Ancient Solfeggio Frequencies and Pythagoras

You might ask what led me to discuss this topic. In doing research on healing frequencies, I came across a lot of information about what people call the “ancient solfeggio frequencies” or “tones.”  After finding several articles on how they were considered “lost” for a very long time, I started doing some of my own research. The long and short of it… these frequencies are supposed to be in the “Hymn to St. John the Baptist” written by Guido of Arezzo in about 1,000 AD. They were supposedly lost to us because music was different (according to several articles) in 1,000 AD than it is now. They were then rediscovered by a man named Joseph Puleo in the 20th century.

For the longest time, I couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t hear these tones in the “Hymn to St. John the Baptist.” Having studied music in college, I know the hymn is plainchant and it’s sung the same way now as it was in 1,000 AD. I’m looking at the pitches for the ancient solfeggio frequencies and listening to the monks singing and something isn’t lining up. Inquiring minds wanted to know why there was a discrepancy… So, I had to do a little homework (well… a LOT of homework) to come to some conclusions. The summary is bulleted below, followed by a new video (in 2016) that I made with charts.

My goal is to provide historically accurate information so that people who wish to use them can tune their instruments appropriately. Following the summary, I’ve provided a tuning chart that should be of some assistance.  Lastly, by watching the video at the end, you’ll walk with me through my process of historical discovery about these tones.

Here are some basic definitions that might help as you watch the video below and read this article:

  • Concert Pitch is the one note all other notes are tuned to. The standard concert pitch is currently set at A=440 where the “A” above middle “C” is tuned to 440 Hertz. Then, all other notes on an instrument are tuned to that “A.” For more information on concert pitch, read the article “Understanding Concert Pitch.”
  • Temperament refers to making adjustments in the distance between notes. Temperament must be determined before a concert pitch can be set. Examples of temperaments used over the years include Pythagorean, mean-tone, well temperament, just intonation, and equal temperament. Equal temperament became the standard in about 1939 simply because it made playing in all major and minor keys more bearable than other temperaments. For more information on musical temperaments, read the article “Musical Temperament.”

Additional articles on this site that may help you:

  • Truth About the Solfeggio Frequencies” adds more detail to the numbers used in the solfeggio frequencies, how they were chosen, and how those numbers fit within known musical systems.
  • In another blog post, I delve a little more into Joseph Goebbels and Leonard Horowitz, who are said to be responsible for discovering the solfeggio frequencies. That blog post is titled “Goebbels and Horowitz.”

Summary: 

Based on evidence through a music theory and history standpoint, the ancient solfeggio frequencies are not related to Guido of Arezzo or the “Hymn to St. John the Baptist.” They are not related to scales of countries known by music historians. It’s possible that they are not frequencies but could be other important numbers. However, I did not spend time taking that rabbit trail.

  • Guido of Arezzo is credited with inventing solfeggio (solfege) around 1,000 AD to teach his students how to sight sing the plainchant repertoire.
  • Guido of Arezzo is also credited with inventing musical notation around 1,000 AD. Other than a few slight differences, we still use his method of musical notation today.
  • We know that Guido of Arezzo used the Pythagorean scale, which is what the plainchant repertoire is based on.
  • Guido of Arezzo put the poem “Hymn to St. John the Baptist” to a little tune to help his students learn the six note musical scale (much like Julie Andrews did in The Sound of Music).
  • Guido would have written the tune on the sheet music as he heard it. He was the first teacher of “sight singing” where students are taught to sing music they’ve never seen before.
  • Pythagorean temperament is very close to the modern equal tempered scale. For the untrained ear, it would be difficult to hear the difference in the two scales. Therefore, Guido’s tunes will sound nearly the same today as they did then.
  • The ancient solfeggio frequencies are extremely varied in the distance between each note. The temperament of this scale is extremely different than either Pythagorean or equal temperament. Some of the intervals between notes are as small as a half step (minor second) and others are as large as a major third. Distance between intervals (temperament) is what creates a huge discrepancy between the Pythagorean scale and the ancient solfeggio frequency scale.  Bascially, the ancient solfeggio frequencies do not fit within any scale known to musical historians. There is no evidence of musical instruments, written music, writings of any kind, or historical artifacts that support the claims these tones are a lost scale.
  • If the ancient solfeggio frequencies are indeed a scale and are musical frequencies, they have only been around since the end of the 20th century. Composers were experimenting with changing everything we know about music so I wonder… if the angel was showing Joseph Puleo these frequencies in the Bible, instead of being ancient, why couldn’t they be something new?
  • Because Guido was a monk, he would more than likely NOT have used scales outside of Pythagorean tuning due to restrictions on how music could be written (imposed by the Catholic Church). As a monk, he would have utilized scales, intervals, melodies, and harmonies that were dictated by the Pope himself. Failure to follow “rules” could have resulted in ex-communication from the church. For those who broke rules, they also got to spend a little time in jail. The ancient solfeggio frequencies break the allowable rules for scale and melody writing at the time of Guido. Scales of this type weren’t used until the 20th century.
  • Some have said that by tuning instruments to A=432 or A=444, the ancient solfeggio frequencies would work. That is not the case. See below for a further explanation and a chart to help you tune your instruments so you can play these frequencies.
  • I personally feel that if the ancient solfeggio tones are indeed musical frequencies, they are something new and not from ancient times. Therefore, we need to be looking at them in that light instead of trying to bring something back from history.

How to tune your instrument if you want to use these frequencies:

 

NOTE: modern musical instruments are made using “equal temperament.” This will not allow a performer to easily switch between these frequencies. This is why you must re-tune for each frequency unless your instrument (usually only electronic keyboards) can also change temperaments.

  • 396 works best at a tuning of A=445. It’s a “G” just above middle “C.” The exact frequency is 396.45. If you tune to A=444, it will be quite a bit flat. So, it’s closer to A=445 than A=444.
  • 417 works perfectly with a tuning of A=442. This is the “G-sharp” or “A-flat” just above middle “C.”
  • 528 works perfectly with a tuning of A=444. This is the “C” an octave above middle “C.”
  • 639 works nearly perfectly at A=452. It’s close to an “E” on the 4th space of the treble clef.
  • 741 works best with a tuning of A=441. It’s the “F-sharp” or “G-flat” on the 5th line of the treble clef. The exact frequency is 741.67 so it will be a bit sharp.
  • 852 works best at A=451. The exact frequency is 851.38 so it will be a wee bit sharp. It’s an “A-flat” just above the treble clef.

Reminder… A=440, or A=444, or A=432 simply means that the A above middle “C” is tuned to 440, 444, or 432 Hz. The G-Strings Tuner (an app for phones) works great for tuning because it shows you the exact frequency you wish to tune. Once you tune the A to the correct frequency, the rest of your instrument can be tuned from that A. Keyboard players, your instrument will automatically make the adjustment in equal temperament. If you want a tuning other than equal temperament (Pythagorean, mean-tone, well-tempered, etc.), you’ll need to make sure that your keyboard has that capability. 

Please also note… There is a lot of misinformation out there stating that you can tune your instrument to either A=432 or A=444 to get ALL of these pitches. The only way it can be done is to make the proper adjustments according to the chart above. Or, tune that specific note and the rest of your instrument will adjust accordingly.

UPDATE for 2016… Because I’ve done more research and simplified things. I was able to put the Ancient Solfeggio Frequencies into my music program so I could compare them with the musical scale that was used at the time of Guido of Arezzo. As a reminder, the Pythagorean scale is going to be very similar to the modern equal tempered scale.

Please also note… the ancient solfeggio scale doesn’t work with equal temperament (which is what my music programs uses). Because of that, the notes E (4th space) and Ab (above the staff) in this video are a bit under pitch.

Enjoy the video and please feel free to comment either on YouTube or in the comment section below.

 

 

Copyright 2015 by D. Hungerford

2 Comments

  1. I am loving this!!! Thank you for hearing with the word was to research. xoxoxo

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