Although our Binaural Beat Generator app has been out for some time, almost five years to be exact, we thought we’d share the inside scoop on how to get the most out of the app, some recent updates we’ve made, and we’ll geek out a little by diving deeper into brainwaves and binaural beats.
Using the App 📱
Binaural Beat Slider
In the app the Binaural Beat slider allows the selection of beats from 1-50 Hz. When you drag the slider (or use the + and – buttons) to a chosen frequency, it will give a short description of the brainwave type associated with that frequency. If you’re looking to use Binaural Beats for a certain effect, this information can be very useful.
Base Frequency Slider
The Base Frequency slider allows users to choose the audible frequency that the binaural beat is based upon. One ear is played the base frequency while the other ear 👂 is played the base frequency plus the frequency of the binaural beat. For example choosing a base frequency of 200 Hz and a binaural beat frequency of 40 Hz would mean one ear is played a 200 Hz tone while the other ear is played a 240 Hz tone.
We mentioned why you might choose a certain frequency with the Binaural Beat slider, so now you’re probably wondering which Base Frequency you should use. Unfortunately, there is very little research that explicitly explores what the most effective base frequency is. Most evidence suggests that the frequency of the binaural beat is significantly more important. With that said, some studies have shown that higher frequencies (above ~400 Hz) may interfere with sleep and possibly focus which may counteract the benefits of the binaural beats. These studies found that 250 Hz was a well tolerated frequency for both sleep and focus. Generally, we recommend whatever frequency is most appealing and comfortable to listen to.
An interesting tidbit, some studies found that a frequency of 40 Hz by itself showed benefits for Alzheimer’s patients and those who suffer from fibromyalgia. While this frequency may not be audible on all headphones 🎧 it may be a good way to get the benefits of gamma waves and whichever beat frequency you choose.
While research is lacking, there are a range of frequencies purported by popular culture to possess healing or other positive properties. Keep reading to learn about these frequencies and their purported properties.
We’re excited about this feature recently added to the app. For most purposes, listening for 10-30 minutes appears to be enough to achieve desired positive benefits. And now the Sleep Timer can help with that. Users can set the sleep timer between 15 minutes and 8 hours, in 15 minute increments. Just like our White Noise app, this function allows for a gentle fading of audio over the last minute of playtime.
Another new feature to the Binaural Beats generator app is the ability to have up to 5 Preset combinations. This was requested by numerous users and we agree, it makes for a much more convenient user experience! Once you have the Binaural Beat and Base Frequency set to your liking, tap the menu button at the top right of your screen, tap ‘Save Preset’, choose from one of the five preset options, then either tap ‘Save’ or enter a custom name for your new favorite then tap ‘Save’.
And now to geek out a little bit…
Brainwaves and Binaural Beats
What are Binaural Beats?
Binaural beats are two different tones played into each ear to help influence brainwaves and certain mental states like relaxation, focus, or sleep 😴. Binaural beats use two tones instead of one because most brainwave frequencies are too low for the human ear to hear or too difficult for audio devices to recreate. By playing two different frequencies (or tones) in each ear the brain is ‘tricked’ into hearing the difference between the two frequencies as sort of a ‘phantom tone’. The difference between the two tones often has a beating or undulating sound which is where the term ‘binaural beats’ comes from. Because binaural beats rely on two tones in each ear they are designed to be listened to through headphones or earbuds.
A Primer on Brain Waves
Brainwaves were first observed in the late 1920s with Hans Berger’s invention of the EEG. The EEG (electroencephalogram) measures the communication between brain cells through their electric impulses and recording the data as waveforms.
Berger himself was skeptical of his invention, its results, and implications, and it took him years to consider publishing his research. It wasn’t until 1938 that the use of EEG became widely accepted in the scientific community, one of its early uses was studying epilepsy. In the 60s and 70s the EEG found its way further into the studies of psychology and mental states.
With the study of brainwaves scientists found that certain frequencies of brain waves were associated with different mental states as well as physiological activities (visual, aural, and tactile stimulation). Because each brain and individual experience is different the frequencies for each mental state are listed as a range of more common frequencies as per a normal distribution. These frequencies are measured in Hertz (Hz). A single Hz is a cycle per second, for example a sine wave from 0 to peak, valley, and then back to 0 (a period).
Since an EEG uses external electrodes glued to the scalp and is non-invasive, only lower frequencies in certain parts of the brain can be accurately measured and therefore complete understanding of human brain waves is somewhat limited.
Most recorded waves come from the cerebral cortex as the hippocampus is too small and too distant from the electrodes to be measured without noise and interference.
Types of Brain Waves
Delta Waves 0.5-4Hz: Deep Sleep 😴
Delta waves are the slowest observed brainwaves in humans. Originally defined as between 1-4 Hz, recent classifications categorize the range as between 0.5 and 2 Hz. These waves are associated with deep sleep and relaxation and are believed to be associated with the depth of sleep. Delta waves begin to appear in the 3rd stage of sleep (deep sleep that helps you feel refreshed, no dreaming) and by stage 4 (the deepest stage of REM sleep, dreaming) delta waves become the most prominent observed brain waves.
A recent study in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience suggested that the use of binaural delta waves during sleep (and switched off once stage 3 of sleep was reached) helped participants to reach stage 3 of sleep more quickly and helped participants to spend more time in stage 3 sleep as opposed to the less restful stage 2.
Theta Waves 4-7 Hz: Transition Between Sleep and Relaxation, Hypnotic States, Deep Meditation
While theta waves have been studied in animals such as rats, scientists have had difficulties observing these waves in primates, even with implanted electrodes. Most current understanding of human theta waves comes from studies on epileptic patients who have implanted electrodes for use in treatment. The largest study to date found that these theta waves in humans were associated with the transition from REM sleep to waking. The waves came in brief bursts, often less than a second. Some studies have shown an association with theta waves and hypnosis as well as meditative states though research is limited in these areas due to the difficulty in properly measuring these waves.
A recent study in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience suggests that a 6 Hz binaural tone was able to influence the levels of theta waves in participants and therefore may be useful in inducing a meditative state more quickly.
Alpha Waves 8-12 Hz: Awakened Relaxation, ‘Auto-Pilot’ Focus
Alpha waves are believed to be generated predominantly from the occipital lobe though some speculation suggests these waves may originate in the thalamus. These waves are associated with wakeful states of relaxation such as sitting with eyes closed. When eyes are opened or when study participants reported drowsiness the presence of alpha waves was reduced, the strongest presence of these waves are observed in wakeful states when eyes are closed. These waves have been associated with idle activity in the visual cortex, however more recent studies suggest that these waves may inhibit areas of the cortex that are not actively in use (such as the visual cortex when eyes are closed) or, alternatively, that these waves help to coordinate the brain’s neural network and internal communication.
A recent study found that alpha waves had the potential to predict mistakes. The study found a 25% increase in alpha activity before participants made a mistake. This could reinforce the association with alpha waves and idleness or thinking on ‘auto-pilot’ without active attention (like driving on a long stretch of highway and losing track of time).
Another recent study in Studia Psychologica found that participants who played a 12 minute 9.55 Hz alpha frequency binaural beat performed better than a control group at memory tasks..
Further research has suggested that frequencies of 10 Hz may help to increase creativity and to decrease anxiety.
Mu Waves 8-13 Hz: Physical Relaxation
Mu waves occupy almost the same frequency range as alpha waves but are instead observed over the motor cortex. Mu waves, like alpha waves, are associated with idleness and relaxation but instead concern the body’s motor functions. Mu waves are suppressed when a motor action is performed or when one visualizes performing a motor action. These waves are even suppressed when a motion with biological characteristics is observed (like a robot throwing a ball). These waves are even used practically in the development of interfaces for physically disabled individuals to control prosthetics and other similar devices
Sensorimotor Rhythm (SMR) Waves 13-15 Hz: Idle Physical State, May Help with Learning Difficulties
SMR waves are not yet fully understood but are an oscillating rhythm of synchronized brain activities. These waves are stronger when a person is in a state of idleness or immobility.
Recent controversial studies have suggested that an increase in SMR activity from neurofeedback (using measurement devices to learn to control brainwaves) may help those with learning difficulties, ADHD, epilepsy, and autism. SMR feedback research has also extended to sports and has been correlated with increased performance (however the studies on this subject are small and limited).
Beta Waves 12.5-30 Hz: Waking States, Concentration, Accomplishment
Beta waves are a category of brain waves associated with normal waking life, they are generally associated with thought and concentration.
Beta waves are often split into three different subtypes, high (20.5-28 Hz), mid-range (16.5-20 Hz), and low (12.5-16 Hz). Both low and high beta waves are observed in association with the brain’s feedback and reward system.
Though research is limited, studies in Neurofeedback suggest that Beta waves in the low range help to aid in focusing attention and are associated with quiet attentiveness
Mid-range waves are thought to be associated with increased energy but may also be associated with anxiety. High beta waves are also said to be associated with anxiety and stress though they may also be associated with high energy and fast paced thought. One study suggests beta waves in the range of 16-30 Hz may assist in alleviating depression and help to stabilize mood
Gamma Waves 25-140 Hz: Alertness, Consciousness, Mindfulness, Stress Management
Gamma waves are perhaps the most interesting and unique brainwave, they are associated with the brain’s network as a whole and phenomena such as attention and working memory and have been observed increasing in meditative states.
Gamma waves are observed during all states of the wake-sleep cycle but are most prominent during alert and attentive wakefulness. However, the direct influence of gamma waves and their associations with different states of consciousness are still unknown
It is speculated that gamma waves may be a part of the formation of a unified perception, this is because of its apparent synchronization across different regions of the brain. Early experiments have supported the hypothesis that 40 Hz oscillations may be the basis for aware, conscious states in both dreams and waking life. This hypothesis, however, is still a topic of debate.
The practice of meditation has been shown to increase high amplitude gamma waves. Notably observations in Tibetan monks found elevated gamma activity at baseline level as well as significant increases during meditation. These observations may support the hypothesis that the use of meditation leads to a higher sense of consciousness, self awareness, ability to manage stress, and ability to focus, traits all related to both meditation and to enhanced gamma activity. A recent study in the International Journal of Psychophysiology found that 20 minutes of exposure to 40 Hz binaural beats helped to elevate mood and increase memory recall.
Altered, abnormal activity of gamma waves has been observed in various disorders such as Alzheimers, epilepsy, and schizophrenia. In subjects with mood disorders, participants often exhibit increased gamma activity in the mode network, a network of the brain related to daydreaming, internal thought, and lack of external attentiveness.
In subjects with Alzheimer’s the gamma response is often observed as lagged in response time. Recent studies have suggested that gamma stimulation may be of therapeutic use for Alzheimers and other neurodegenerative disorders. Brainwave entrainment via flashing lights or sound pulses has shown potential to reduce the load of amyloid beta plaques believed to contribute to the disease. Clinical trials have shown mild improvements to patients exposed to stimulus in the 40 Hz range though research is still early and limited.
Because this frequency band overlaps with other frequency bands the study of gamma waves is limited and sometimes controversial. When these waves are measured via EEG muscle movements may generate overlapping frequencies, however analysis and filtering may help reduce these overlaps and artifacts
Brainwave Entrainment and Binaural Beats
Brainwave entrainment is a hypothesized method to ‘entrain’ or influence the brain into certain desired mental states by the use of external stimuli, often auditory, visual, or tactile. The frequency of the desired brainwave is often exhibited to participants as binaural beats, flashing lights, or small electrical impulses.
Binaural beats are by far the most common method of brainwave entrainment because of their accessibility and ease of use. Because the frequencies associated with most brain waves are beyond the range of human hearing (20 Hz to 20,000 Hz), the pure tone is rarely used. Instead binaural beats are used to trick the mind into ‘hearing’ the phantom tone created between the two beat tones. Since a different tone is played in each ear, binaural beats require stereo headphones or earbuds to work.
By listening to binaural beats the belief is that the brain will start to tune to the frequency of the phantom tone which will help to influence different states of mind and consciousness.
Though the amount of research and the size of studies in binaural beats and brainwave entrainment is limited, early evidence appears promising and seems to suggest that binaural beats are at least mild-moderately effective for a variety of uses.
Healing Frequencies in Popular Culture
Some anecdotal reports suggest a variety of frequencies that are said to have certain properties and associations. To date there have been no studies confirming the efficacy of these frequencies in peer reviewed scientific journals however there are many that swear by the effects.
Solfeggio frequencies are sometimes claimed to be ancient frequencies based on numerology and are ascribed different healing powers. Solfeggio was a 6 note scale developed by the monk Guido d’Arezzo for teaching and transcribing music. There are, however, few (if any) historical references to specific frequencies. The numerical values for the solfeggio frequencies have been said to originate from Dr. Joseph Puleo as derived from pattern based numerological calculations said to be extracted from bible verses. In popular culture one tone, Ti, was added to the original 6.
Ut – 396 Hz tone believed to be associated with ridding oneself of guilt and fear, said to balance Root Chakra
Re – 417 Hz tone believed to be associated with positive change and undoing of negative changes, said to balance Sacral Chakra
Mi – 528 Hz tone believed to be associated with self transformation, reducing stress, increasing confidence, said to balance the Solar Plexus Chakra
Fa – 639 Hz tone believed to be associated with enhancing relationships, communication, and personal connections, said to balance the Heart Chakra
Sol – believed to be associated with intuition, problem solving, and self expression, said to purify the mind and body, said to balance the Throat Chakra
La – 852 Hz tone believed to be associated with spirituality and intuition, said to balance Third Eye Chakra
Ti – 963 Hz believed to be associated with oneness, enlightenment, perfection, said to balance Crown Chakra
Throughout most of history music did not have a common reference for tuning and so various tuning standards were used. In most modern western music the tuning A = 440 Hz is used. Early tuning forks (from the 18th century) have frequencies between 400-420 Hz and the reference frequencies kept rising, partially as a way for composers to sound more unique and exciting. Eventually in the mid 19th century the 440 Hz standard was adopted, originating from an agreement between the French and English governments. It wasn’t until the 1920’s that American instrument manufacturers chose 440 Hz as the standard for new instruments, solidifying its reign.
So where does the popular 432 Hz frequency come from? The Italian composer Guisseppe Verdi. Verdi chose this pitch because he saw it as easier to tune to and less straining on singers.
Though likely practical in origin some believe that a 432 Hz frequency opens the Chakras and brings relaxation. It is also claimed that this frequency is related to sacred geometry and the origins of the universe. The power of this frequency is said to be related to the Schumann Resonance. The Schumann Resonance is the fundamental frequency of electromagnetic waves on earth after being struck by lightning. Some attribute this as being the fundamental frequency of the earth. The true Schumann frequency is actually a low, inaudible tone of 7.86 Hz but proponents of the benefits of 432 Hz often round this number up to 8 which creates 432 Hz at its 5th octave.