A Beginner’s Guide to Tuning, Part 1

A Beginner’s Guide to Tuning
How to start experimenting with microtones today!

PART 1: Intervals as Ratios and the Ptolemaic Sequence

We all know about the twelve notes of the chromatic scale, but did you ever wonder why we use those particular notes and not others? Have you ever wanted to experiment with different notes but didn’t know how to do it? Or maybe you’ve played around a bit with altered tunings (some keyboard synthesizers, for instance, allow you to do this, though the reprogramming can be a bit laborious) but either lacked a theoretical basis for using it systematically or found it was hard to make music with it, perhaps because you couldn’t change scales and/or modulate to a different tonal center quickly and easily.

Tuning is a big topic, and the math can sometimes seem daunting, but the basics of tuning theory really aren’t that difficult. Moreover, tools now exist that let you experiment with tuning (and even use it in performance) much more easily than has been possible in the past. What’s more… and this should be particularly exciting for the cash-strapped musician or the frugal tinkerer… you can get these tools for free! Excited to try it out for yourself? I hope so, because a lot of very interesting musical effects are possible once you move beyond the twelve tones of equal temperament.

Recommended: a MIDI-equipped keyboard synthesizer or some other way of generating MIDI signals (an electronic wind instrument, for instance, or even Finale/Sibelius MIDI playback) (more…)