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An Introduction to Brainwave Entrainment and Binaural, Monaural and Isochronic Beats

Binaural beats and other brainwave entrainment technologies are very popular among meditators, as well as people who want to experience altered states of consciousness or to maximise their creativity and mental functioning. But what exactly are binaural beats? How does brainwave entrainment work? Are binaural beats safe? This article gives an overview of what’s involved, and the other articles on this site will go into more details about the different aspects.

What is Brainwave Entrainment?

Brainwave entrainment involves exposing the brain to a periodically-occuring stimulus of a specific frequency, causing the frequency of your own brainwaves fall into sync with that of the stimulus (for this reason, brainwave entrainment is sometimes also known as brainwave synchronisation).

The stimuli used are most commonly auditory or visual in nature, or a combination of both. Examples include stroboscopic lights (visual) and binaural and monaural beats (auditory).

Brainwave synchronization is a naturally occurring phenomenon that has been used by cultures around the world for centuries, such as in the form of shamanic drumming. It became the subject of scientific interest during the 20th century, and today various sophisticated techniques are available for inducing and assessing the effects of brainwave entrainment.

What Are The Benefits of Brainwave Entrainment?

People make use of brainwave entrainment techniques for many reasons; different brainwave frequencies are associated with specific states of consciousness, and binaural beats and other entrainment methods provide a relatively fast and easy way to access these states. For example, by listening to a theta brainwave recording, people may be able to experience the kind of deep meditation associated with theta brainwaves that it would normally take years of practice to achieve.

Here is a summary of the mental states associated with different brain frequencies. Note that these definitions are not rigidly fixed, and there is some disagreement between authorities over where one state ends and the next begins:

Gamma brainwaves (> 30-40 Hz)

Gamma waves are linked with higher levels of mental activity, including perception, problem solving activity and fearful states. They are relatively poorly researched, and some scientists do not recognise the existence of gamma waves, instead including them as part of the beta state.

gamma brainwaves

Gamma Brainwaves | Image: Hugo Gamboa


Beta brainwaves (13 – 30/40 Hz)

Beta waves are associated with normal active consciousness, such as focused thinking, alertness and concentration on a task.

beta brainwaves

Beta Brainwaves | Image: Hugo Gamboa


Alpha brainwaves (7 – 13 Hz)

Alpha waves are produced during states of relaxation or light meditation, daydreaming and creative visualisation. They are associated with a sense of peace and calm.

alpha brainwaves

Alpha Brainwaves | Image: Hugo Gamboa


Theta brainwaves (4 – 7 Hz)

Theta waves are linked with dreams and deep meditative states, and are experienced at the boundary between sleep and waking. In the theta state you may experience altered states of consciousness and psychic phenomena, as well as enhanced intuition and insight.

theta brainwaves

Theta Brainwaves | Image: Hugo Gamboa


Delta brainwaves (< 4 Hz)

Delta waves are normally experienced during deep (dreamless) sleep, and are linked with the regeneration of the physical body, as well as with the unconscious mind.

delta brainwaves

Delta Brainwaves | Image: Hugo Gamboa


How Is Brainwave Entrainment Achieved?

As noted earlier, people often use visual and/or auditory tools to entrain their brainwaves to the desired frequencies. This site focuses on the auditory variety, which are the cheapest and most readily available, and also very easy to use. The three most commonly used types are binaural beats, monaural beats and isochronic tones.

Binaural beats

Binaural beat recordings require the use of headphones. Each ear receives a tone of a slightly different frequency, and the brain itself then generates a pulse (or beat) that repeats at a rate equal to the frequency difference between the pitches of the two tones. For example, if a binaural recording plays a 150 Hz tone in the right ear, and a 160 Hz tone in the left, the brain will produce a beat of 10 Hz, and will become entrained to this frequency. The binaural beat phenomenon was discovered by Prussian physicist Heinrich Dove in 1839.

binaural beats

Binaural Beats | Image: DPic


Monaural beats

With monaural beats, the two tones are both played into the same ear. As the sounds are combined before reaching the brain, headphones aren’t necessary (although they’re generally still recommended). Monaural beats can be more effective at entraining the brain than binaural beats, although they have their disadvantages too, and are less effective against background noise or producing entrainment at very low frequencies.

monaural beats

Monaural Beats | Image: DPic


Isochronic tones

Isochronic tones feature a single tone that is pulsed at intermittent intervals. As with monaural beats, headphones aren’t necessary, and isochronic tones are perhaps the most efficient of the three techniques for brainwave entrainment. They also only require the use of one ear, and as such can be used to target each hemisphere individually.

isochronic tones

Isochronic Tones | Image: DPic


Is Brainwave Entrainment Safe?

Commercially available entrainment recordings that have been professionally produced are generally safe for most people when used as directed, although as with anything there may a very small chance of adverse reactions occuring in a few people, and caution is advised if you suffer from physical or mental conditions such as seizures. Consult your doctor if you have any doubts. Binaural beats (etc.) should also not be used if you’re driving, operating heavy machinery or are in other situations requiring maximum alertness. As with any listening involving headphones, you should be sure to set the volume an appropriate level to avoid hearing damage.

Where Do I Get Binaural Beats etc.?

Recordings featuring binaural and monaural beats and isochronic tones are widely available online. Binaural recordings are the most popular and commonly available, although the other two categories are catching up as the technologies behind them become more widely understood and used. Many people make their own, and may give them away for free, or sell them for a fee. The quality of online recordings varies a lot, so it’s worth looking for good ones. I recommend checking out the Unexplainable Store’s meditation tracks, which are great quality, and are covered by an 8 week guarantee. Free samples are also available, so you can try before you buy.

You can also get software for making your own binaural and other recordings, which is great fun, although there’s a bit of a learning curve involved. Mind WorkStation and BrainWave Generator are among the most popular of these applications for designing your own recordings from scratch, or if you’re not yet confident about doing that, you could try an application like Neuro-Programmer 2, which offers a wide range of pre-sets for compiling customised hypnosis and meditation sessions. I use Neuro-Programmer 2 myself, and like it a lot.

Brainwave entrainment meditation

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