- Accordion tuning
- Alternate tunings mailing list, articles
- Alternate Tunings mailing list
- Ancient music:
- Arab tuning theory
- Arabic (Persian) scale
- Blackwood, Easley
- Bohlen-Pierce harmonic scale
- Buzurg scale (Arabic/Persian)
- Californian music
- Canright, David: A Tour Up The Harmonic Series
- Carnatic music
- Chalmers, John: microtonal music
- Comparison of regular tuning systems
- Cumulative temperaments compared
- Daniélou, Alain: scale
- Diatonic Genus
- Dudon, Jacques: golden meantone tuning
- Early music
- Enharmonic genus
- Equal temperament
- Euler, Leonhard: mathematics of music
- Fibonaci series
- Fokker, A. D.: 31-tone equal temperament
- Foote, Ed: the role of technology in tuning preference
- golden meantone
- Graph of the sound wave of a dominant seventh chord
- Greek music
- Huygens, Christiaan
- Indian classical music
- Johnson, Robert: blues vocals
- Just intonation
- Keenan, David C.: weighted harmonic errors in tuning
- Kornerup, Thorvald: golden meantone tuning
- Lucy, Charles E. H.: Lucy tuning
- Medieval Music & Arts Foundation
- Monzo, Joe
- Mills College FTP
- Mills College tuning FTP
- Neanderthal flute tuning debate
- Palm, Hans :accordion tuning
- Partch, Harry: just intonation, archive
- Persian (Arabic) scales
- Phi: Phi-based scales
- Pi: Lucy tuning
- Regular temperaments compared
- Rapoport, Paul: 31-tone tuning
- Sausage tuning page
- Schulter, Margo: medieval (Pythagorean) tuning, meantone analysis
- Sound wave of a dominant seventh chord
- Starrett, John: microtonal music
- Taylor, Christopher: A Reformed System of Musical Notation
- Tonal Centre: description of tonality
- Traditional music around the world
- Tubb, Benjamin: international scales
- Tuning Digest archives
- Tuning One archives
- Wilson, Erv: archive
- World traditional music
HOW TUNING CAN BE STUBBORN
An underlying and recurring problem in music is establishing compatibility between tuning systems used in ensemble performances.
In choral music, the purest chords are provided by just intonation, providing the simplest mathematical relationship between notes. Pitches must be adjusted note by note, to correspond to the lead voice. Such constant adjustment is commonplace for a singer. It is also possible on some instruments, by exact placement of a finger along an unfretted viol string or movement of a trombone slide.
However, the majority of musical instruments are difficult to retune, including woodwinds with permanent holes, guitars with glued frets, organs with solid pipes, and pianos with 88 taut and interrelated strings. The value of these instruments depends on their ability to modulate between keys without retuning. Therefore, their tuning reflects a compromise between purity and versatility. In Western music, compromise usually results in 12-tone equal temperament: adding together pentatonic (black key) and heptatonic (white key) scales, so that semi-tones and chromatic intervals are made to coincide.
Although 12-tone music can provide a reasonably accurate expression of music from Bach to Bacharach, it cannot capture the subtlety of music designed to fit divergent theoretical contexts: African neutral intervals, enharmonic scales of ancient Greece, augmented intervals of Hungary, 17-note Arabic tuning, 22-note Indian tuning, quarter-tone compositions of Charles Ives, African-American blue notes, and Indonesian 5-tone slendro and 7-tone pelog scales (to name a few). Moreover (to return to vocal music), 12TET instruments cannot even produce a true 4:5:6:7 barbershop seventh chord, an American tradition.
Many non-Western systems are also mutually incompatible. Composers who want to combine scales from various countries risk writing music that cannot be played anywhere, by anyone.
HOW TO VARY THE DIET OF MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS
So, what can be done? These are several options:
- Perform the music in tune, with a gamelan orchestra, sitar, or oud. People from different cultures will be able to play little of each other's music. Analysis will suffer because of the large number of variables imposed between the systems. Cross-cultural sharing will be limited.
- Retune instruments of one culture to play music from another. This is expensive and usually results in the instrument becoming useless in its original tuning and difficult to play in the new tuning. Therefore, it's unlikely to ever be more than a novelty.
- Play the music out-of-tune. Thus it sounds not only strange, but also unpleasant. Composers and fans are understandably offended to have their beloved music corrupted this way. It will not help people to understand foreign aesthetic values, only to debase them.
- Develop electronic instruments that can retune themselves at the push of a button. For the short-term at least, this will rob us of the rich timbre of acoustic instruments, especially woodwinds. It's also certain to limit portability, unless a method is devised to plug in an amplifier at a campfire.
- Put many notes on instruments, to anticipate every scale. Thus, instruments would become so huge and complicated as to be impractical to manufacture and play.
- Put movable pitch controls on instruments, to precise control by the performer. This would also complicate design, manufacture, preparation, and performance of instruments. It would be cheaper and easier to use several instruments.
- Tune instruments to approach various popular tuning systems equally well. There are many advocates of this practice. They differ on decisions of which notes to include. The fewer notes needed to do the job, the more efficient the tuning. (Commonly, this approach is known as microtonality, a somewhat misleading term. Tuning is unlikely to require a thousandfold division, let alone a million.)
Send suggestions or comments to Spud DuBoise at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Comparison of Temperaments
Golden meantone tuning
The Diatonic Genus
The Enharmonic Genus
The Music of Sasa Quixote
Freedom of the Electronic Press
Last revised: 31 January 2013
visitors since 31 August 1998