Songs that are not in 440Hz

Ever played a song that’s not in 440Hz? And what does that mean, anyway?

You’re going to play along with one of your favorite recordings. You’ve already tuned your guitar or ukulele, or ​​you have sat down at the piano. Chord changes are in front of you and look familiar. So, you’re ready to jam! 

You put your favorite record on and start playing along with it. But…. apparently, something is wrong. It feels like your instrument is out of tune or the chords are not correct, because your playing doesn’t really match with the recording. Double checking the instrument tuning and chord changes didn’t help. Your instrument is still in tune and the chords look correct. 

What’s the problem then? Does this sound familiar?

A standard of 440 Hz for the A4 note

A little bit of theory. The frequency of 440 Hz is considered to be the standard frequency for the A4 note, which is the A note located at the same octave as the middle C on the piano keyboard. The A4 note of 440 Hz is the standard tuning for musical instruments, such as guitar, ukulele, piano and violin. In standard tuning, the frequencies of other notes are calculated based on the 440 Hz for the A4. For instance, B4 will be 493,88 Hz.

When you tune your guitar or ukulele with a tuner, it is calibrated, based on A4 of 440 Hz. Sometimes you can see “440 Hz” on the tuner’s screen. For some tuners this frequency can be adjusted though.

Songs that are not in 440Hz

And now imagine that there are recordings of songs, which are not in 440 Hz frequency tuning, but lower or higher frequencies! Therefore, jamming along to these recordings with your instrument tuned to 440 Hz gives the impression that you’re out of tune.

The reasons for songs not being in 440 Hz

We can guess several reasons why your favorite song might be in a different frequency tuning than 440 Hz.

  • While recording an album in a studio, musicians might tune their instruments to a grand piano standing there, because they use this grand piano in their songs. If the grand piano was not tuned to 440 Hz, but higher or lower, the whole song will be recorded at a tuning other than 440 Hz, respectively.
  • An artistic decision of the band leaders to tune their guitar/ukulele higher or lower than the A4 of 440 Hz, because the tone of the instrument becomes preferable. So, the rest of the band tune their instruments to the same frequency.
  • Recordings made in the good old days could be tuned to the tuning frequencies other than 440 Hz during the mastering process. If, by any reason, it was mastered with the speed just slightly faster than it was originally recorded, it increased the frequency of the song’s sound wave, making the pitch higher. If it was mastered with the speed lower than the original, the frequency of the song’s sound wave was reduced, making the pitch lower. 
  • It’s also good to remember that LPs have limited space. If a song was longer than the remaining space on the vinyl, the song could be artificially sped up a little to make it shorter so it could fit on the vinyl. This resulted in an increase in the song’s pitch.

Of course, we do not claim that this is a complete list. Perhaps there are several other reasons. These are just our assumptions, backed up by certain knowledge.

All right, but what can we do to finally play along with these songs with non standard frequency tuning?

How to play a song with non standard frequency tuning

In order to play our favorite song which is not in 440 Hz, we need to re-tune our instrument, if it’s possible.

The first thing you need to know is the tuning frequency of the song.  For example, the song has a tuning frequency of 445 Hz.

Electric piano and acoustic piano

If you play electric piano, some models allow you to adjust the frequency from 440 Hz to a desired frequency. And then you’re good to jam. If it is possible to change the frequency on the electric piano, carefully read the manual of your model. The process of adjusting the frequency should be explained there.

For acoustic piano players, it is more difficult to change the frequency tuning, since this involves re-tuning of all the strings of the instrument and special knowledge. Think twice whether it’s worth doing if you have just a couple of songs with nonstandard frequency tuning.

Guitar or ukulele

If you’re a guitar or ukulele player, then the next step for you is to adjust your tuner according to the desired frequency. Most tuners allow you to adjust the frequency from 440 Hz up or down. So, set up the desired tuning frequency on the tuner. In our example, we need to adjust the tuner to 445 Hz.

With the tuner now adjusted to the desired frequency, start tuning every string by rolling the tuning pegs up or down, according to the tuner indication. 

If the new tuning frequency is higher than 440 Hz, then you have to increase the tension of the strings. If the new tuning frequency is lower than 440 Hz, you have to reduce the tension. Read more about how to tune your guitar in our specific article.

We hope that this article gives you some insight into why playing along with your favorite recordings might sound out of tune even if your instrument is tuned, based on A4 of 440 Hz.

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