How Binaural Beats Music Works

Why David & Steve Gordon’s New Brainwave Music Series
is a Breakthrough

By Richard Merrill,

“Auditory beat stimulation may be a promising new tool for the manipulation
of cognitive processes and the modulation of mood states.”

– Leila Chaieb et al, in Frontiers in Psychiatry, 2015

Binaural Beats: you may have seen them and heard them, but nowhere have you experienced binaural beats as they are presented in these new recordings.

Hours of ambient music: rich, calm, energetic, created with the deep musicality of David & Steve Gordon's Binaural Beats Research, this music has been infused with binaural beats and isochronic tones that are mathematically and musically aligned with the music. The final result is a unique and incredible experience for your musical brain.

The musical and mathematical integration of beats and music is a historic first in binaural beats productions.

Elena Mannes, in The Power of Music, tells us something we already feel intuitively: music activates more of the brain than any other stimulus. The addition of brainwave-stimulating binaural beats and isochronic tones to specially-created music of impeccable quality is a perfect embodiment of this reality.

Our brains are built for music and rhythm

Consider that every note of music, since humankind began, has been created through our brains. Rhythm is essential to life, on many levels. Heartbeat, breathing – we don’t think about these activities, they just happen. Gesturing, walking, running, dancing: these are things we voluntarily do, but without a lot of thought. We don’t think to ourselves, “my right foot is in contact with the ground. If I don’t swing my left foot up I’ll fall over!” Once we’ve learned to walk and run as children, our bodies take care of it themselves, through their native rhythmic abilities.

When we hear music, an electrical signal from our auditory system almost instantaneously causes communication chemicals in brain cells to be emitted with a slight electrical charge, which brain scientists call “firing.” If the activity is continued, the neuron fires over and over again in rhythm, depending on the work it’s doing.

When it fires, other neurons around it can respond, causing more neurons to fire, setting up a rhythmic pulsing. If enough neurons are recruited to this rhythm, through many layers of brain tissue, it will be strong enough to measure at the surface of the head with an electroencephalograph, or EEG. Many individually weak brain cells act in concert to create a rhythmic electrochemical pulse. Music and beats can act on that pulse, guiding the brain’s activity in a new direction, matching the new beats.

Phase locking and entrainment

When any area within the brain stimulates another area to the same brainwave frequency, it’s called “phase locking.” It’s part of our normal experience.

Auditory beats research strongly suggests that when external beats like these recordings induce a change in brain frequencies, called entrainment, this can influence cognitive processing, in a way similar to phase locking, causing benefits such as:

- Improving focus

- Better problem-solving

- Stimulating creativity 

- Increasing mental flexibility  

- Visual-spatial working memory 

How and why binaural beats work to entrain our brains

Brainwaves in our response to music

It would be wonderful if we could simply play musical tones that are equal to brainwave frequencies, but we just can’t do that. The frequencies of the brainwaves are mostly below the limit of our ability to perceive musical tone. The lowest sound we can hear vibrates about 25 times per second, something like the very lowest tone on the piano. It barely sounds like a note, and many brainwaves are below that. That’s where binaural beats come in. 

Two tones of moderate frequency create an audible beat of very low frequency.

We’ve mentioned our brains are built for rhythm and pitch. They know more about music than we ever could. They even respond to harmonics – overtones and undertones, and replace notes that the brain perceives are missing in the musical context. Never underestimate the power of your brain to respond to music!

When we follow a musical rhythm or a beat with our attentions, our brain creates what’s called an auditory evoked potential, which can be measured over most of the brain. These evoked potentials, repeated in rhythm, create what we call brainwaves. The auditory beats in this collection “speak” to our brainwaves by means of binaural beats and isochronic tones, creating the potential to guide our mental activity in new directions.

What are binaural beats?

If you’ve ever tuned a guitar, or been at a concert while someone tuned up, you have probably heard interference beats. Those are the beats that seem to happen when two notes are close to each other. Two tones are playing, each pure, but you hear a wah-wah-wah-wah somewhere in there. It’s because the two notes, each made of nice clear vibrations, are slightly mismatched. Sometimes the two tones vibrate together, which makes them louder, and sometimes one pulse goes up while the other goes down, and the vibrations in the air cancel each other out, making the tone softer. What you’re hearing is the rhythmic loud-soft beat called an interference beat.

Binaural beats take this a little further. Way back in the 1800s, investigators found that if you play one tone in one ear and another tone in the other ear, your brain interprets the tones, understands that the two tones are a bit different, and creates a phantom difference beat as if you were listening to the notes in the air.

It’s an amazing phenomenon! A great deal of research has shown that your brain can respond to these phantom beats, called binaural beats, changing its own rhythmic activity to match that of the beat, and in some cases changing the activities of the brain.

How about Isochronic tones?

Isochronic tones are single tones that pulse in loudness. Along with binaural beats, they comprise a set of tools for auditory beat stimulation. Isochronic tones are perceived well in air, while binaural beats are best perceived in headphones. We combine binaural beats with isochronic tones to make the beats more effective, no matter what sound equipment you use. Isochronic tones are shown to be highly effective in brainwave entrainment, used with music. Compared to isochronic tones alone, including music, not surprisingly, scored higher for comfort and positive affect.

SongRest goes a step further with isochronic tones. Most isochronic tones create a beat by turning the sound on and off in a given pattern. To provide continuity for the ears, we created the isochronic tones to pulse from a tone taken directly from the music, rather than from silence. The way the perception of beat is the same, but the tone is continuous. In addition, the frequency of the pulses is exactly proportional to the frequency of the tone that is pulsing. This creates a powerful relationship that our brains are made to respond to.

Embedding beats makes them stronger

In these new recordings by David & Steve Gordon's Binaural Beats Research, SongRest takes advantage of a phenomenon recognized by one of the original binaural beats experts, Gerald Oster. He explained in his ground-breaking 1972 article “Auditory Beats in the Brain” in Scientific American:

When two appropriate tones are presented to the ears so that binaural beats are produced, and are accompanied in each ear by noise just loud enough to obscure the tones, the beats become more distinct. (emphasis added)

In other words, the beats are perceived by the brain more strongly if the tones themselves are somewhat masked by surrounding sounds. What works with “noise” can be even more effective with music. In this project, we are engaging the effects of auditory beats by embedding beats in a bed of music that has been created exactly for this purpose. The beats are audible, but still allow you to enjoy the music, creating a unique holistic musical experience for your brain.

A unique sound result

In this music, the tones are embedded in a special way. At the beginning and end of the piece, as the music fades in and out, the tones are clearly audible. Throughout the music, the tones have been carefully calibrated to be just audible in speakers, earbuds and headphones. 

In this image, showing just the beginning the beginning and end of one selection, the jagged sound waves in teal blue show the original music. The green line indicates the volume of the added tones, overlaid on the music.

In the beginning, as the music is fading in, the tones plateau  above the level of the music so as to be clearly audible, after which they begin to follow the music more closely. At the end, as the music fades, the tones remain audible, as a kind of reference, before fading away with the music.

A foundation in science

The integrity of this collection is that its premises are supported by brain science.

A large amount of research published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and in peer-reviewed journals of neuroscience show that auditory beats (binaural, monaural, and isochronic beats) can affect the strength of connections between brain areas, affecting flexibility of thought and perception.

While a few recent experiments questioning beats have been published, such as a pilot study from a university in Spain showing little response to isochronic tones, these researchers concluded their own process could be flawed.

Binaural beats aren’t always pretty

One of the things binaural beat expert Gerald Oster did back in 1972 was to determine what he thought were the ideal frequencies for generating different binaural beats, that is, the two notes you would play together to create beats of a given frequency. These are arbitrary mathematical proportions, and have nothing to do with auditory processing. Unfortunately, some of the tone frequencies Oster came up with mathematically are very high and piercing.

Most binaural beat research uses Oster’s specifications. Partly because of this, and partly because the interference beats of some frequencies can be jarring, binaural beats can be just plain annoying to listen to on their own. That’s why most researchers and binaural beats publishers embed them in “white noise” or “pink noise” which create a complex kind of hiss. Until now, many binaural beats recordings have hidden the beats in noise because they just didn’t sound good alone.

SongRest uses Oster’s recommendations as a guide, but we do our own computations for sound generation, using our own algorithm, which is explained below (an algorithm is just a set of related computations for solving a problem).

How we designed the embedded brainwaves

To create this music, David & Steve Gordon's Binaural Beats Research first created long-form ambient music for different contemplative moods. They then specified brainwave bands appropriate for each piece of music. Since most brainwaves are too slow to be matched directly with musical tones, we used two kinds of slow beats to match brainwave frequencies.

The difference from all other brainwave music is this: the tone frequencies and the beats are all mathematically and musically related to the music tracks created by the Gordons.

This method makes this brainwave collection a landmark in brainwave and binaural beats music. SongRest’s research suggests that “tuning” the beats musically to the tracks makes the music and the beats work together to increase the effectiveness of the beats.

The SongRest algorithm

SongRest developed a music-brainwave algorithm for a research project in using music to reduce chronic pain. SongRest applied the same algorithm to the Gordons’ current music project to align the tempo and pitch of the music exactly to the tones used to generate the binaural beats. Using this method, the beats are not only derived from the fundamental tones of the music, but the resulting beats are mathematically related to the key of the music. The carrier tone, the foundation of the binaural beat, is taken directly from the music, which for the most part eliminates the dissonance of binaural beats tones.

In addition, since, as we mentioned before, binaural beats are sometimes too slow to perceive in the music as beats, we’ve also included an isochronic tone track with each piece of music.

Isochronic tones, as we mentioned before, are usually easier to hear in speakers than binaural beats, and have been shown to be strong sources of rhythmic entrainment. We took a tone from the music and used it to create the isochronic beat pattern. Finally, the “shape” of the isochronic beat waves has  been tuned to keep the ear perceiving it as tone, yet still presenting distinct beats.

Creating the beats

First we added binaural beats as explained above. These are most effective when using headphones, where one tone is presented in one ear and a slightly different tone in the other ear. The brain creates a perception of a beat, and can actually modify its activities to match that beat. In speakers, the binaural beat components will blend to create what’s known as a “monaural beat,” where both tones are heard by both ears.

Second, we added isochronic tones (explained below) to enhance listening in speakers, where the strength of binaural beats is attenuated, and to emphasize some of the slower beats. We spent hundreds of hours insuring the volume is just right across all frequencies and all twenty-five pieces in the entire collection.

Below is an image from music editing software, to show how  closely the volume of the tones follows the music. You’re seeing only the last 25% of the music, so you can imagine the work that went into matching the tones and adjusting them throughout each piece.

In this image, the original music is in teal green. The “carrier” tone of the binaural beat is in purple. This is the foundation tone, matching the key of the music.

The volume of the tones, shown by the wavering line in the colored tracks, is calibrated to follow every nuance of the volume of the music, keeping the tones always just in the audible range. Note how the shape of the volume profiles is the same as the shape of the sound waves in the stereo music track, but not always exactly. Some instruments and some frequencies sound louder at a given volume than others, and that is one of the factors in our sound adjustments. This was not an automated process; pitch, tonal quality, and other aspects of the music as well as the sound qualities of the beats and tones themselves were factors in adjusting volume, and together the Gordons and SongRest went through many rounds of edits to get them just right.

Differences in response: individual, training, or conditions?

Of course people differ, so some tones will be more audible than others to different individuals, and some will respond more strongly to certain tones than others, but we have done our best to make this music a valuable tool for relaxation and transformation for everyone.

In addition, different people respond to tones differently, partly because of individual differences, and partly due to training. Researchi has shown that an individual might hear one frequency and their brains will respond with a different frequency, while another individual will respond at the frequency they hear.

While this may be the result of individual differences, it may also be the result of the laboratory experimental protocols, where short periods of frequencies are not long enough for true entrainment. One study found that entrainment in their conditions didn’t happen until three and a half minutes into the sound. Many studies have used sound samples of three minutes or less, so we look at the experimental conditions when considering research.

There are some exceptional cases. Experienced meditators, when hearing theta (7Hz) tones, showed increased delta frequencies (around 2-3Hz), which are usually associated with sleep. Meditation training had sensitized their brains in a particular way.

One thing is certain: auditory beats, whether binaural, monaural, or isochronic, can have a powerful effect on brain activity and overall feelings of well-being. The balance of beats contained in this collection provides a musical/auditory beat palette for everyone.

Examples of binaural beats for music: Frequency Bands

Delta, the mode of sleep

This image shows areas of the brain that are most affected by the delta group of frequencies, known as the delta band (1Hz to 4Hz). In sleep, the thalamus and frontal lobe exhibit strong, slow delta waves. Listening to delta wave music can aid in calming anxiety or falling asleep as the brain waves of wakefulness entrain to the music, and slow down.

Just as the delta frequencies are associated with sleep, different frequencies are associated with different brain activities. The frequencies may differ between individuals, but they fall in identifiable groups known as “bands.” We’ve heard about the delta band. The bands are named for Greek letters in the order in which they were discovered (Alpha first). Each band is associated with a general category of brain activity.

Binaural beats are such a fascinating concept that some folks get excited and make extravagant claims about them, including ascending to higher planes and even astral travel. If this works for you, wonderful! We don’t make any such claims, because the reality in this planes is absolutely awesome on its own.

Let’s look at some concrete instances of using beats with music.

The bands:

Delta: .5Hz to 4Hz, the frequencies of deep sleep

Theta: 4Hz to 7.5Hz, the frequencies of relaxation, meditation, drowsiness

Alpha: 7.5Hz to 12Hz, alert without executive or analytic thinking

Beta: 12Hz to 38Hz, alert and focused, attentive, active analytical and executive thinking

Gamma: 38Hz to 90Hz, allows new thinking and creativity. Helps the brain recognize objects in complex situations, and remember their features.

If you are interested in the technical aspects of binaural beats, explore SongRest’s accompanying article on the technical challenges of creating the beats and tones and embedding them in the music.

SongRest is an independent non-profit research group founded in 2016 to study neurological principles applied to music for the purpose of relieving pain long-term. Contact the author at

New Binaural Beats Music Now Available

Quantum Theta Waves: Binaural Beats Music for Meditation, Deep Relaxation & Healing

Quantum Thera Waves - David & Steve Gordon

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High-Frequency Binaural Beats Increase Cognitive Flexibility: Evidence from Dual-Task Crosstalk
The Effect of Binaural Beats on Visuospatial Working Memory and Cortical Connectivity
(abstract in English)

All images courtesy of SongRest, used by permission

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