“Frequency” is a word that appears so frequently in my life recently. Last month, I took on a new job and am now working for the medical imaging department in my organization. In the world of medical imaging, there are so many types of equipment, such as ultrasound. And the word “frequency” (hertz) is not an uncommon term.
Recently, there have been some discussions online among Guzheng players about “frequency”, Specifically, they talked about what “hertz” we should calibrate our chromatic tuner to tune our Guzheng. In the past, I had no ideas about frequency. For a long period of time, my chromatic tuner was actually set to a slightly lower frequency. One time my teacher noticed it and asked me. Then, I realized that I needed to increase the frequency level on my tuner. She told me to set it to 440Hz because this is the most commonly used. But recently, I have seen some discussions online. Some Guzheng friends said it’s actually better to set it to 442Hz, which is more suitable for Chinese musical instruments. So our of curiosity, I decided to do some more research on frequency (pitch standard).
The main purpose of tuning is make ensure that everyone is using more or less the same frequency when playing music. This sets a reference point. Hundreds of years ago, the frequency was set to about 415Hz. At that time, people’s lives were slower. Music was a luxury and was a leisure for the rich and nobles. Some great examples are movies and tv shows of Pride and Prejudice, and the Little Women. People played music mostly indoor; therefore, there was no need to set the frequency to too high to produce loud sounds. (Note: Nowadays when we play Guzheng, if it is set to 415Hz, the strings would be too loose and the sound would be lower.)
Later after the industrial revolution, the middle class started to rise and they became interested in music. Towards the Romantic era, musicians started to treat music slightly different. They started to do performances in order to make money to support their lives; therefore, they began to perform in concert halls. The space in a concert hall is much larger. In order for sound to transmit further, musicians began to increase the frequency of their instruments.
In modern days, A440 or A4 (also known as the Stuttgart pitch), which has a frequency of 440 Hz, is the musical note of A above middle C and serves as a general tuning standard for musical pitch. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) classifies it as ISO 16. Although not universally accepted, it serves as the audio frequency reference to calibrate acoustic equipment and to tune pianos, violins, and other musical instruments.
Back to Guzheng, different players may choose differently. Some go with 440 and some go with 442. Music played by a lower frequency (pitch standard) could sound more relaxing. But at the end, everyone can choose according to their own requirements and preferences!