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Robert Johnson – how he may have tuned his guitar

Legend has it that Robert Johnson wandered down to the cross-roads one night, handed his guitar to the Devil – who tuned it for him and handed it back. And in this way, he went from a guitar player who his mentor, Son House described as “noising” to one of the most delicate, lyrical bluesmen recorded. When you hear Robert Johnson’s recordings from 1936/7, you can hear the fundamentals of jazz and rag-time; and old Scotty Moore’s guitar work in the 1950s on those first Elvis Sun Session recordings is essentially just an electrified Robert Johnson.

There’s two things with Robert Johnson’s guitar playing. One is that he plays pretty fast, and the other that it’s really difficult to play if you tune your guitar in the normal style (E, A, D, G, B, E). There’s another interesting thing though: the released tracks are generally a semi-tone sharp. If you visit the Wikipedia page which lists all his recording dates, you’ll see that in some cases there was a second “take” recorded. Now, his recorded songs were generally released as 78s by his record company, and what seems to have happened is that the versions that were released were all speeded up slightly, while the un-released takes where left alone. Here’s an analysis of the key of each of the songs as released in the wonderful “Centennial Collection” (which manages to get rid of all the hisses and pops – you see, computers can be useful for some things!). So, I’ve used this release as a reference, and simply noted down the released key of each recording (in parentheses) and in [square brackets] is what I reckon is the correct key:

Session: 1936, November 23rd:
Kind Hearted Woman (B) [Bb]
** 2nd take in (Bb)
Dust my Broom (E) [Eb]
Sweet Home Chicago (F#) [F]
Ramblin’ on my mind (F#) [F}
** in (F) 2nd take
When You Got A Good Friend (F#) [F]
Come On In My Kitchen (B) [Bb]
** in (Bb) 2nd take

What’s interesting about this session is that the second take is always a half step lower than the first. It’s possible that he just decided to down-tune on the second take of each song – but pretty unlikely! And there has been a rumor for years that his record company sped up the recordings for the release – whether by accident or to make the recordings more “exciting”. It seems clear to me based on the 2nd takes above, that the original recordings were a half-step lower. e.g. Kind Hearted Woman was released on 78 in the key of B, but the 2nd take on the Centennial Collection, which was not released on 78, is in Bb. Similarly, Ramblin’ On My Mind was released in F#, but the second take is in F.

As it happens, lots of people have attempted to slow Robert Johnson recordings down to the “corrected speed”. What I’ve done is create a YouTube playlist of all the Robert Johnson songs, but adjusted to what I think is the right key – per the tables above and below. Have a listen. One thing I think you’ll notice is that his voice just sounds more natural in these recordings, slowed down essentially just a semi-tone for the early sessions, and the final session recordings all left as-is.

So, if RJ is playing a low Eb, he’d have to be tuned down to Eb, even if he was in regular tuning. Now, anyone who plays guitar knows that the blues is a starting chord (the 1), a second chord (the 4th harmonic), and a turn-around chord (the 5th above, or the 4th below). So, with a regularly tuned guitar you can start on the A-string, then play a D-chord a 4th above, and then play the turn-around E-chord a 4th below – all using open strings. We guitarists try to keep it simple – using the open strings where possible. So, if Robert Johnson was playing in Eb concert tuning, then the easy open chords to play would be Ab (1), Db (IV) and Eb (V) – and while there’s quite a lot of Eb in his recordings – there’s only five songs in Ab. So I think this also suggests we may have been tuned to an Open-Eb chord. A lot of blues players in the Delta were tuned to open-D and open-E. I think Robert Johnson just tuned to Open-Eb like his mentor, Son House in this video of “Death Letter Blues”.

But there’s more: There’s an excellent documentary about Robert Johnson on Netflix called “Devil at the The Crossroads” (where would we be without these kinds of sensationalist titles for our media?!). The documentary is excellent because it includes first-hand accounts by people who knew him – including Son House who says, “yeah, he had a 7th string on his guitar”. A 7th string eh? Old Robert just tied another string on and voila, he’s a guitar genius? Well, you can’t just tie another string onto a six string guitar and turn the tuning peg and expect the two strings to go into tune. And if he had a 7th tuning peg on his guitar, you’d think other people would have commented on it – and when he lost his guitar in a fire, he wouldn’t have just been able to replace it – even if there was such a thing as a “luthier” in any of the towns RJ visited – who could have added a seventh notch to his nut, another string insert on his bridge, moved all the strings around a bit – and managed to conceal all this in the photo above! So, what I reckon is that Robert J tuned his guitar according to the harmonic series, in open tuning – but, here’s the thing: Instead of making the top string another Eb (the tonic), I think he tuned it to the 7th harmonic – i.e. a C# (a whole-tone below Eb), like this:

6th string (lowest): Eb (harmonic = 2)
5th string: Bb (harmonic = 3)
4th string: Eb (harmonic = 4)
3rd string: G (harmonic = 5)
2nd string: Bb (harmonic = 6)
1st string (highest): C# (harmonic = 7)

This is pure pythagorean tuning – meaning that he’s tuning each string according to the 2nd harmonic, 3rd harmonic, 4th harmonic, etc, as shown above. Similar to Keith Richards with his 5-string, open-G tuning (GDGBD – which, by the way is based on a 5-string banjo tuning, an instrument introduced into the delta by Africans). This Open-Eb tuning is the same sequence of harmonics, except it starts with an Eb, and because Robert Johnson has 6 strings instead of Keith’s five, the next harmonic in the series is the 7th harmonic.

So, I reckon our Robert’s “7th string” was just a string tuned to the 7th harmonic! If you play in open tuning, as I do, you do think of your strings as the tonic string, the 5th harmonic string, etc., and if you tune the top string to a harmonic 7th, you’re going to think of it as your “7th string”. When you tune your guitar like this, lo and behold, those tricky RJ suspended 7ths and octaves, and minor-3rd double-stopping become easy to do. Give it a try.

Did the devil teach Robert Johnson how to tune his guitar? To quote Bobby Johnson, “It must have been that old evil spirit, so deep down in the ground” – or perhaps he was just sensitive enough to feel the power of these keys resonating through the Earth, and intelligent enough to try a 7th harmonic for his 6th string – or his cousin gave him that tip when he was off re-learning guitar with him. I had wandered into this tuning several years ago based on the Pythagorean approach, and abandoned it after a few years for being too “weird” – but when I used it play along with RJ at the right speed, I realized that this was probably it. It’s certainly a more rational explanation for the “7th string” myth, and it does make it easier to sound like RJ. (Note: I know that Robert Lockwood Jr claimed he was taught to play guitar by RJ himself, and he seems to be in regular E tuning – but I’m sticking to my story. He was only a young boy when RJ was teaching him, after all.)

You’ll recall from my Home Page that Bb and F are the “magic” frequencies I found on a tone generator, which seem to resonate against some background sonic fabric of the Earth. What’s a beautiful thing is that, slowed down a semi-tone, these recordings are all now in comfortable keys for a guitar that is tuned to open Eb. Keys of Eb (open 6th string), F (2nd fret), G (4th fret), Ab (5th fret), Bb (7th fret and as a chord based on the 5th string) and C (9th fret). And we know he did use a capo, and the photo above shows it on the 2nd fret, so, if he’s tuned to Open-Eb, you’d expect to hear some songs with F chords (6th string, 2nd fret) and C chords (5th string, 2nd fret) – which we hear plenty of!

Here are the rest of Robert Johnson’s recordings, with the (key of the official recordings), [and my adjusted key in square brackets]. Again, the 2nd take is in one of the natural keys of the Eb harmonic series, and the rest are sped up, so a (B) was probably a [Bb]. What also interesting is that in the final session in June 1937, they are all in our keys – it seems that these final recordings were not sped up for release:

1936, November 23
Terraplane Blues (B) [Bb]
Phonograph Blues (B) [Bb}
** 2nd take in (Eb – an altogether different key/feel)
32-20 (Ab – perhaps not tampered with, or maybe in A)
They’re Red Hot (C) [B, but it’s OK because it’s rag-time and it hits the key chords]
Dead Shrimp Blues (B) [Bb]
Crossroads Blues (B) [Bb]
Walkin Blues (B) [Bb]
Last Fair Deal Gone Down (B) [Bb}
Preachin’ Blues (Up Jumped The Devil) (E) [Eb]
If I Had Possession Over Judgement Day (Bb) [perhaps not altered]

1936, November 27
SESSION IS SLIGHTLY MORE THAN A HALF STEP SHARP
Stones In My Passway (A) [Ab]
Steady Rollin’ Man (A) [Ab]
From four until late (C#) [C]

1937, June 20th
THIS FINAL SESSION, SEEMS RIGHT:
Hell Hound On My Trail (E) [May be sped up, Eb more likely]
Little Queen Of Spades (Bb)
**2nd take also in Bb
Malted Milk (Eb)
Drunken Hearted Man (Eb)
**2nd take also in Eb
Me And The Devil Blues (Bb)
** 2nd take also Bb
Stop Breakin’ Down Blues (Bb)
** 2nd take also Bb
Traveling Riverside Blues (Bb)
** 2nd take also Bb
Honeymoon Blues (Bb)
Love In Vain Blues (Ab)
** 2nd take also Ab
Milkcow’s Calf Blues (Bb)

So, there you have it, perhaps a couple of mysteries explained:
1. That Robert Johnson tuned his guitar to Eb.
2. That it was probably Open-Eb, not concert Eb
2. That his top (highest) string was tuned to the harmonic 7th of the Eb major chord – giving that haunting sound, and the facility for RJ to play delicate harmonies without flying about all over the fret-board. The simplest explanation is usually the right one.

Do have a listen to my hand-selected collection of “corrected speed” Robert Johnson recordings to hear the true nature of the man and his music – here on YouTube, and play along on guitar if you have one – and let me know what you think!

Using sound and wavelength to move rocks

Here’s a page from Scott Hill and Guy Lyon Playfair’s book, The Cycles of Heaven, (used without permission) which I bought in 1979 when I was 15. This account of Tibetan monks using the sound from drums and horns to move rocks up a sheer mountain face includes detailed measurements: the monks stand in a 90 degree arc at a distance of 63 meters from the stone to be moved, which is placed over a shallow cutting in the ground and is 250 meters from the cliff face behind.

On a whim this afternoon, I used this frequency calculator to figure out the frequency of the sound wavelength at 63 meters and 250 meters. It turns out, it’s 5.45 Hz for the 63 meter distance from monk to stone at 20 degrees centigrade and 5.26 Hz at 0 degrees centigrade; and 1.3728 Hz at 20 degrees centigrade for the 250 meters from stone to cliff – which if you multiply it by 2 a few times, turns out to be a sub-octave of 5.49 Hz (and 5.3 Hz at 0 degrees centigrade (freezing)). We don’t know at what time of the year this experiment was conducted, but Tibet is likely to be chilly!

So, the resonant wave between the monks and the stone to be moved is our 5.4 Hz magic “still-point” vibration for F which we documented on the home-page; and for the distance between the stone and the reflective cliff the frequency is also a sub-octave of this F.

The total wavelength from the monks to the reflective cliff behind is (63 meters plus 250 meters) = 313 meters. At 0 degrees centigrade, the wavelength is 1.0585 Hz (which if you octave it up (multiply by 2) a bunch of times = 270.97 Hz (our C-sharp is 270 Hz).

The relationship between C-sharp and F is a major 3rd. And from F at 5.4 Hz to C# is a major 3rd (x 5) of a major 3rd (A) (x 5) = 135 Hz x 2 = our C#.

So, there you have it folks: the secret to moving masonry with sound is to create a resonance around infrasonic vibrations of our F frequency, with a harmonic of an augmented 5th at the same time.

The theory of how this works put forward by Swedish aircraft designer Henry Kjellson, who recorded this event and drew the diagram, is that the sound creates a low pressure wave above the rock, and atmospheric pressure moves it up the cliff. The author recounts that he watched the monks move several pieces of stone in this way, although some broke on landing.

I don’t really get that surprised these days when I find that the F and B-flat frequencies which made themselves known to me, displaying remarkable properties that suggest they are fundamental to the fabric of the universe. But this seems like a bit of amazing lost knowledge which we may be able to explain and revive. How the Mayan temples and Egyptian pyramids were built might be related. Some of you may be thinking, “Jules, you’re just going too far – sound isn’t stronger than gravity”. But the notion of Tibetan monks levitating themselves and objects is almost a legend – something we’ve all heard of but which seems to have died out with the incursion of outside cultures. But we find one carefully documented and measured account, and find that the distances and the sound-waves are precisely the “magic” frequency for F which I’ve documented on the home-page as creating a resonant still point against the background resonance of our universe. So, it could just be another coincidence – but at some point the coincidences stack up to such a point that they become evidence.

Forty years on, I see that this book – actually the first non-fiction book I bought – seems to have been at the core of my interests all my life; and even the name (The Cycles of Heaven) is closely connected to the name of this website, the Harmonics of Nature – something I didn’t think about when I named it. In fact, I bought The Cycles Of Heaven with a book-token I had won at school. It was the only book in the store that “spoke” to me. The subconscious takes us on journeys we don’t realise we’re on, until we look back.

Music and the fabric of time

Well, I just came across this article where the author goes back to the ancient Hebrew divisions of time and overlays musical frequencies in keeping with these time divisions and – LP and behold – comes up with the exact same frequencies for the complete musical scale that I did, based on the phenomena of the “resonant still points” which I demonstrate on my homepage.

https://ethnographicsblog.wordpress.com/2019/04/19/a-horological-and-mathematical-defense-of-philosophical-pitch/

The Hebrew measure of time was the “helek” which equates to 3.333333 (recurring) seconds. Gives you more time to think, I suppose.

This measure of time was devised by dividing each of the 360 degrees by which the Earth turns every day into 72 parts to give a total of 25,920 helakim (plural of helek) per day.

First off, my frequency (and his) for C is 259.2. (By the way, each time you multiply a frequency by 10 you’re getting the Major Third of the original – so 25,920 also suggests a frequency for G# (C-D-E, E-F#-G#).

As the author points out, 25,920 also equates to the number of years in the Great Year – the time it takes for the world’s axial “wobble” to precess through 360 degrees, going through the twelve Ages – one for each of the Astrological signs. And it takes 72 years for the equinox to precess by one degree.

Two hours is 25,920/12 = 2160 helakim, and 2,160 years is the length of an Age. And this suggests a microcosm/macrocosm thing where we enjoy a tiny Age, or change of astrological sign, every two hours of the day.

And every day is, in effect, a mini Great Year as our position on the planet passes through all 12 astrological signs.

The Earth rotates 1 degree on its axis every 4 minutes (72 helakim x 3.333 seconds = 240 seconds = 4 minutes.)  (3.333 recurring is a favourite number of the Free Masons but perhaps their big secret is simply the Helek.  By the way, this video beautifully presents much of this.)

Every day, we turn 360 degrees, 4 minutes per degree = 1,440 minutes which is a number the author equates to F# as 1,440 Hz, which is an octave of 360 Hz – which is also the frequency I’ve found for F#.

Dividing the hour into seconds suggests B at 60 Hz.

He makes the root frequency for his scale 108 Hz because 360 degrees divided by 3.3333 seconds per helek = 108. 360 represents the full daily and annual rotation of the planet on its axis and around the zodiac. Now, 108 Hz is a sub-octave of 216 and 432 Hz – so that’s the frequency for A. Same as mine. So he sort of encompasses a whole year into A as the root note.

He then derives the harmonic series from this A using the “5-Limit” harmonic approach (which is simply deriving 5ths (multiply the frequency by 3) and the major third (multiply by 5).

The author also considers beats per minute as a starting point – so that the rhythm of the music and the music itself are aligned with the fabric of time.

He works into this a division of time (in seconds or helakim) by whole numbers: 2, 3, 5, 7, 9.

So he divides the day into seconds (60 seconds times 60 minutes times 12 hours) = 86,400 seconds, (a number which relates to A=432 Hz). He also starts with a notion of C at one cycle per second where its octaves would be 2 Hz, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256 Hz, etc.

And with one helek = 3.333-seconds, a minute is 18 helakim – which relates to D at 9, 18, 36, 72, 144, 288 Hz

As he says, “Using 5 Limit Tuning with the root set to A (at 216) rather than C, the frequencies of notes C4 (256), G4 (384), E4 (320), D4 (288), and B4 (240) are reducible to, respectively: 1, 3, 5, 9, and 15“. Meaning that 1, 3, 5, 9 are sub-octaves of the given frequencies, e.g. 9 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 = 288 Hz = D.

If, as I believe, the phenomenon I can demonstrate on my tone generator is indeed the phenomenon of sound interacting with the fabric of the universe, then what more powerful evidence than to find that these frequencies all tie back to a natural way of measuring time – at least on our Earth. Do check it out: https://ethnographicsblog.wordpress.com/2019/04/19/a-horological-and-mathematical-defense-of-philosophical-pitch/

The Cygnus Key

So, I’ve been reading Andrew Collins’ fascinating book, the Cygnus Key – which gets into the common astro-alignment of Gobekli Tepe and the pyramids of Giza, and the acoustic qualities of both. The author talks about how the inner sanctuary as these “temples” (or shall we call them studios?!) was 20 cubits by 30 cubits.

The ancient measure of a cubit has been determined from the pyramid at Giza to be 21 inches.  So, a room that is 30 cubits long (using the Royal Cubit of 21 inches) is 52.5 ft.  And the frequency for a wavelength that is 52.5 ft long is 21.5 Hz (use this tool to calculate: http://www.1728.org/freqwavf.htm using an air temperature of 20 degrees centigrade) – and in my world of magical frequencies, an F is 21.6 Hz!!  That’s just 0.1 Hz off!  So, the inner sanctuary that the author mentions on page 262 would be actually tuned almost exactly to an octave of the magical F frequency of 10.8 Hz (10.8 Hz x 2) which I discovered as a “still node” of vibrational consonance and have documented on this web-site!

The other dimension of that inner sanctuary, at 20 cubits, at 21 inches per cubit is 35.0 feet.  And the frequency corresponding to a wavelength of 35.0 ft is 32.2 Hz.  And, the frequency for a C, as a harmonic 5th of my F frequency, is 32.4 Hz!  So, just 0.2 Hz off!
So, the inner sanctum of these ancient temples, using dimensions first identified in 9,600 BC were more than for creating a fifth/fourth resonance – it was designed to produce resonance specifically to the “magical” frequencies that I discovered for F and C.
That is an incredibly strong piece of corroborating evidence for both of our theories.
For the later sanctuaries, where the long dimension was extended to 90 cubits (page 277): at 21 inches per cubit is 157.5 feet.  And the frequency corresponding to a wavelength of 157.5 feet is 7.15 Hz.  And my frequency for the fundamental, magical tone of B-flat is 7.2 Hz !!  B-flat is the lowest note from which the fifth is F, and the fifth of F is C.
So, allowing for temperature, these rooms are designed specifically to generate B-flat, F and C – and not the modern, 440 Hz version of these notes, but the specific frequencies of these notes which I was able to discover of 7.2 Hz for B-flat, and 10.8 Hz for F, and their Octaves and harmonics, as I have documented on my web-site.
Clearly, the ancient Egyptians, and the ancient Anatolians before them, knew what these frequencies were and knew they were fundamental, sacred resonances at the foundation of creation!
Once again, this theory of sacred resonance has been re-inforced, this time by the ancient geometry of Gobekli Tepe and the ancient Egyptian temples that came after it!

A video of the sonic “still-points” phenomena that I discovered with a tone generator

Best listened to with headphones: The phenomena I discovered in which very low frequencies emit a waving, purring oscillation sound which comes to a halt at precisely 10.8 Hz, 7.2 Hz and 5.4 Hz. These frequencies correspond to a very low F, B-flat and low lower octave of F, respectively. And they are exactly a musical fifth interval apart (7.2 x 3/2 = 10.8).

I interpret the cause of this phenomena to be a sonic “interference pattern” between the generated tone and some background vibration which is essential to reality but which we don’t hear. Interestingly, NASA has provided recordings of black holes emitting a very low B-flat note and I have found evidence of these frequencies from a range of ancient bells and flutes and other phenomena which I have documented at http://www.HarmonicsOfNature.com

Interestingly, the harmonic scale generated from these frequencies produces A = 432 Hz, thought by many to be the correct reference pitch instead of the current “standard” of A = 440 Hz.

The implications to music are profound, indicating that music should rightfully be played in scales based on these frequencies for B-flat and F in order to align with the fabric of the universe. The healing potential for these frequencies and their harmonics needs to be further explored for health, happiness and spiritual alignment.

Interestingly, 72, 54 and 108 are all ancient sacred numbers – which I didn’t realize when I first found this phenomena.