Binaural beats have grown hugely popular.
As such, there are lots of research studies, thousands of videos on YouTube, a ton of threads debating their usage and a hell of a lot of misleading information too.
If you're new to this type of music, or if you've been listening a while but have become a little confused while conflicting views, I'm going to cut through the jargon and give you the low down on the following aspects of binaural beats:
- What binaural beats are, and what they aren't!
- How binaural beats work.
- What they can and can't do.
- What the science is behind binaural beats.
- How to get the most out of this music.
- Whether binaural beats will work for you…
Let's get started!
What Are Binaural Beats?
In a nutshell, a binaural beat is a frequency that is created by the brain after hearing two different frequencies (measured in hertz), one of which is sent to the left ear and the other to the right ear.
Upon hearing the two tones (frequencies) simultaneously, the brain is entrained to the mathematical difference between these two tones. So it essentially produces a third frequency, which is heard as a rhythmic pulsation.
Confused? Don't be, it's easy.
For example: if we send a frequency of 210 hertz to the left ear, and a frequency of 215 hertz to the right ear, the brain will follow along and produce a frequency of 5 Hz (the difference between the two tones).
This is the binaural beat (s).
This process is known technically as ‘frequency following response'; because the brain is following (being entrained) by the frequency it perceives.
A 5 hertz tone is in the Theta state (sometimes referred to as ‘zone'), which, as you can see from the brainwave chart below promotes a state of deep relaxation.
Binaural Beats Brainwave Chart:
Below are the frequency bands associated with each brainwave state. You may see slight variations of this chart elsewhere, but generally this is the main point of reference.
Essentially: the higher the frequency, the more wakeful the entrainment. In simple terms, theta makes you relaxed, and beta makes you wakeful.
- Delta : 1 ~ 4 Hz – Deep sleep, regenerative effects, loss of bodily awareness.
- Theta : 4 ~ 8 Hz – Dream state, deep meditation, intuitive awareness, REM sleep
- Alpha : 8 ~ 14 Hz – Awake, relaxed and focused on inner world.
- Beta : 14 ~ 40 Hz – High-energy, learning, problem-solving and high productivity.
- Gamma : 40 Hz + Higher mental activity, fight of flight, fear.
In between these frequencies bands exists specific frequencies that hone in on specific states. For example: 2.5 hertz is associated with the release of endogenous opiates by the central nervous system and the pituitary gland, which help to block pain.
Is There Any Scientific Evidence for Binaural Beats
The way binaural beats work is real science in motion. The frequency following response is a natural process that happens when the brain is presented with two frequencies in this way.
But that doesn't mean its capabilities haven't been blown out of proportion, which we'll look at in the next section.
There's a ton of scientific research behind binaural beats and brainwave entrainment in general.
For example, 40 Hz (gamma) has been shown to be effective in memory enhancement and for helping ADHD sufferers, and 6 hertz (theta) has been show to be effective for stress relief.
Here's a few studies you might like to check out:
- Binaural beats & attentional focussing.
- Brain response to theta 6 hertz.
- Effect of 40 Hz gamma activity on memory
- Effects on cognition and mood
You can also read overviews from a bunch of studies I summarised right here.
Of course there are also studies where there wasn't any statistical significance to prove the effectiveness of binaural beats on a particular group of people; for example in this study on salience.
On balance, my opinion over the years, having read lots of studies and heard plenty of first-hand evidence from listeners, is that binaural beats work very well for some and not so well for others.
What all studies agree on, however, is that all listeners can perceive binaural beats.
By that I mean that everyone is affected; but to what degree of entrainment is largely dependent on best practices being used, and on the person themselves.
What Binaural Beats Can & Can't Do
Thanks to the internet, there's a lot of hyperbole going around.
For example, I regularly receive emails from people asking whether binaural beats can make you taller. There is absolutely no evidence for this but they have read in multiple places online that this is possible.
In addition, there is no evidence that listening to binaural beats can get you a pretty girlfriend, make you lose weight or make you rich.
What is there is evidence for is that states of deep meditation help us hone a calmer, more focussed, mindful state that assists in overcoming stress, anxiety, fears and the emotional barriers that prevent us from achieving our goals in life.
So yes, entraining the brain to a meditative state might well lead to more wealth creation and abundance in different areas of life.
But no, sitting down on your bum listening to binaural beats all day will not make a million dollars drop into your lap, or make your genitals bigger.
How is Binaural Beats Related to Meditation?
Binaural beats has become synonymous with meditation. There are a few reasons for this.
The first is that many meditators now use this type of music to aid meditation and achieve faster, deeper states of consciousness.
Of course, not all binaural beats music is designed for meditation.
Generally, only the lower frequency music (theta and delta) is suitable for meditation, though some of the lower alpha binaural beats music does have a meditative effect and is associated with “the flow state” – which is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of full focus, involvement and enjoyment.
Even lower delta frequency tracks are more so associated with sleep and an opiate effect, and therefore are not suitable for meditation.
Theta is generally the most common state used to create binaural beats – because stress relief and relaxation in general are common themes.
By design, creators use meditation-style music for such tracks, and therefore a link between the two has become inherently established.
The other big factor in binaural beats' association with meditation was the establishment of the brand ‘Binaural Beats Meditation'.
This company merged the three words and is largely attributed with coining the term. As as result of their darn good music, they are arguably now the leader in the field of producing meditation music laced with binaural beats.
So, partly because of the popularity of this store, the term is now a commonly used phrase.
Finally, the big advantage of binaural beats is that you don't have to sit and meditate for hours like a zen monk to gain access to heightened states of relaxation and consciousness.
For many (not all), the brain can be entrained to specific beneficial states in a relatively short space of time.
Simply by listening in the right way under the right conditions, one can access a states such as deep relaxation, increased clarity of thought and deep focus.
There are also a number of physical benefits to be obtained, such as mild pain relief, tinnitus relief, and even an increase in the hormone serotonin (the “happy hormone”).
YouTube Vs. Professional Binaural Beats
YouTube has exploded in the last few years with binaural beats videos, and in its wake left a lot of people disappointed. Me in particular.
My main gripe with YouTube is that it is an amateur platform where anyone can put up a track and claim it is a binaural beats track that works wonders and miracles.
Often the creator doesn't even list the frequencies of the track, or link any study to back up why they have chosen the frequencies. Mostly they just copy and paste anecdotal stuff from the web into the video description.
Often the claims are laughable.
This makes it difficult to know how credible the creator is. There is no one to contact and ask further questions.
Then there is the issue of compression. YouTube compresses videos when uploaded and when streamed (to balance the stream with the strength of the WIFI connection).
This is problematic, because for binaural beats to be very effective they need to be played back at high quality with minimal frequency interference.
Don't get me wrong: there are some YouTube binaural beats are pretty well produced, but 95% of them are produced by amateurs and simply not worth listening to.
For the general consumer they are not trustworthy and a number of them are likely to just give you a headache.
It is far better to buy binaural beats created by professionals; music made in a proper studio, with the correct frequencies and pre-tested for effectiveness before release.
Most producers don't even tune the music to harmonize with the binaural frequencies, which causes dissonance – a lack of harmony among musical notes.
In other words, the music sounds bad and isn't pleasurable to listen to.
This gives binaural beats a bad name, because uploaders are tagging their music with all sorts of claims and misleading information, which is damaging to the legitimate studies that have been done.
How to Get the Best Effects From Binaural Beats
One key mistake people make when using binaural beats is quite simply not understanding how to use them.
Rule 1 is to engage with the state you want to achieve. For example: There is no point in listening to a stress relief track while you run around engaging in stressful activities.
Instead, sit down in a quiet space, close your eyes and treat your listening like a meditation session.
Conversely, I am listening to Zen Focus as I write this post and I'm totally in the zone.
Why? Because I am doing an activity that requires focus and the binaural beats enhance this state by entraining my brain to the “zen zone”.
Develop an Entrainment Routine
When I get an email from someone saying they can't get into binaural beats, this issue is usually due to a poor listening routine.
The person is usually jumping from one track to another and expecting a miracle to happen.
You can't listen to a theta track for 15 minutes, then jump to a beta track, then to a delta track; that's like trying to take your brain from being asleep to sprinting in a few seconds, and back down again.
You will end up confused and somewhere pretty hazy.
Getting the most out of your listening experience requires you to understand how binaural beats work, and I hope this post has helped you with that.
So set out a listening routine. Here's some tips:
- To begin with, aim for approximately three listening sessions per day.
- Keep on theme. For example, you could listen to two audios designed for relaxation in a row, or a creativity audio followed by a focus audio (both in the alpha state), but don’t jump from an energy-inducing audio to a sleep audio and expect to go from wide awake to asleep in a matter of minutes.
- One of my daily routines might look like this: Deep Meditation when I wake up, Zen Focus at work, then Deep Sleep before bed.
- Develop sensible routines that complement the activity you are engaged in at the time. If you specifically want to reduce anxiety or focus, then concentrate on that audio for a morning, or even for that whole day. If you have a real problem in a particular area, focus on entrainment in that area regularly by making it part of a daily routine.
Will Binaural Beats Work for Me?
As I mentioned previously, different people respond differently to binaural beats, and the research studies thus far support this theory.
Some people see an instant shift in mind state, and for others it takes a longer period of listening – usually 3-5 days to feel results.
And truthfully, some people never really feel or notice change, but perhaps enjoy the music anyway.
Also consider that some states will be more instantaneous by nature. Like focus and stress relief, for example; which are usually obtainable within the first 5-15 minutes of entrainment.
Conversely, for an insomniac seeking to fall asleep faster and sleep for longer, binaural beats will not be an instant fix and certainly not a replacement for pills.
For the average person, listening to a delta recording before bed will usually result in a deeper sleep – but this is a normal sleeping person, not an insomnia sufferer.
Insomnia is a difficult condition, and while binaural beats could form one of many aspects of a good sleep hygiene program, they would not be the sole cure.
The same can be said for pain relief. Binaural beats at low delta frequencies can have an opiate effect, which might be great for a light muscle ache but certainly won't help a broken leg!
In short, don't come to binaural beats expecting miracle cures.
Binaural beats should form part of a holistic approach to self-development and helping you in areas where you want to improve yourself: chiefly in terms of focus, productivity, stress relief and clarity of mind/higher consciousness.
The idea that binaural beats can make you prettier, cure acne or diabetes (I've seen all these on YouTube) is silly and unrealistic.
But this music can change your life for the better, as can music in general.
Life is vibrational by design. Frequencies are affecting our brains every day in many forms. The earth, humans and animals, like a binaural beat, we are all vibrating together.
Quantum physics tells us that physical atoms are made up of vortices of energy that are perpetually spinning and vibrating, each one radiating its own unique energy signature. So, when it boils down to it, we are beings of energy and vibration.
As someone very interested in sound (I studied music), my research has helped me understand just how powerful music can be. And what is music? It is frequencies making sounds that are capable of affecting the way we feel.
And guess what too? Frequencies don't need to audible to change the way we feel, but that's for another post (this is 2k+ words already!)
Let me just finish on this note (I got a pun in, yay!)
A slight oversimplification, maybe, but binaural beats are just concentrated doses of certain frequencies, so it makes absolute sense that they have the ability to change the way we feel and act.
So take my advice and experiment. I get a lot from this unique experience, and I'm sure you will too.
If you want to learn more about binaural beats — the inventors, the research, the technology — there's a also a ton of great information on this page here.