432 Hz Theory and Shakuhachi

my antique Edo period shakuhachi from the 1700's is in tune when A4 = 438 Hz
My antique Edo period shakuhachi from the 1700’s is in tune when A4 = 438 Hz

There’s a pervasive New Age theory which claims that the 432 Hz sound wave is superior to any other sound (conveniently it’s a sound humans can hear…). Let’s look at this in the context of nature in the form of bamboo shakuhachi. But first, let’s get clarity on what 432 Hz actually means.

Hertz, Sound, Vibration, Pitch, Note, Key

Sound is an oscillating wave of pressure which we humans hear, if we’re so lucky, and give arbitrary names to. Each musical note, aka pitch, key, and so on, corresponds to a particular frequency, i.e., the speed or rate of oscillations or up-and-down movements of the sound wave.

In short, Hz or Hertz is simply a measurement of oscillations per second, time also being arbitrary of course. In other words, we can simply call a pitch/note/key by any number of names or by its number of oscillations per second or Hz number. So what note is 432 Hz? Well, humans call it what ever they like but in the European system it’s ‘A4’.

Why A =

The reason why ‘A =‘ is used to describe the tuning of a whole instrument, which may not even haveA4, is because it’s the first letter of the English alphabet and it falls in the central octave of the Piano. For an instrument to be in tune, the spaces between the notes must be set just so. Therefore, if A4 is said to be 432, 440, 450, 443.2567845… all of the other notes will or must be spaced or tuned to match. Of course, we could use literally any other note to express this, like middle C. In other words, it’s arbitrary (notice that word keeps coming up).


So what are the frequencies of the other notes? You can google them, but for ease, here are the notes of the standard 1.8 key of ‘D’ shakuhachi expressed in Hz frequencies (Equal Temperament for ease).

Otsu aka the first register

Just double these numbers for Kan the second register.

432 Hz

Shakuhachi that have A4 as an open hole note

Likelihood of playing any note exact

Here’s the thing, the likelihood of you or anyone playing the A4 note at exactly 432 is slim to none. In fact, we actually want to be able to play up or down in pitch to match our mood, situation, and environment.

Summing up

Like the Japanese craftspeople of the Edo period, I craft one-piece Jinashi and Jimori shakuhachi. This means that nature in the form of bamboo decides much of the Hz/pitch for the root note RO, to which all the finger holes are tuned to match (‘in tune with itself’). Sometimes this might result in a shakuhachi in which A4 = 432Hz, or 438, or 440, or 444.365782, and so on. In this way, nature in its infinite variety provides something for everyone; a flavor to please every palate.

For example, my antique Edo period shakuhachi from the 1700’s is in tune when A4 = 438 Hz (pictured above). If we open up our minds and embrace nature’s variety there’s literally everything to gain. With that said, if someone prefers 432 to 440, which is fine, they often simply just like deeper sounds. In which case, I recommend a deeper pitched, longer shakuhachi. The one take away from this is that I encourage people to embrace the variety from nature itself. After all, there’s far more sounds than 432, thankfully.