B-Flat Note and Alligators

By Anupum Pant

Logically thinking, why on earth would an alligator – an ancient reptile – respond to music playing on a Tuba. Well, they do. And why they do it, is not totally clear. Specifically, they respond to a note called the B flat note (musicians would know).

Some time during the 1940s when the Philharmonic-Symphony Society of New York was at the american museum of natural history, the note B flat was played. Eerily, a seemingly innocuous vibration in the air, created by a musical instrument disturbed Oscar – a resident alligator in the museum. It seemed that after hearing the note Oscar started moving a lot. Since there were a bunch of scientists there, they got interested. And devised an experiment to recreate this reaction in the alligator. Here’s what they found [Link to the paper]

Several years later, at Gator land in Kissimmee, Mickelsen played a deep B flat on a Tuba to a male alligator named Toxic. The decades old experiment was recreated. For the first few tries the gators proved to be a tough audience and then it worked. After a few tries, with the B flat note the Tuba maestro was able to make the gators bellow vigorously. Here’s a video of what happened.

That’s not all, there’s something very universal about this particular note. Interestingly, there’s a lot to the note B-flat than it meets the eye. Listen to a musical Robert Krulwich’s report which is discussed in the following NPR talk. Blackholes hum the B-flat and GI tracts can be resonated using the same magical frequency.

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