The Science Behind Binaural Beats
The first question on everyone’s lips when they find out about this amazing way of manifesting the benefits of meditation is how do binaural beats work?
The ancient discovery
What most people don’t realize is that although the creation of binaural beats has only been possible through technological advancement in the last 100 or so years, the knowledge behind binaural beats has been recognized throughout history. Ancient cultures have been aware of how the brain can be entrained through the frequencies of drumbeats well before modern science was able to prove the benefits.
Now of course, in centuries past, societies didn’t refer to this science as binaural beats, but what they did know was that consistent, rhythmic sound had extremely powerful healing and spiritual benefits. Scientist Melinda Maxfield, PhD, conducted research on the drumbeats used during rituals of ancient cultures, and found that they generally beat at a steady rate of 4.5 beats per second. This consistent beat induces a trance-like state for the tribe, due to the brain shifting into a 4.5 beats-per-second brainwave frequency, which is a low Theta brainwave state, as you’ll learn about below.
In almost every ancient culture, binaural beats have played an important role in healing and spiritual development. Using repetitive drumming and chanting, Tibetan monks, Native American shamans, Hindu healers and master Yogis have been able to induce specific brainwave states for transcending consciousness, healing, concentration and spiritual growth.
The modern discovery
Binaural beats technology as we know it today was first discovered in 1839 by a Prussian physicist and meteorologist named Heinrich Wilhelm Dove. It wasn’t until 1973, though, that biophysicist Doctor Gerald Oster brought the technology into mainstream awareness in a paper called ‘Auditory Beats in the Brain’ (Scientific American, 1973). Oster concluded, “It is possible that hormonally induced physiological behavior changes may be made apparent by measuring the binaural-beat spectrum”. Forty years on, and a heap of research by scientists and sound engineers later, binaural beats recordings are used by people all over the world as a form of ‘brainwave entrainment’ – a process used to entrain the brain into different states that contribute positively to wellbeing and personal-development.
How binaural beats work
The binaural beats process works by sending a different frequency to each ear through headphones. The difference between these two frequencies matches the frequency of the brain state we want to entrain the brain to.
For example, if the left ear is sent a tone with a frequency of 200 Hz, and the right ear is sent a tone with a frequency of 2o5 Hz, the brain hears the two tones together as a pulsating beat (a binaural beat), which is essentially the difference between the two tones (5 Hz). The brain then follows the frequency, producing brainwaves at the same level. The technical term for this process is ‘frequency following response’.
Remember, the brain will only respond to the tones if it receives them at the same time through headphones. See the ‘Test the Science’ section below for a demo.
Binaural beats recreate brain (wave) states, and are able to bring about states such as meditation, heightened creativity, increased focus and concentration, reduced anxiety, sleepiness and general relaxation. The process happens by itself, inside the brain. The only requirements are for the recordings to engineered properly, and for the listener to put on a pair on headphones, relax and press play. It’s that easy.
Our recordings are created by professional sound engineers with over 10 years experience in creating brain entrainment products. We do not use hypnosis or subliminal messaging, only the proven science of binaural beats, fused with appropriate ambient soundscapes to enhance the desired state.
The core 5 brainwave states
As explained above, binaural beats can entrain the brain to different states (brainwave), of which there are five categories. The effect on the listener’s state depends on the brainwave state the recording is engineered to target. For example, to induce deep relaxation we produce Theta state recordings. For entraining the brain to sleep better we use Delta state recordings, and to improve memory we use Beta state recordings.
At BBM we fine-tune our recordings for optimum effectiveness using broad demographic market testing prior to commercial release. This allows us to produce recordings engineered for specific core life areas.
Below are the 5 core brainwave state categories:
- Delta (1 – 4 Hz): Deep sleep / bodily regeneration of cells.
- Theta (4 – 8 Hz): Dream state / deep meditation/ relaxation / high-level creativity.
- Alpha (8 – 14 Hz): Relaxation / deep focus and concentration.
- Beta (14 – 40 Hz): Awake / alert / engrossed in a mind gripping activity.
- Gamma (40 Hz +):High mental activity / high-level information processing.
Test the science
After reading this information you probably ‘kinda get it’. But what better way to fully understand the theory by hearing the effect work in real life.
Below is a sample of a raw (no soundscape overlay) Theta binaural beat. Put your headphones on and press the play button the player. Note that the tones make a single pulsating sound when you have both earphones on. Now, remove one earphone (left or right, it doesn’t matter). Note that the pulsations disappear completely when the earphone is removed, and comes back immediately when you put the earphone back on. There you go, you have just entrained your brain using a binaural beat. When you have both earphones on, you hear the pulsation because your brain is creating a third tone from its interpretation of the left and right tones (a binaural beat). This is the ‘frequency following response’ process.
Binaural beats meditation
You will often hear the practise of listening to binaural beats referred to as binaural beats meditation. This is for four key reasons.
- Firstly, like meditation, BBs shift mind state by centering the mind and focussing on one key state. In traditional meditation this is mindful awareness, and where BB recordings are concerned this could be one of five (mainly four – gamma is rarely used) different states.
- Secondly, BB recordings are very popular with meditators seeking a way to achieve fast meditation. BB recordings are capable of quickly entraining the brain to a low frequency state, which is essential for achieving a deep meditative state. A large percentage of BB recordings are produced for meditation purposes, but it should also be remembered that recordings engineered in the Delta, Alpha and Beta states are used for other purposes; sleep, relaxation, energy and high-level learning, respectively.
- The third reason is that when using BB recordings it is best practice to relax and focus on what you want to get out of the recording. This isn’t essential, by any means, but where relaxation, energy healing and sleep are concerned, sitting or lying down is conducive to the state you are trying to achieve.
- Lastly, many users choose to sit or lie down and usually have their eyes closed when listening to recordings. Often people take up the traditional meditation position (particularly meditators or those seeking relaxation), and so the practice has adopted this name for common reference purposes.
That’s it! We hope now you understand how this wonderful science works.