How to use Gnaural (click here for a quick start guide)
Gnaural can play sound directly through your computer sound system, or create a sound file that you can burn to CD or put on your iPod/MP3 player. Either way, you will need earphones or earbuds to actually experience binaural beats, as the principle requires isolating the stimulus to each ear.
While there are many ways to explore binaural beats, the standard "relaxation" approach is to listen to the sound while lying down with eyes closed. The volume should be at a comfortable level, and the noise just barely audible beneath the tones. If your headphones are connected properly, you should immediately notice a gentle "wow-wow-wow" beat from the mixing of the tones in your head. These are binaural beats. Often when starting a session I'll quickly test my headphone connection by pulling one side off my head; the "wow-wow-wow" should disappear isntantly then reappear when put it back on. But if I still hear a "wow-wow-wow" sound with one side off, my headphones weren't plugged-in to my computer or MP3 player, mixing the stereo output to mono.
Once satisfied that all is functioning properly, you should simply relax and let the binaural beats take your mind on a ride. Within 8 minutes, you're brain should be fairly well in-sync with the binaural beats. It is my own observation that as my brain starts to synchronize with the beats, it actually becomes hard to hear them, as if my overall brain wave activity is cancelling them out. Which is one of the reasons I like to place spikes -- short, 12-second rise-and-falls in the schedule -- in my session schedules every 6 minutes or so. These help me keep my mental focus as my brain activity slows-down, by gently nudging me periodically, and thereby keeping me from drifting in to a sleep-like unconsciousness.
My sessions generally last about 17 to 25 minutes, although 8 minutes is probably enough to produce the desired effect. While you can design schedules any way you like, the default session ("schedule") built in to Gnaural is a "relaxation" schedule, and runs for around 74 minutes -- basically because that is the most that will fit on a standard CD-R disk. While I have only rarely had a session that long, in general, I've found it a whole lot more useful to have a session provide more duration than I need, because I can always just stop before it is done. But if a schedule ends too early, it can feel a bit like getting woken-up in the middle of an interesting dream.
Designing your own Schedules (click here for a quick start guide)
When Gnaural starts, by default it looks for a file named "schedule.gnaural" [ancient version of Gnaural called it "gnaural_schedule.txt", witha structure explained here]. In Windows, Gnaural looks for this file in the installation directory, usually
C:\Program Files\Gnaural. In Linux and Mac, Gnaural looks in the
~/.gnauraldirectory created when it is first-run. If Gnaural doesn't find that file, it creates a new one with a default meditation-oriented schedule. This file is in XML format, and can be edited with any plain-text editor. But editing XML by hand is complicated (you can find more information on their format here), but fortunately Gnaural has a built-in GUI editor (the graph at the lower-half of Gnaural's window) which makes it easy to edit schedule files without ever having to look at their contents. For instructions on the graphing editor, see here.
I am not an expert on the brain or on what frequencies induce specific mental states, so I can't offer any good advice on areas of the brainwave spectrum to explore. The generalities I've used to make my schedules include:
- The lowest end of the brainwave spectrum is called the "delta" range, with frequencies less than 4 Hz. This is usually considered a “sleep” range.
- The "theta" range (between 4 and 8 Hz) is often associated with deep states of meditation.
- The high end of brainwave activity is called the "beta" range, and extends from about 14 to 40 Hz.
- The “alpha” range (from 8 to 14 Hz) is often considered a area of “high focus”, possibly good for reading or for mental endurance while cramming for an exam.
You may want to experiment with mixing binaural beats with other sounds (waterfalls, rain, waves, etc.). Gnaural can play many types of sound files; simply add a new voice (Ctrl-j), choose "Audio File" for voice type, then the "Choose Audio File" button to tell Gnaural what to play. Once loaded, its volume and stereo parameters can be treated like any other voice.
Please use this technique responsibly. For instance, don't use it while driving or biking, etc. Reality "off-the-sofa" requires the full range of brain activity. Also, while I may not have heard of any bad reactions to the Binaural Beat technique, you might want to ask a clinician before using it if you have epilepsy, for example. I can personally attest to having never had any negative results over the many years I've used this technique, but I am by no means a medical expert.
"Presets" are already-made schedules that you can download and run in Gnaural. I've collected a number of them and amassed them at the Preset Site, divided in to two categories: presets intented for mental states ("Minscapes"), and presets that are strictly audio-compositions ("Soundscapes"). I am always looking for more good ones, so if you've been working on one that's working for you, please send it my way (gnaural [at] users.sourceforge.net), or post it in the forums, with a good description of its intended purpose and there's a good chance I'll put it up there. On the site you can see the number and the overall trend of downloads for each preset, which can be a good indicator for what other people are liking. Btw, if a schedule doesn't download as expected, but instead "open" as an XML page in your browser, don't worry, just just do a "File->Save Page As" and it is the same as downloading.
A main feature of Gnaural is it's visual interface to edit/create Schedule files without the tedium of hand-editing text files. The actual interface is the graph on the lower half of the application; by clicking in this area, you can add, delete, move, and edit data points. The approach is mouse based:
- Left button: selects, moves, and creates (by double-clicking) data points
- Right button: opens an editable dialog that can modify en masse any selected data points
- Middle button: deletes data points
- Double-clicking creates a new data point
- Click-and-dragging across data points selects them
- Add more to a selection by holding Shift and selecting more points. Likewise, subtract from a selection by holding Ctrl
- Selected points can be moved en masse by dragging any single selected point
- Use Shift with the Arrow keys to precisely move selected points
- The Delete key deletes data points, but not the durations associated with them.
Shift-Delete will also delete the durations
- Ctrl-C ("Copy"), Ctrl-X ("Cut"), and Shift-X ("Cut Durations") each can copy selected data points. Ctrl-V ("Paste") pastes them.
- Paste (Ctrl-V) pastes data points exactly to the original position in the graph they were copied from, but can be moved with keyboard arrows or mouse.
- Ctrl-Z will undo the previous operation; Ctrl-Y will redo
- Dragging data-points beyond the right-edge of the graph will extend the duration of the schedule
- Dragging data-points above the top edge with recalibrate the graph's scale to contain the point
- You can jump to a particular point in the schedule by clicking in the area just beneath the graph
Can I use audio files produced by Gnaural in my commerical projects?Users are free to use and distribute files produced by Gnaural for any personal, commercial, or educational purposes.
How can I put a data point higher that the 12 hz at the top of the graph [visual editor]?The quick way: Using the visual editor ("the graph"), click-and-drag any point you see higher than the top of the graph and then let go -- the graph will recalibrate to some arbitrary value value higher than the default 12 you see.
The precise way: select a data point the "right-click" with the mouse to bring up a dialog box in which you can set exact values for all data point properties. In this case, you'd be setting the "Starting Frequency" entry. The graph will automatically recalibrate to contain this new point if necessary.
How do I create a data point?Double-click the left button on your mouse.
How can I delete a data point?You can either cick the middle button (the "Scroll Wheel" on most mice) over the data point, or select that data point with the mouse then hit the "Delete" key. Holding "Shift" at the same time also deletes the duration assocated with the data point.
How can I delete all the data points at once?With the mouse cursor inside the graph, press "Ctrl-a" to select all data points, then "Delete" to remove them, or "Shift" and "Delete" at the same time to also delete all the durations of all the data points. NOTE: you can't actually delete ALL the data points; Gnaural's logic requires that there at least be one, and if you try to delete all, Gnaural will leave the first one intact.
I can't open the dialog box for the last data point on the right of the graph. Why?Because it is really the first data point, due to the "wrap-around" loop-able approach used by Gnaural. (if you don't believe it, notice that moving the last data point up or down moves the first data point too). So just edit the dialog for the first point.
I want to make a new schedule, and I want it to be 25 minutes long. How can I do it?Go to the menu "Graph" and select "Clear." Click (left-click, that is) anywhere in the middle of the graph to produce a new data point. Right-click on the new point, and in the dialog that pops-up, set "Event Duration" to 0 (that's zero). Then right-click on the first data point (the point furthest to the left) and set the entry "Event Duration" to 1500 seconds (that's 25 minutes).
I want to truncate my 75 min. schedule to be exactly 20 min. How do i do it?Go to the menu entry "Tools->Truncate Schedule" and set the schedule end time to 1200.
What is the "Base Freq."?The Base Frequency is main pitch of the tone you will be hearing, as opposed to the speed of the "wow-wow-wow" pulsating you percieve as set by the Beat Frequency. To make an FM radio analogy, the Base Freq. is the "carrier" you'd dial your radio to, while the Beat Freq. would be the actual music/voice you hear in the broadcast.
In more technical terms, we modulate an audible Base Freq. because Beat Frequencies would be too low for our sense of hearing. Put another way, humans can't hear sounds below 20hz, while the Binaural Beats are very typically down around 4hz, so instead of just trying to pump an inaudible 4hz tone in to our earphones we modulate a very clearly audible Base Freq to produce an effective 4hz stimulus. You can pick whatever range you want for Beat Freq, but in general, it is probably most effective to use one between 110 hz and 300 hz. The default schedule in Gnaural actually varies the Base Freq constantly over its duration so that you never have one frequency playing in your ear for an extended time; this is to be gentle on your hearing, and also to contribute to the psychological sense of "descent" generally, as the varyiance goes from a higher Base Freq to lower over the schedule.
Even more: Humans, for all practical purposes, can't hear sounds below 20 hz. But it is not unusual in a Gnaural session to deliver beat frequencies less than 5 hz. The solution offered by the binaural beat approach is to deliver the "sub-audible" information via the difference between two "audible" tones. The base frequency you choose is basically arbitrary. But in practice, I've found that if the base frequency is too low, the range of the modulating beat frequencies will vary the percieved loudness of the base frequency too much (literally because the modulated base frequency on one side of your headphones will be driven either further in or out of our threshold of hearing range, thus making one side of your headphones sound louder than the other). And on the other side, I've read that if you set the base frequency too high (over 1khz), our auditory system simply can't process the beat frequency properly. I tend to use something between about 110 and 220 hz. I formerly used frequencies common to our musical scale (in the off-chance it might give me perfect pitch!), but now I have the opposite view: I like to use frequencies I am unlikely to hear alone in everyday contexts.
How can I mix music with binaural beats?See here or here
Why don't you add more "presets" [built-in schedules] in to Gnaural?Short answer: The default one built in to Gnaural is the only one that I've used and refined long enough to feel comfortable recommending as a reasonably valid example of implementation of the binaural beat principle. I probably won't build in any more default ones IN to Gnaural, but I very much would like to share presets created and tested by users. If the idea ever catches, I'll try to create a self-serve site for such a task; for now, people can post the text of any schedules they are finding useful in the Open Discussion Gnaural forum.
Long answer: I've been informed that other binaural beat generators provide more internal schedules, often with titles that target particular mental states. While I encourage people to explore those subjective ideas and share their own schedules, Gnaural itself was designed with a different philosophy. The underlying design focus behind Gnaural (and going all the way back to BrainWav, the first DOS version from the early 1990s) was to be more like a "laboratory grade" tool, in which a generic functionality is provided that doesn't incline or emphaize any hypotheses beyond the ground covered by the Oster paper of 1973. However, by no means was that design-focus meant as a limit. If anything, I hope it made it more flexible as a general tool for exploring all potential uses of the binaural beat phenomenon -- especially the idea that binaural beats can be used to influence mental states.
And as to why I felt a need to "stick within the literature" : it was not because of any particular dislike claims of others regarding binaural beats. Almost the opposite: it seems to me that a growing gap between application claims and scientific corroboration has made the subject of binaural beats almost "controversial" in the scientific community. Which in turn has disinclined scientific investigation in to implications of a neurological effect established in the literature over 30 years ago. From a scientific point of view, being able to control brainwave activity with a simple, non-invasive means would appear to have immense potential for application. Personally, I'd like to see the two sides -- serious scientific investigation and grass-roots empiricism -- benefitting from each other's strengths rather than working at-odds.