this. Most of the U.S. music industry had switched to 440 Hz by the mid-’20s, and in 1936 the American Standards Association made the change official. A few holdouts refused to budge: the New York Philharmonic and some other orchestras relied on their own preferred tunings—invariably sharper than the standard. And I’ve encountered a few jazz saxophonists who play sharp as well, probably with the misguided intention of adding some bite to their horn lines. But most of the world has come to embrace the Yankee 440.
With the advance of digital technology, listeners can pick their own preferred tuning. During the last week, I have been using a software conversion program called “Return to 432” to shift my music files back to Verdi’s preferred tuning. I’ve listened to a wide range of tracks—rock, jazz, pop, classical—at the lower tuning, and done back-and-forth comparisons.
What did I learn? The difference between the two is modest, but distinguishable. In many instances, I didn’t have a strong preference between the two tunings. But I did slightly prefer the lower tuning for calm, meditative music, and the higher tuning for brash, assertive songs. If I were running a Zen retreat center, I might embrace the alternative tuning. But if I were a DJ playing hot tracks for a dance crowd, I would stick with A at 440 Hz.
I enjoyed listening to Bach at the lower tuning, and felt it also made an improvement in Renaissance polyphony. I got no satisfaction, however, from hearing the Rolling Stones at 432 Hz, and the same was true for Elton John. Bob Marley was a tougher call, and I might be convinced to bring my 432 Hz converter along for a Jamaican vacation. Above all, I distinctly disliked jazz at the lower tuning, whether small combos or big bands. I advise all beboppers and lindy-hoppers to stick with 440 Hz.
After considering these varied responses, I came to the conclusion that music created in the era of 440 Hz is best heard at the current tuning. But when we listen to composers who wrote their music during an era of lower tunings, we should consider recalibrating the music to match the standards of their own time. A jazz or rock band has no reason to change, but a specialist in Baroque music might benefit from a return to a lower scale.
I also played before-and-after tracks for my wife and son in a very unscientific study. They both preferred conventional 440 Hz tuning, although my 15-year-old son—who has a very acute ear, and plays viola, piano, and guitar—was more hesitant about his verdict, and seemed open to considering the advantages of a lower tuning in some instances.
These are hardly conclusive results, but reactions to music are subjective even under ideal test situations. In any event, I’m not ready to join the conspiracy theorists. I will put my week of out-of-tune music behind me, and return without regrets to my old listening habits. But don’t take my word for it, try out the alternative tuning for yourself. Here’s a video comparison of the two tunings you can use to start the process.
Woman’s Body Found Under Booby-Trapped Mobile Home
After midnight, three police officers entered a vacant lot and watched the ramshackle fortress of a mobile home across the way. The Florida cops knew this Jacksonville residence and its 8-foot-tall ramparts well, having been dispatched there for years over relentless feuds between its ex-con owner and his neighbors.
They were looking for Russell Tillis, a 55-year-old felon and local menace, who allegedly violated a restraining order taken out by a nearby resident. And police smoked him out that night in May 2015 by tossing rocks at the roof.
An outdoor motion-sensor light clicked, and the longhaired suspect bolted from his neighbor’s front yard, jumping a fence and landing on the ditch line near the road. “Police!” an officer shouted as they emerged from the darkness. Tillis allegedly swung around with knives in fist before sprinting back to his property and leading the fuzz through a lawn of boards tacked with 4-inch nails.
Cops would later learn that a woman’s corpse was buried near the booby traps.
Tillis was initially charged with aggravated assault on a law-enforcement officer, battery on an officer, and criminal mischief over the bizarre encounter with police.
The career criminal, who inherited his mother’s mobile home, for years was a terror on the grassy stretch of Bowden Circle East. He unabashedly spewed profanities at neighbors, calling one “wart face” and tossing nails in her driveway. During one February 2015 police visit, he told a responding officer, “I know I shouldn’t, but they deserve it after all they put me through.” (Tillis pleaded guilty to stalking and was sentenced to seven days in jail.)
“Mr. Tillis has built large walls around his house not allowing anyone on his property,” one neighbor wrote in a 2015 petition for a protective order, which a judge granted. “He has video cameras watching my house and the other neighbors. When I walk to my mailbox, Mr. Tillis yells obscenities and calls me names for the sole purpose of harassing me or scaring me and my family.”
Another resident filed a protective order petition in 2014, claiming that when she drove past him, Tillis unzipped his pants and “removed his private[s] and began shaking [them] at me.” She said Tillis was “up all night banging and making loud noises.”
“The neighbors are afraid and so am I,” the woman wrote in the court papers. “[Tillis] has said numerous times, ‘Call police, because your ass is mine tonight.’” Tillis allegedly told her that he “owns the neighborhood and can do whatever he wants.”
They had reason to be afraid. Court records on Tillis show arrests for sexual battery and soliciting for prostitution; and convictions for child abuse, kidnapping, burglary, and grand theft, which landed him 20 years total behind bars.
And not a year after the midnight sweep, police made a grisly discovery on Tillis’s property: the remains of a 30-year-old woman, buried inside three separate holes in his backyard. Now Tillis faces a new batch of criminal charges, including second-degree murder, kidnapping, and abuse of a dead human body, leading one local TV station to dub his creepy compound Jacksonville’s “house of horrors.”
Police believe she’s not Tillis’s only victim and have asked the public to help find others. In March, they released one clue: a faded Polaroid snapshot of an unknown woman discovered inside Tillis’s lair. Cops still haven’t identified her.
Police charged Tillis with murder when he was already incarcerated.
In February 2016, a Duval County inmate told cops that Tillis spoke of slaying a woman inside his home and burying her dismembered body in his backyard. Days later, a search warrant unearthed the remains just as Tillis had allegedly described, and a bone sample was sent to the University of North Texas Center for Human Identification. An autopsy revealed the female victim died of blunt-force trauma.
Police would later learn the victim was Joni Lynn Gunter, a woman in her early thirties with a history of prostitution and drug abuse. She was never reported missing, but her family was looking for her, authorities said.
On Dec. 8, Jacksonville cops held a press conference to announce Gunter’s identity, as well as murder charges against Tillis. They estimated Gunter was about 30 when she died, and that she was killed between February 2014 and May 2015.
“Miss Gunter was transient but known to frequent the southside of Jacksonville in the area where Mr. Tillis also frequented,” Scott Dingee, assistant chief at the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, told reporters.
Then the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office dropped another bombshell: They believe Gunter is not Tillis’s only victim.
“Based on statements that Tillis made, we believe it’s highly likely that other females were victimized by Tillis, including potentially other murders,” Dingee said.
“Tillis targets… the forgotten members of our society, the people that don’t get reported missing typically, the ones that don’t have contact with family members very routinely. So it’s highly likely, like her case, that these individuals wouldn’t get reported,” he added.
Gunter’s brother, Robert, told News4Jax his family lost touch with his sister but spent years searching for her. Their mother died in 1995 and they had no contact with their father. “All I know is I’ve been worried about her, trying to get in touch with her,” said Gunter, who lives in Arkansas. “I have [missed her]. To be honest, I don’t know what to say.”
In March of this year, after news broke of the backyard remains, Tillis wrote to one Jacksonville reporter offering “exclusive” TV interviews on the body, and the “dirty cops” he claimed framed him that night in May 2015.
Tillis’s name stirred a media frenzy in the Sunshine State’s largest city. Action News Jax had a former FBI agent analyze Tillis’s missives.
“I could show you letters that we get from the jail or from prisoners. They’re not like that at all,” ex-Special Agent Dale Carson told the TV station. Carson claimed that clear handwriting, tight margins, numbered pages, and a formal subject line suggest Tillis put “a lot of thought” and “a lot of preparation” into his letters.
“Here he has created himself in a controlling position where he is now the victim of all of this,” Carson told Action News Jax. “He’s innocent, he’s a victim, he needs to be interviewed to get his story out there. That’s the surface. But the truth of the matter is, he’s lost his ability to control things. And that makes them crazy.”
Tillis sat for a jailhouse interview with another TV reporter in August, after she agreed to a set of ground rules, including sending him questions in advance and interviewing his handpicked private eye about surveillance video that Tillis claims proves his innocence.
In a segment on their cooler conversation, Heather Crawford of WTLV described Tillis as “very intelligent,” “very controlling,” and “careful with everything he said.”
When Crawford asked about the then-unknown woman buried on his turf, Tillis replied, “I have no clue who it is. I’m sure that Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office has done some sort of intense investigation trying to determine the identify of that person, but me personally, I don’t know.”
The ponytailed suspect said he felt “surprise, just kind of numbness,” after being told human remains were buried on his land.
Later in the talk, Tillis appeared to contradict himself. “So you don’t have any idea how human remains got [on your property]?” Crawford asked. Tillis retorted, “I didn’t say that. I said I don’t know who knows the identity of that person.”
When Crawford pressed Tillis again, he said he could not answer the question “in full elaboration like you want me to, no, because I must wait on pending charges if there will be any at all filed before any of that comes out.”
Tillis told the reporter he didn’t butcher the unknown woman. “Nor have I murdered anyone else.” Crawford asked if he had anything to do with the dead body.
“That remains to be seen in the future,” he said.
Russell Tillis inherited his childhood home in May 2012, when his mother, who was dying of cancer, deeded the property to him. She passed a month later, and that’s when, according to neighbors, “Rusty” began to terrorize them.
In interviews, the Bowden Circle East residents said they spent hundreds of dollars on security cameras and motion lights to protect themselves. They described witnessing sex workers visit Tillis’s residence. Sometimes, they said, naked prostitutes ran down the street, banging on doors and screaming for help. They claimed to see a woman chained to Tillis’s fence one night and called cops. (The Daily Beast did not find a police report on the incident.)
“Four years we lived in fear,” said Annette Campbell, 65, who runs a daycare out of her home. “He was sneaky. He’d tell you, ‘I learned everything I need to know while in prison. If I go back to prison, it’s worth it…’ In a sense, sometimes he did get away with things, because he was kind of right at the edge of the law.”
According to Campbell, Tillis blew an airhorn every hour on the hour one night. But by the time cops arrived, he was nowhere to be seen. In another episode, Tillis allegedly flashed a light in her granddaughter’s bedroom window. He also posted signs to taunt residents, including one hand-painted warning that read: “Nosy neighbors mind your own business.”
“Rusty told me to my face one day, ‘I didn’t stay in prison for 12 years and not study the law. I went to the law library every day and I know what I’m doing,’” said Campbell, who lives catty-corner from Tillis and was granted a restraining order against him.
“If somebody was telling me about this, I would think they [were reading from] a John Grisham book, but it’s true. This is all true,” she said.
David Eichenlaub, who lives next door, said he constantly phoned police over his neighbor’s late-night shenanigans. The felon would run a pressure washer and haul rolled-up carpets from his residence, he says. (According to arrest reports and interviews with Tillis’s brother, Tillis was a self-employed construction worker.)
Eichenlaub said he briefly employed Tillis at his own contracting firm but “he scared every customer I had… just his behavior, his looks, the way he handled himself.”
“This guy is a Charles Manson,” Eichenlaub told The Daily Beast. “We’d hear screams. Girls running up and down the street naked, screaming, ‘He’s going to kill me.’”
According to Eichenlaub’s wife, Jeannie, Tillis once followed her to her job at a barbecue joint. Before she left for work, Tillis appeared around the hedges and allegedly said, “You going to work, Jeannie? You think you’re going to make it home this afternoon?”
“It’s horrible we had to live like this for four years,” she told The Daily Beast. “No one would believe us.”
Court papers filed in Duval County reveal how neighbors pleaded for cops to arrest Tillis and for judges to grant restraining orders—with Tillis petitioning for his own protective orders, against one female neighbor and his own father, too.
In September 2014, a 60-year-old neighbor petitioned for protection after Tillis allegedly yelled, “There goes the drunk whore” as she carried trash to the curb. She also claims Tillis hurled tree limbs at her and exposed himself.
Her petition included a plea from her sister, who wrote, “He, Rusty Tillis, told me… he cooks meth and hides it down the road so he won’t get caught.” The relative continued: “When does it stop… Please Judge, help us, our neighbors and our sanity. We deserve to have a home and quietness (when hours permit) too.”
The woman’s injunction was approved, but not before Tillis submitted a sheriff’s incident report as evidence against it. According to the document, Tillis told police he had no contact with the neighbor and that she was an “alcoholic” who “yells drunken slurs at him from across the fence for no reason.”
Tillis himself had filed for a restraining order earlier that year, claiming that neighbor “has been wilfully, maliciously, and repeatedly harassing me by engaging in a series of acts that serve no legitimate purpose and cause me emotional distress.”
In court papers, he claimed the woman warned him, “I would beat your ass if I could but I can’t, so I’ve hired someone to do it for me, and I’m waiting for the right time to call them. I’m going to enjoy watching you get your ass beat.”
She allegedly chirped, “Smile!” and snapped a photo of him. Tillis claimed a man was behind her. “It won’t be long now and I’ll get to see the fireworks,” she allegedly warned again days later. (Tillis’s petition was denied after he failed to appear in court, records show.)
Campbell’s petition for protection, filed in February 2015, states Tillis was retaliating against her because he believed she snitched to the city over code violations. Tillis allegedly approached her while she vacuumed her car in the driveway and fumed, “Hey bitch, you think you got me, but I did not get arrested.”
“He did some things on his property that was against ordinance,” Campbell told The Daily Beast. “He got the idea that I turned him in, which I did not, but he thought I did. So he took it out on me. To this day, I’m scared to death of that man.”
Still, Rusty’s reign of terror was coming to a close. A May 2015 affidavit for an arrest warrant claimed Tillis threatened David Eichenlaub one morning while he was on his roof, talking with an insurance adjuster. “I will kill you, go ahead and call the law,” Tillis allegedly said during an obscenity-laden tirade.
Court papers suggest Tillis’s “house of horrors” was dysfunctional prior to these neighborly feuds. The ex-con had taken over the residence one month after he was granted a protective order against his father.
Tillis described a harrowing encounter in March 2012, when he tried speaking to his father about the dad allegedly “threatening to kill my brother the night before.”
“I asked [him] to call my brother over and talk to him,” Tillis wrote in the petition. “[He] became very angry, grabbing me and pushing me up against the wall, pulling a knife out and made to [sic] effort to stab me. [He] finally put the knife in his pocket. My mother witnessed this act of violence.”
Tillis claimed his father attempted to drag his mother out the back door “with the intent of causing bodily harm to her.” The form also reveals Tillis checked one box indicating his parent “has an alcohol problem” and another indicating that domestic violence had previously been reported to Jacksonville police.
He claimed to witness his old man “pull a machete out” on his brother’s son and state “that he was going to kill him.” He accused his dad of “[riding] around in his wheelchair with a gun, machete, and a knife” and constantly warning, “I will just pull my gun and shoot both you and your brother and shoot myself. I don’t have nothing to lose.”
Tillis’s older brother filed his own request for a restraining order against the patriarch at the same time, court records show. He claimed his dad “began accusing me and my brother of being the problem in his marriage.”
“[He] escalated the situation by threatening me, stating, ‘If you come over here, I am going to kill you,’” the sibling wrote in the petition, which was denied. (The judge’s decision stated “no act or credible threat of violence against the petitioner is alleged” but that the grandson might obtain a valid injunction if he wanted one.)
Tillis’s father could not be reached by The Daily Beast, and relatives did not return messages. Attorneys for Tillis declined to comment due to his pending cases. Earlier this month, the dad told Action News Jax that Tillis threw him out of the family home as he and Tillis’s mother were reconciling after a divorce.
Meanwhile, Tillis’s older brother, who asked to remain anonymous for his family’s safety, told The Daily Beast, “The only time things were calm and we didn’t worry about anything was when he was in jail.
“He scares the shit out of me,” he said.
Russell Tillis’s brother said most of his friends thought he was an only child. He never spoke about “Rusty” and didn’t want people to know he was related to a habitual offender.
“I got friends of mine who didn’t know I had a brother until this came out,” the auto-body shop owner told The Daily Beast. “What am I supposed to say?”
Making matters worse, the sibling says he and Tillis look a whole lot alike—which he claims helped “Rusty” lie about his identity as he went on purse-snatching sprees. Tillis allegedly pretended to be his brother while also driving his sibling’s work trucks.
The sibling said Tillis would pull into gas stations and wait for a woman to leave her handbag in the car before snatching it and “hauling ass.” “He did that with one of my trucks one time, had my company name on it,” the sibling said.
On another occasion, Tillis allegedly tooled around in his brother’s truck and exposed himself to a woman at a red light. “I had to give affidavits for two days to prove where I was,” the brother told The Daily Beast. “I’ve been down that road with him so many times.”
According to the sibling, Tillis began stealing as a teenager, did time in juvenile detention, and at one point was placed in a school for troubled kids. Their mother was a homemaker, while their father was a crane operator who helped build Disney World. While the brother wouldn’t elaborate on the family’s early years, neighbors have said their house was sometimes fraught with the parents’ fighting. “My father was abusive toward my mother. When my mother was dying she was trying to get out of the house,” the sibling said of petitions for orders of protection against the dad.
Despite Tillis’s criminal history, he was married for nine years and has a daughter. His ex-wife did not return calls left by The Daily Beast, but in February gave an interview to WTLV, which concealed her identity and her face.
“It was a lot of beatings and pushing and shoving. Put a gun to my head,” the former spouse said, recounting what she experienced with. “Rape, mental abuse, physical abuse, psychological abuse.”
She divorced him in 1997 during one of his stints in jail and told WTLV that he changed, possibly because of drugs, a year after they wed. “My daughter would always say daddy is stinky… because of the cocaine on his breath,” the ex-wife said. (Tillis did not respond to these allegations.)
Court papers reviewed by The Daily Beast show Tillis was arrested but not convicted for sexual battery with threats of injury in July 2012. According to a police report, Tillis invited a 26-year-old prostitute into a white Chevy Blazer and drove to an industrial road. Once they got there, Tillis “became aggressive, struck the victim in the mouth and forced her to perform oral sex on him,” before driving off. (Court records show the prosecutor declined to pursue the case.)
In November 2007, Tillis was arrested for two counts of sexual battery for allegedly offering to give a girl a ride, then driving her to a secluded area and forcing her to perform oral sex on him. During the March 2006 incident, Tillis then “hit the victim in the face and told her to take her clothes off,” the arrest report indicates. He allegedly forced her to have sex with him, then transported her to another location and repeated the horrific assault.
The victim, who did not know Tillis, described him to a sketch artist before a sex kit determined his identity through DNA. The arresting officer said Tillis, who was interviewed in the presence of his attorney, “denied ever forcing any female to engage in any sexual activity.”
“He did admit that he does pick up prostitutes for the purpose of having sex,” the arrest report states. “He stated that if he had sex with the victim it would have been consensual. He stated that he did not remember the victim because he has been with many women.
Tillis claimed “he has not knowingly had any sexual activity with a minor,” the police report concluded.
Prosecutors charged Tillis with two counts of lewd or lascivious battery for engaging “in sexual activity with… a person 12 years of age or older, but less than 16 years of age,” as well as one count of child abuse.
Court records show Tillis pleaded guilty to felony child abuse and was sentenced to five years in prison. He was released in February 2012.
Tillis’s brother said the convict would drop by his house after his release and brag about his latest criminal exploits, including using meth. (The Daily Beast could not find any arrests or convictions relating to the drug, though Tillis’s alleged meth use is mentioned in court papers filed by neighbors.)
“He’d come over and tell me about his latest adventure he’d been on. One day he told me, ‘The detectives across the street are watching me’ and ‘I’m still making meth every day.’ He’d tell me different things he’d done,” the brother said.
The sibling described Tillis as a “jailhouse lawyer” who studied the law during his stays in the clink. “He is very, very smart and knows how to work the system.”
Indeed, Tillis’s handwritten court papers show that he knows, at least more than most prisoners, how to navigate the legal system. He was pro se in the police-assault case before shuffling through three different taxpayer-funded attorneys.
In a motion to suppress evidence filed in December 2015, Tillis accused the sergeant who threw rocks at his house of “deliberately omit[ting] from the arrest report any facts or language revealing his unlawful acts.” (The officer told police he tossed rocks because “Tillis had booby-trapped his property with razor wire and similar items.” He was cleared in an internal affairs investigation, which found his actions were proper under the circumstances, News4Jax reported.)
In September of this year, Tillis filed court papers in an attempt to boot a state-funded attorney from his police-assault case over “ineffective assistance” for a list of alleged transgressions, including her work on a deposition that Tillis felt was “in fact assisting the prosecution in the defendant’s conviction.”
He claimed the attorney “would become physically flirtatious using her sexuality as a means to subdue the defendant’s requests.” (The attorney’s employer, the Offices of Criminal Conflict and Civil Regional Counsel, made an internal decision to replace her before Tillis could get a hearing on the matter.)
Tillis also obtained a taxpayer-funded private investigator, Janis Eldridge, who spoke to WLTV for his jailhouse interview segment. Court records show Tillis deeded Eldridge and her husband his Bowden Circle property this summer.
The “house of horrors” is slated for demolition in January, after the city of Jacksonville condemned the property this month.
Tillis’s brother said he’s worried he’ll somehow avoid life in prison.
“I’ve waited 57 years for this,” the sibling said. “I want to be there during sentencing, so I can know for sure.”
“You always think this happens to somebody down the street,” he added. “You never dream you’d be face to face with this in your family.”