BINAURAL BEATS Entrainment technologies

Altered States for Creativity - A primer for the musician or enthusiast on creating altered states with multiplexed binaural beats.


An abstract on using Binaural Beat Entrainment Technology to induce Altered States of Consciousness

Gordon J. McDonald     Signature Audio Logos


The principals of resonant entrainment and its effect on the human brain have been studied at many universities and hospitals.  Using an electroencephalogram, (EEG) studies have shown a clear correlation between brainwave patterns and their response to external pulsating sources including flashing lights, electromagnetic pluses, and audio beats.  When the brain received stimulation by audio, visual or electrical input, the brain would exhibit a natural tendency to lock on to the frequency.  This process is called the Frequency Following Response.    The EEG would indicate that part of the brainwave activity shown in cycles per second, would begin to synchronize with the stimuli source frequency.  The frequency following response signal represents only a portion of the overall EEG.

Low frequency binaural beats are easily generated below 30 cycles per second and are typical of the EEG spectrum.  Humans can detect binaural beats when the carrier tones are below 1000 cycles per second. (1000 Hz.)   Two carrier tones are generated, one to each ear, with one carrier tone being of similar, but not exact frequency.  For example, one carrier tone of 20 Hz. is sent to one ear, and another carrier tone of 28 Hz. is sent to the other ear.   The brain detects the phase difference between the two wave forms and integrates both signals into a third sound or binaural beat of 8 Hz.  The brain stem's superior olivary nucleus provides the origins of the perceived binaural beat frequency.  It is then neurologically sent to the reticular formation and to the cortex where measurements of frequency following response can be detected.    Studies made by biophysicist Gerald Oster at Mount Sinai have generated objectively measured frequency following response data, providing proof that the sensation of binaural beating has neurological efficacy.

Because binaural beats can be specifically synchronized to brainwave patterns associated with primary states of consciousness, there are vast possibilities of therapeutic application.  In addition to audio stimuli, sub-harmonic tones, below 16 Hz.,  (below human hearing) can be used to kinesthetically transmit binaural information to the brain.  Integrating these technologies with ambient music, natural sounds, and guided imagery can have profound impact on our emotional, physical, psychological, and spiritual well-being.



Let the rhythms begin.  From the first beats of out heart to our dying breath we are embraced by rhythms.  There will not be a single moment in our lives that is not influenced by vibration, sound and rhythm.  We exist, mostly unaware of daily rhythms directing our life, choosing to expose ourselves to sound vibrations which have profound impact on our well-being.   Our choice of career, home, transportation, and entertainment (including music) provides the resonant base for our physical health, our mental well-being, and our spiritual growth.

Music has been a powerful tool in healing for thousands of years.  Every culture has developed therapeutic use of music to heal mind, body and spirit.   Music began to take a prominent roll as "entertainment" about 500 years ago and has only recently resurfaced as a dynamic tool in sound healing.   University studies, research programs, books and audio recordings have filtered into public awareness at an astounding rate.  We are finally getting back to what we've known all along, but with better understanding of how this process works.

We know that music can relax muscles, reduce stress, increase endorphin levels, enhance immune system, and stir up every possible emotion.  When combined with binaural beat entrainment technologies, music can become a powerful carrier for "Guided Imagery" designed to aid healing and enhance learning.  Modern use of Guided Imagery Music  (GIM) is most effective when experienced in a state of deep relaxation and is often used to create specific target states of consciousness.

Choosing the right music, composed specifically for the purpose of relaxing the mind and body, is vital to the ultimate success of GIM programs.  We all share similar responses to vibration energies (sound) although we do not all agree on musical tastes.  Fortunately, personal preference of musical style is not contingent for entrainment technologies to be effective.   Often it is the goal to compose music that does not draw ones attention, so the music will not interfere with the intent of the guided imagery.


My principal objective in creating this abstract is to offer tools to assist the professional musician in creating music for healing.  We will explore the physiology of using binaural beats and how the various brain states respond to entrainment and frequency following response.    Once you understand how these rhythms work, I will venture into various techniques for creating binaural beats, embedded them within the music, and offer a few other effective methods of using this technology.

It is not my intent to offer advice or instruction on guided imagery, text, or subliminal suggestions as I believe these should be left to the seasoned practitioner or trained healthcare professional.

There are many subtle techniques that must be strictly followed to ensure positive success.  For example, the sub-conscious human mind can not properly retain the intent of a negative suggestion. "I will no longer get angry," and  "I am not feeling bad about myself," will be perceived as "I will get angry," or "I feel bad about myself."  There are a many more "do's and don'ts" for creating guided imagery and the scripting must be carefully and meticulously worded.  Unless you have been properly trained in psychology, it would be irresponsible to attempt using guided imagery on others.  Let's stay focused on the music

  What Are Binaural Beats?

Simply put, binaural beats are auditory responses in the brain stem.  Their origin lies in the superior olivary nucleus of each hemisphere.  When two auditory impulses that are below 1000 Hz, and are of different frequencies between 1 and 30 Hz apart, are sent to opposite ears, the superior olivary nucleus will experience the combined tones as they move in and out of phase with each other.   For example, if one tone of "A" 440 Hz is sent to one ear and a slightly sharper tone of 450 Hz is sent to the other ear, the resulting standing wave of 10 Hz is experienced.  While the 10 Hz wave is below the human range of hearing (20-20,000 Hz) it is still present as an auditory beat of 10 Hz.  This is the phase difference between the two original frequencies.  We would normally perceive this detected phase difference as "directional information."

When the different tones are heard through speakers or headphones, the resulting beats are generated in the brain stem's superior olivary nucleus where contralateral integration occurs.  The information is passed to the cortex and can be measured by electrodes.  The binaural beat is perceived as a fluctuating rhythm of the frequency difference between the two auditory tones.  This third beat can be used to entrain specific cortical rhythms through frequency-following response, thereby becoming an effective consciousness management tool.

H.W. Dove, a German experimenter, is credited with the discovery of binaural beats in 1839.  There are many species capable of detecting binaural beats and the frequencies change relitive to the size of the species cranium.  Humans detect binaural beats below 1000 Hz, or when the wave length of the carrier signal is longer than the diameter of the human skull.  The signal waves curve around the skull the same way that radio waves propagate around the earth.  Long waves of the AM broadcast bands can travel the globe whereas an FM signal of higher frequency travels only in a straight line and can be blocked by mountains, buildings and other structures.

As frequencies below curve around the skull, they are received by both ears, but are perceived by the brain as out of phase due to the distance between the ears.  The sound passes around the skull and each ear gets a different portion of the wave.  The waveform phase difference enhances the ability to locate sounds below 1000 Hz, while determining the location or direction of higher frequencies is more difficult.  It is only above 8000 Hz that the external ear (pinna) can help in localization.  All of this simply means that our brains are able to perceive binaural beats as a result of our ability to detect the waveform phase difference.


Physiology and Frequency Following Response

The association of binaural beating and subsequent frequency-following response was demonstrated in 1973 by Oster through electroencephalographic (EEG) mapping.  Additional studies have established documented frequency-following response to auditory stimuli recorded at the top of the brain (vertex).  Typically an EEG will show that when an audio stimuli is present, the brain will produce a measured frequency response at the same fundamental frequency of the stimulus.  Auditory sensations are neurologically routed to the reticular formation and at the same time they are conducted to the cortex.where measurement by EEG can be recorded.  The term frequency-following response is derived from this process although this signal represents only a small portion of the overall EEG.  The sensation of binaural beating has neurological efficacy as demonstrated through objectively measured frequency-following response.

The reticular formation stimulates the thalamus and cortex where related states of consciousness are regulated.   The neural reticular formation is a large net-like area of the brain stem.  (The word literally means "net-like.")   This area interprets and responds to information from internal stimuli such as attitudes and feelings, and from external stimuli including focus, awareness, and states of arousal,   The extended reticular activating system is associated with our "first person" experience of consciousness.  Cortico-thalamic projections adapt to binaural beats as they enter the reticular formation.

Other sensory information including touch, aroma, color, and music can effect changes in out consciousness through the cortico-thalamic adaptation.  Social-psychological conditioning and cognitive skills can provide additional support in achieving desired states of consciousness.  It is a multidimensional approach which provides the greatest  degree of effectiveness for using binaural entrainment technologies.  Multiplexing audio sounds, music, and the sounds of nature with binaural beats provides effective response by the extended reticular-thalamic activating system.  This stimulation appears to promote access to altered states of consciousness.


Resonant Entrainment

Just as one tuning fork with an oscillating frequency of "A" 440 Hz is able entrain a second tuning fork of the same frequency to oscillate, our brains are capable of producing electromagnetic wave forms which entrain the frequencies produced through binaural beating.  In bio-systems, it is electrochemical activity of the brain that results in the production of electromagnetic wave forms.  These elements can also be altered through the use of chemicals or drugs, the induction of electrical currents, and with resonant entrainment technologies.

Hypnagogia is the term for a state of consciousness where the mind is awake and the body is relaxed or asleep.  The use of binaural beats embedded within music, natural sounds, and guided imagery can alter the electrochemical environment of the brain.  By lowering the frequencies while maintaining awareness, we can enter the unique state of hypnagogia.  This is an optimal state for meditation practices.  Using higher frequencies, the brain can be entrained to achieve a hyper suggestive state of consciousness.



The Four Brain States

The brain is an amazing electrochemical organ with over 10 billion interconnected nerve cells capable of generating as much as 10 watts of electrical power.  The electrical activity of the brain is manifested in the form of brainwaves.  There are four primary categories of brainwaves, each with its own specific function and level of activity.  When actively engaged in mental activity, it generates "Beta" waves.  Beta waves are somewhat low in amplitude and are the fastest (cycles per second) of the four basis states.  Their frequencies range from 15 to 40 cycles per second.  Active conversation is typically a Beta function.

"Alpha" waves are somewhat slower and are associated with periods of non-arousal.  A slower frequency of 9 to 14 cycles per second is typical with a higher amplitude.  Short meditations, a break from work, or a relaxing walk produces Alpha waves.  The earth's own magnetic resonant frequency also know as the "Schuman Resonance" is entrained within the Alpha state.  The earths harmonic resonance has been measured at approximately 8 cycles per second (8 Hz.)

When a person who takes a break from work and begins to daydream is often entering a "Theta" state.  Occasionally we may experience a laps of time when driving on long trips and can’t remember the last few miles.  This is another example of Theta brainwaves at work.  The frequencies range from 3 to 7 Hz and have even greater amplitude.  Theta states are beneficial for creative free-flowing ideas.  Whenever we find ourselves lost in automatic tasks like jogging, taking a shower, or walking the dog we tend to free ourselves of the task allowing our mind to produce a variety of uncensored thought patterns.  Theta waves are associated with the "rapid eye movement" (REM) sleep, or when dreaming.  Theta waves are linked to creative and artistic tasks and reflect a mind that is open to visualization.

"Delta" is the final brainwave state and has the greatest amplitude with the slowest frequency.  1.5 to 4 cycles per second are characteristic of deep relaxation with the slowest waves associated with dreamless sleep.  We dream in 90-minute cycles as the brainwaves move between delta and theta.  As we awake, our brainwaves move from delta through theta, alpha and finally to beta, unless we hit the snooze button on our alarm clocks.  Occasionally as we drop back toward delta for that final few minutes of sleep we will stay in the theta state for several minutes.  It is at this state that we may experience free-flowing ideas about our day ahead or problem solving from yesterdays activities.  This is a very productive time and can have beneficial impact on the rest of our day's activity.

Although one brainwave state will actively dominate brain functions at any given time, the remaining brainwaves remain active to a lesser degree and are always present.  It is highly beneficial to learn to recognize these states and to further develop the ability to change your dominant brainwave to suit your specific activities.

  Altered States

Listening to binaural beats can produce subjective responses from complete relaxation to inspiring, motivating, and stimulating relative to the desired frequencies of the beats.  Binaural beats are used as an aid for sleeping disorders (Delta 1.5-4 Hz) and Theta waves (3-7 Hz) can induce highly creative states as well as relaxed meditative states of consciousness.  Alpha waves (9-14 HZ) are often experienced by those who practice meditation, yoga, and tai chi.  Focused concentration with a still inner center is a primary state of consciousness when Alpha waves are present.  Our normal waking state falls within the Beta (14-40 Hz) frequencies.  External stimulus such as filing, computing, and directing others will fall within the lower beta frequencies.  Moments of stress and anxiety requiring fast problem solving skills fall into the higher frequencies of Beta.

While listening to binaural rhythms alone may not instantly thrust you into altered states of consciousness, they provide a strong foundation to support an individuals personal intent.  There are a number of factors which can influence the success of entrainment techniques.  Primary is the willingness of the listener to focus their attention and to relax into meditation.  Our state of consciousness will experience occasional changes as characterized by ultradian rhythms in the nervous system.

It is known that the human mind continues to work in spite of reduced activity under anesthesia.  The brainwaves were nearly absent while the mind continued to be as active as if it were in the waking state.  Researchers have reported awareness in comatose patients suggesting that maintaining conscious awareness is possible while cortical arousal is reduced.  This state of consciousness includes meditative, trance, altered, hypnogogic, hypnotic, and twilight-learning states and are marked by parasympathetic dominance.   The ability to achieve these states can be natural or can be a learned skill.

Because "consciousness" cannot be objectively measured with instruments, it is considered to be a field phenomenon, which provides a link between the neurological structures of the brain and the body.  The relative proportion of EEG frequencies measured from the brain can provide an estimate of the state of consciousness, but is not dogmatic.  One can assume that specific dominant brain waves can be reasonably associated with particular states of consciousness.

"Mental fatigue" occurs when the brain maintains extended periods in the Beta state.  The resulting process which transports chemicals in and out of the brain, (osmosis) can leave the ratio between sodium and potassium out of balance.  This ratio can be restored to "normal" by maintaining a Theta state for five to ten minutes.  A short break can quickly balance your sodium/potassium ratios leaving you mentally refreshed.


Binaural Beats -3- Applications

Apploication of Entrainment Technology


The use of multiplexed audio that has been embedded with binaural beats and further mixed with guided imagery, music, natural sounds or pink noise offers diverse applications.  Practical application of binaural technologies is especially well suited toward modifying social-psychological conditioning.  The table above illustrates a few of the more practical applications of binaural beat entrainment technologies.

9 Benefits of using Binaural Beats

  1. Decreases Anxiety
  2. Improves Memory
  3. Improves Mood 
  4. Helps Focus Attention
  5. Helps reduce Pain
  6. Helps with Meditation
  7. Improves Sleep Quality
  8. Enhances Creativity
  9. Enhances Cognitive Flexability

Binaural Beats -4- Esoteric Connection

The Esoteric Connection


For centuries music has been used to heal.  Many cultures have developed sounds and techniques which are still practiced today.  Eastern traditions used bells, flutes, drums and bowls in their meditations.  Gorgonian chants are still popular for relaxation techniques as is spiritual and aboriginal drumming.   Sales of devotional, classical, and new age music have steadily increased as their links to spiritual and physical healing becomes better understood.   About 100 years ago the Western cultures began to look at music as entertainment only and turned their healing focus toward chemical medicines.  Fortunately a great number of practitioners are once again adding music therapies to their regiment of healing tools.

Vibration and sound energies are used by mainstream physicians, practitioners, and healers to produce changes in automatic immune, and endocrine systems.    There are certain frequencies (notes) that have a resonating effect on the various organs in the body.  When we are "in tune" our bodies vibrate at a fundamental frequency of 8 cycles per second, or at the same frequency of the earth's electromagnetic field.

As humans we can hear sounds between 20 and 20,000 cycles per second.  Sounds below 20 Hz can be perceived through kinesthetic transmission of your skin and bones.  At the other end, very high frequencies are perceived as color.  Steven Halpern (Sound Health) offered an excellent paradigm.
"...vibrations at 1000 cycles per second are easily audible.  If you double the vibrations to 2000 cycles per second, that is one octave higher.  If you double it again to 4000 cycles per second, that is another octave.  A normal piano spans a bit more than seven octaves.  If, hypothetically, we could extend the piano keyboard another 35 to 50 octaves higher, the keys at the higher end would produce colors, rather than audible sounds, when played."

Both sound and color are frequencies that we perceive and experience, and both have effect on our energy centers.  There are seven energy centers in your body, called charkas.  They are like spinning wheels of electromagnetic energy that reflect our emotional, psychological and spiritual well-being.  Each chakra represents different aspects of our life energy and consciousness, and each chakra is associated with a specific color, musical note, and element.  I have included this section because a basic understanding of the charkas can add yet another dimension of possibilities for the application of binaural beat entrainment technologies.  The chart below illustrates the association of  colors, notes and charkas.


Binaural beats - 5- References

References and Additional Resources


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