14 thoughts on “Microtonal Tuning, Just Intonation & Temperament

  1. I watched the 4 vids in this series. I think I’m pretty knowledgable about this stuff generally, but this covered some more theoretical stuff that was new to me.

    I like that he used the Vi Hart style of fast-draw diagrams, but the explanations went a bit fast for me and some of the math terms were unfamiliar to me, and weren’t explained very clearly, if at all.

    Still, it is an interesting topic.

  2. This is a very good series for getting a quickie overview of the facts and the sound characteristics. However, since quite a few good instruments will handle SCALA data, you can play in a variety of intonations with a couple of clicks. That throws it back to the player. The brass overtone series is pretty rich, but you have to play *into* it own its own terms. Such things have an effective range and can’t be stretched to hellenback like ROMpler food. If you play most popular songs in just intonation, it sounds like an alley cat apocalypse. Getting the sound is pretty simple. Getting the audience to understand the context is a bit less so. Finding places to use it well is an interesting challenge. 😀 I’m getting repetitious about it, but if you can hear a copy of Wendy Carlos’ “Beauty In The Beast,” you’ll either fully understand The Deal or never get it, period. Its a great work that makes you feel the changes in real Wendy-style.

  3. For pop song applications, it seems that Hermode tuning (which automatically tunes chords) is pretty much as far as anyone will take it for the time being. It isn’t perfect– and will get wonky with certain kinds of changes in tonality– not a bug, just a limitation on what it is trying to do.

    For experimental/forward-thinking kinds of creative music, using scala tuning maps (or similar) really does give one the ability to play in lots of different systems– though usually from a 12-tone keyboard.

    Nice that Z3ta+2, Pianoteq, and Rhino will load scala maps (and plenty of other VI’s).

  4. I find it incredibly frustrating how many softsynths fail to support microtuning and no DAW currently on the market will even support such basic requirements as more than 12 notes per octave. The hardware realm is even worse. The midi microtuning standard has been with us for more than 25 years, yet almost no hardware synth currently produced supports it.

    In a world that extolls the obvious virtues of understanding different cultures and world views, the current hegemony of Western equal temperament just stinks. I find it simply bizarre that you have Japanese hardware synth manufacturers that can’t even support the tuning system that was traditionally used in their own culture.

    I’ve lost hope that any of this will ever change because too few of us are asking music software and hardware vendors to support microtuning. Sure there are kludgy workarounds such as midi pitch bend messages or arguably more refined solutions offered by Expert Sleeper’s Silent Way for CV/Gate gear, but why does this have to be so incredibly hard to do?

    1. I suppose it is a case where manufactures REMOVE features that are not used by the majority of users.

      Kurzweil’s K series (and probably PC series, too) have always had two places to employ tuning maps– but with the tuning table (repeats at the octave) and at the keymap level (fully free tuning). My old Ensoniq EPS had a wonderful implementation of tuning maps– allowing even multiple octave maps.

      But I don’t know if the other biggies (Yamaha, Roland, Korg) have any kind of tuning map functionality these days.

      I’m curious if Native Instruments, as a rule, supports tuning maps.

  5. I was extremely impressed to find HMD in Logic, although not all instruments implement it, most notably the sampled piano, but agree with JC that’s adoption is frustratingly slow. I think part of the problem is simply awareness, many budding plug-in developers are probably not even aware of the topic, I’ve seen demo code that just uses 440*2^(note/12) for frequencies, so you can’t even change the fundamental A tuning from 440Hz (try it, I bet half your plug-ins fail), let alone micro-tuning!!

  6. the shbobo shnth is an excellent representation of just intonation tuning

    it is also an incredibly affordable handheld reprogrammable synth

    1. Cheers for mentioning Shbobo, I’d never heard of it. Listened to demos on Soundcloud and checked out a workshop video by the guy behind it on Monome.org.

      Sounds lovely, slightly blown away!

  7. I might also add that there’s also a bias within the microtuning community that all music is polyphonic (i.e., chord based), whereas for most of human history, it was monophonic (i.e., a melody alone or over a drone and/or drums). Some of the more interesting microtonal scales, for instance, don’t lend themselves at all to chords. Many so-called “ethnic” scales are in this category. Temperament is not really meaningful when chords are not involved.

    1. Moreover the classical music (disregarding it mainly stems from western music) notation also not contains tuning information. At least I have never heard of such. I guess the Maestros were aware of it, but it seems they have not thought this as a principal criteria for interpreting their music.

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