Different Types of Musical Tuning Systems

Music has been an integral part of our lives since time immemorial. It has the power to bring us together in ways that few other things can. Its beauty lies in its ability to transcend boundaries, making it a universal language that we all can relate to. But the music we hear today is only made possible by a complex system of tuning, one that has been refined and perfected over centuries. There are a variety of tuning systems used in music today, each with their own distinct characteristics and advantages. From the ancient just intonation to the more modern equal temperament, each of these tuning systems has a unique impact on the way we experience and appreciate music. Understanding the different types of musical tuning systems can help us appreciate the music we hear more deeply and gain a deeper understanding of the art of music.

What is tuning?

The purpose of tuning is to align a musical instrument with the frequency of a specific note. This depth of understanding of the fundamentals of music is what separates professionals from amateurs. And to achieve this, you must first know the basics of how music is created. When you think about it, music is simply a series of vibrations that our ears can interpret as sound. The sound we hear can be broken down into two basic components, pitch and frequencies. Pitch is the sound’s fundamental frequency, and frequencies are the number of vibrations per second. These frequencies can be broken down into notes, which are combinations of different octaves.

Types of tuning systems

Just intonation is the most ancient and basic of musical tuning systems. It is based on a pure musical scale called a just scale, which uses only whole tones or intervals of whole-number notes. The frequency of a note is directly proportional to the frequency of the pure musical tone that is being played, or in other words, the frequency of the pure musical tone is the base of the just scale. The just scale is linear, meaning that if one note is 1, then the next note is 2 and so on. Because of this linearity, each note on the just scale has the same frequency.

Pythagorean tuning

Pythagorean tuning is a system that was designed to resolve some of the issues that arise in the just system. Pythagoras, the Greek mathematician who first developed the concept of a just scale, had observed that if a string is plucked, the sound waves create a steady pulse at the string’s resonant frequency. If another string is placed next to the first one so that it vibrates in sympathy with the first string, then the two strings will create new frequencies at some multiple of the original frequencies. The frequencies at resonance will be the new octave, 2x the original frequency or 4x the original frequency. This concept of multiple frequencies as the base of a tuning system was adopted by the early Indian music theory system Bharata Natya. It was further refined by the Greek mathematician Pythagoras, who theorized that the ratios of frequencies in different octaves could be used to create an ideal music scale. And with this concept, the earliest tuning system used in Western music was born, Pythagorean tuning.

Mean-tone temperament

Mean-tone temperament is another tuning system that has been adopted by a few classical musicians as a “second choice” tuning system. The basic premise of this temperament is that it creates a ratio of frequencies that closely resembles the 12-tone equal temperament tuning system. In order to create this temperament, a “mean” is taken between the frequencies of the tone A (or unison) and the tone E (or octave). This means that the temperament of this mean is “mean-tone”. In mean-tone temperament, the semitones are still grouped into natural ratios of whole-number notes, and they are still a good starting point for tuning. But it is the “mean” that is the deviation from the equal temperament tuning system, which makes the mean-tone temperament a “second choice” tuning system for many professional musicians.

Equal temperament

Equal temperament is the most common and easy-to-use of the tuning systems used in modern music. This system uses the exact ratio of frequencies for all the notes, no matter which octave they are in. It uses a specific series of pitches so that each note is tuned to an even frequency, and the series of pitches used is based on the Fibonacci sequence. This series of tones can create the same musical sounds using natural or artificial sound waves, and they can also be used to create musical instruments. Using an equal temperament tuning system, these tones can be represented by numbers. For example, if 2 is the base note and the series of tones goes: 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, etc, then the 12th note is 20Hz, or 840Hz.

The impact of tuning on music

The fact that we are able to experience music at all is a testament to the inventiveness of human beings. We are able to hear and interpret vibrations as sound, and we are able to create music in response to those vibrations. The most important part of this experience is that we can experience it together, with others around us. When we are in a concert hall or a studio, we will often hear the experts talk about the impact of tuning on music. This is a key topic in the field of music, and the experts will discuss the various tuning systems and their advantages and disadvantages. They will also discuss the ways in which different tuning systems impact the music we hear. Some of the most important of these topics include the way that tuning impacts harmony and the way it impacts melody.