How to use Gnaural and Gnaural2

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 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 will do a quick test to be sure my headphones are working properly: I simply pull one side of the headphones off my head (Note: as of version 4, there is a Balance control you can use for this too). If the binaural beats instantly dissappear, I know my headphones were connected properly. But if I still hear a "wow-wow-wow" sound, it usually means my headphones weren't plugged-in completely in to my computer or MP3 player, giving me a useless monaural beat in both speakers.

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" [Note: older version called it "gnaural_schedule.txt",with a structure explained here]. In Windows, Gnaural looks for this file in the installation directory, usually C:\Program Files\Gnaural; in Linux, it looks in the ~/.gnauraldirectory created when first-run. If Gnaural doesn't find the 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 it is complicated, so normally should only need to do all necessary editing with Gnaural's built-in graphing editor (the graph at the lower-half of Gnaural's window) which makes it easy to edit this file without ever having to look at it. For instructions on the graphing editor, see here. [NOTE: For those who need to edit version 0.4 and later schedule files manually, you can find more information on their format 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 use to make my schedules:

My approach is to start with a beat frequency in the alpha range, around 12 hz, because I understand this is approximately the range where an active, wakeful brain will go when the eyes are closed and mind consciously relaxed. From there, I slowly let the beat frequency slide downward toward the low theta range. I've found 5 minutes to be enough time for me to get there, but it will probably take longer for people who haven't done it before. The whole idea is to gently encourage brainwave activity, through binaural-beat entrainment, to the range of frequency we want to explore. The binaural beat technique can't force this to happen; it can only facilitate. So with that in mind, the more slowly you can descend, the better. The one caveat to that, though, it that one can basically just "go to sleep" if not occasionally perked-up. For this reason, I include spikes in the schedule every 6 minutes or so, in which I raise the frequency to around 7 or 8 hz in around 6 seconds, and them back down again in 6 seconds. Where your "spikes" should be is really a matter of what feels right; I know the spikes are too close together when I am fully awake when they arrive. Contrarily, they are too far apart when I simply go to sleep and wake up an hour later. They are in the right place when they catch me just before the point where I am no longer conscious of my participation in the session. I have found that a lot of the "interesting stuff" happens in the stage right in between wakefulness and sleep, know as the hypnagogic (or alternately hypnopompic) state.

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.

Gnaural and its source-code are free, released under the GNU General Public License in the hope that others might care enough to contribute to furthering the implementation (to participate with ideas, constructive comments, and code, contact gnaural at 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.


I've had a lot of requests for what are termed "presets" -- that is, already-made schedules that serve some particular goal (like being very awake or deep in trance). Problem is, I don't think one can really know if a particular schedule does what it states without lots of people trying them and reporting back. I offer some experimental ones of my own design here (NOTE: those are for version 0.4 or higher of Gnaural only; for version 0.3 and earlier see here), to get the ball rolling, so to speak. Save them to your hard drive and open them in Gnaural. Feel free to email me your own experiments.

Using Gnaural's Graph Editor

As mentioned, Gnaural now has a 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:

Importantly, changes made to the graph can only be saved and/or sent to the binaural beat generator after selecting "Apply" from the "Graph" menu (keyboard shortcut: Ctrl-L).

Some random tips to get you started:


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: right-click on any data point to bring up the data point's dialog box, then set the exact Hz value of beat frequency you want (specifically in the 'Starting Frequency' entry in the box). The graph will immediately recalibrate to contain this new point if it is higher.

How can I delete a data point?
Click the middle button (the "Scroll Wheel" on most mice) over a data point to delete it.

How can I delete all the data points at once?
Go to the menu "Graph" and select "Clear."

When I change the graph, it doesn't affect my schedule. What's wrong?
Whenever you've made changes to the graph which you want to keep and/or run, select 'Apply' under the Graph menu. This makes whatever you see on the graph become what Gnaural will run. If you want to save those changes to your current gnaural_schedule.txt file, select "Save" under the File menu -- beware, this immediately saves to the whichever schedule file Gnaural had indicated in the Program Status window before you had hit "Apply."

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. To illustrate, if you move that last data point up or down, the first data point will moves right along with it. 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).

What is the base frequency for?
Short answer: To make a radio analogy, the base frequency can be thought of as the "carrier frequency" for the beat frequencies -- essentially, a means of delivering audio information that is in it's natural state outside our range of hearing. You can pick whatever you want, but in general, it is probably most effective to use something between 110 hz and 300 hz.

Long answer: 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.

Why don't you build more default 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, but I do hope that people will share their own schedules. For now (until the idea hopefully catches), 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.