A deep dive into the world of alternative sound healing via solfeggio frequencies, a new age scam built off decades of misinformation.
In the world of alternative and new age medicine, few things are stranger than the concept of music healing. For one, it’s because it kind of works. This isn’t just a homoeopathy-type case; music therapy is a legitimate, established field, and beyond that exclusively vibrational therapies have been shown to promote bone and muscle repair. But these fields pale in comparison to the reams of nonsense attributed, past the point of proven science, to frequencies.
As of March 2023, the Solfeggio Healing Frequencies Spotify page has over 500 thousand monthly listeners, with top “tracks” amassing in the 10s of millions of plays. People believe this stuff. The “song” titles feature the name of a certain frequency in Hertz (the measure of how many times a wave cycles per second) alongside promises of “Anxiety relief” and the stunningly vague “Love & Miracles”. If your dream is to meet, and then date Hunter Schafer, all you need is a wave cycling 528 times per second.
Solfeggio frequencies themselves are a curious phenomenon. They are obscure enough not to have their own Wikipedia page; instead, Wikipedia only documents the concept from which they (sort of) originate, called solfege. Solfege is that one scene from the Sound of Music – do, re, me, fa etc. It’s a musical mnemonic device invented in 11th century Italy by Guido of Arezzo to aid the memorising of the major scale (well, technically a six-note hexachord that sounds like the modern major, but I digress). Bizarrely enough, the name has been adopted by various iterations of quack, initially a Dr. Joseph Puleo, who in 1974 according to attunedvibrations.com “used the Pythagorean method of number reduction to decode six sound frequencies that create balance and resonance in our bodies and improve mental health”. Puleo’s work has been more broadly connected to phenomena like the Schumann resonances (peaks in the Earth’s electromagnetic field between 3 and 60Hz). This is particularly bizarre as most of these resonances either lie outside of the human range of hearing or would only be audible as a low rumbling, and yet are often claimed to be part of ancient Sanskrit or Gregorian chanting.
The pro-solfeggio camp has had to make a strange logical leap here; not only is 11th century Italy or medieval choral music now ancient and fundamental to the human condition, but the actual frequencies of the hexachord which became solfege have been shifted towards ones which better align with numerology, or Schumann resonances, or any other unconnected but seemingly “fundamental” frequency. In what is a classic case of numerology and reality being totally unconnected, these not-so-ancient tones have nothing to do with Pythagoras, or whatever number reduction is.
528Hz is a particularly significant nonsense black hole, of which similar varieties show up not only in solfeggio, but in more eccentric parts of the alternative medicine world. Take, for example, HIV/AIDS denier, far right evangelist and sound healer extraordinaire Leonard Horowitz. Horowitz not only lends his weight behind the specific kind of frequency healing solfeggio pins itself to, but the equally bizarre conspiracy against 440Hz. Because if there are good frequencies, there must be evil ones too. Long story short, modern Western music is tuned (sort of) around the note A being set at 440Hz. It’s a useful reference point but is slightly higher than ancient Greek reference points for A, as well as the standard that older orchestras used to use (these generally varied in the 420-430Hz range). This is because a sort of orchestra arms race in Europe led to A getting higher and higher because higher notes are perceived as ‘brighter’ and thus more impressive. Notably, nothing about this story suggests a plot to undermine the human psyche or set generations off their spiritual balance, but Horowitz and his ilk would have you believe that 440Hz is some sort of demonic influence on the Western world. It is this kind of thoroughly distorted thinking that underlines the philosophy of solfeggio frequencies.
Also cited by solfeggio evangelists is the work of Alfred Tomatis, a sound healing practitioner who invented his Tomatis Method in the belief that a number of developmental and brain disorders could be cured by fixing the connection between the ear and the brain. His method has been widely discredited but is still employed today by, among others, those who seek to cure autism. As someone with autism, I do find this notion offensive and quite frankly nonsensical, but equally I find it funny that the Tomatis Method mostly consists of playing our old friend, Gregorian chants at patients. The sound healing world at its fringes is a litany of exploitative people making a quick buck off of the same few ideas.
What actually strikes me as the most insulting thing about the pseudoscience behind solfeggio is the disservice it does to music therapy. Music therapy and more generally, the positive medical effects of music are often cited by solfeggio evangelists as evidence for their claims. However, the connections between music therapy and solfeggio are not much more than a rhetorical sleight of hand. Music therapy doesn’t work because some music contains frequencies that link us to the Earth’s magnetic field, but because music as a whole has a profound connection to our memories and emotional states.
Think about it: we don’t just bond with sets of frequencies, but we instead perceive whole songs, made by real people for often complex and powerful reasons, as monads representing and negotiating our feelings and cherished memories. This is the kind of connection that solfeggio evangelists seek to exploit; cheating at art by inventing and perpetuating a lie. A lie that cons people into valuing the noises you churned thoughtlessly onto Spotify, just to make some money. It’s difficult to pin too much, if any, true ill will on the people listening to these frequencies. It’s less difficult to take issue with the companies making money off these beliefs when they are demonstrably false.