Microtonal music for beginners

Discussion in 'Music Theory, Lessons & Techniques' started by bostjan, Apr 19, 2018.

  1. bostjan

    bostjan MicroMetal Contributor

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    Yeah, I suppose the internet never forgets...unless you are tearing down a blackmachine, but that's another thread.

    Anyway...

    If, hypothetically, there were a guitar to be mass produced (WMI or similar) to be fretted in some alternative microtonal tuning, what do you think would work? 24-equal? Would/could there be anything else? More than half of the microtonal music of which I am aware is that way. Of the rest, it's a mixed bag of 17, 19, 22, 31, and 34 equal, and then some one-off artists doing weirder tunings.
     
  2. The Omega Cluster

    The Omega Cluster n00b

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    Metatonal's replaceable fretboard guitars and Tolgahan's moveable fret guitars are two amazing pieces of work. Both could allow for much cheaper microtonal experimentation, once the higher upfront cost is paid. Once you have your guitar, adding a new microtonal system would be pretty cheap (Metatonal) or even free (moveable frets)! I might get one of those, some day.
     
  3. Bobro

    Bobro SS.org Regular

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    The moveable tied-on frets of some kind of saz are the least expensive way to try pretty much any kind of tuning you would like. Personally I'm not a fan of too much "experimentation", I think it is much more productive to pick a tuning and stick to it for years, so that it becomes natural to you. i made a total commitment to the tuning I use- found alternative fingerings on the clarinet, so basically relearned the instrument, got a fretted electric guitar, and now going to retune my friend's accordian. Of course it is not some UFO kind of tuning like Bohlen Pierce or some kind of mathematical nuttiness like that, and it is historically precedented in Middle Eastern music (specifically medieval Persian), so it is really not such a bold and wild thing to do, and the "xenharmonic" intervals are instantly recognizable and singable to anyone familiar with Middle Eastern and Balkan music.

    As far as Ron Sword, mentioned in other posts, my experience with the guy is that he is a totally awesome guy who's got all his stuff squared away. He does have an unguarded kind of way of writing on the internet so I can see where conflicts might arise, but that doesn't bother me at all.
     
  4. bostjan

    bostjan MicroMetal Contributor

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    I've run into some confusion over the factoid that medieval Persia used 17-EDO or maybe some 17-tone unequal tuning (closer to 24-EDO), but 17-EDO has some good neutral intervals like 24-EDO anyway, so either way, it's the same basic idea.

    I think that you make an excellent point about honing in on a personal tuning. I did a lot of experimentation around ~2000 to 2003, before I hunkered down and got a real 19-EDO guitar. But now that I've been doing 19-EDO for 15 years, I wouldn't mind experimenting again and finding something else new to use as tuning #2. I really love the tonal palette available with 22-EDO, but it's more "weird" than 19-EDO for sure.
     
  5. Lemonbaby

    Lemonbaby SS.org Regular

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    You could string your guitar with 3x2 parallel strings of the same diameter and then tune to E, E+0.5, D, D+0'5, b, b+0'5. Only problem: which tuner support this?
     
  6. bostjan

    bostjan MicroMetal Contributor

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    By +0'5, do you mean fifty cents sharp? If so, any chromatic tuner with a needle or digital display that shows cents would suffice. If you are careful, you could technically use any chromatic tuner, and tune the in-between notes to wherever they spend roughly equal time on the two notes they are in between. For example, if I have a cheap red/green LED type chromatic tuner, and want to tune my string to a tone halfway between E and F, then I tune to E, then continue tuning sharp until the tuner can no longer tell if the note needs to be tuned down to E or up to F.
     
  7. IGC

    IGC Guitar farter arounder

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    Interesting about singers maybe not realising they are a little in between. In my early 20's (now 40) I was trying to learn a cover song by a world class very successful female singer. I swear the tuning was in E half sharp, E flat is concert position.. It made me question if this was intentional. I was telling this to the guys at the local guitar repair shop and they were like "your splitting frog hairs" This was my first experience with microtonality.
     
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  8. bostjan

    bostjan MicroMetal Contributor

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    A lot of recorded acts prior to the 1980's were not A=440 Hz. It's less common now, but it still happens .

    I think what Tom was talking about was the tendency for singers, particularly singing a capella, to sing intervals that are not in tune with the 12-EDO standard we use on guitar. People who play wind instruments need to be aware of their own instrument's pitch tendencies and correct for them using their embouchure, air direction, posture, etc. The pitch corrections are necessary, not because the instrument is junky, but because the column of air moving within the instrument obeys the laws of physics, and thus, has a natural tendency to play in just intonation and not in equal temperament.

    The whole discussion around just intonation (JI) and equal temperament (ET) in itself is an involved one, and there is a ton of confusion out in the wild about what's what. The ultra-TL;DR version of JI is that major thirds tend to go flat and minor thirds tend to go sharp. Many people think JI sounds better than ET, but, in the west, at least, it seems most prefer ET to JI, because we have grown accustomed to it, especially in the 21st century with tons of autotune on everything coming out of the studio.

    Aside from that, there are some vocalists who can sing very well in quarter tones. When I first set out to do a microtonal record, I found the vocals to be the most challenging part of the process, by far. Even when the instruments sound "normal," everything is still in a different intonation system than what you hear every day, so it took a lot of "deprogramming." The experience gave me a new level of respect for vocalists involved with microtonal projects.
     
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  9. IGC

    IGC Guitar farter arounder

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    Yeah I know what your saying bro! Like that's the thing, I think either this female vocalist couldn't actually sing in perfect pitch and her band had to compensate, or she and her band (consisting of two or three lead guitatists, two or three violinists, bass drums all singing backup etc...) were so tight and well tuned that they could actually pull being tuned to E half sharp off as a band, just to be cool like that? It blew my mind and I love/ find this "microtonality" ingenious! Mid - late 90's massive international success!
     
  10. Bobro

    Bobro SS.org Regular

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    In addition, back in the 1970's it was also popular to speed up the recording playback a touch, to make it faster, thinner and more cutting and "exciting" in sound. Similar kind of thing why A-440 has been climbing over the years, so that in Vienna for example the orchestras are at something like A-448 in recent years.
     
  11. IGC

    IGC Guitar farter arounder

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  12. bostjan

    bostjan MicroMetal Contributor

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    Bumping this thread because there has been a little discussion in some other threads that might give this thread another life (or maybe not)...

    I'm seeing a lot of new build designs going fretless or doing some extra frets or "fretlets" here and there. I'm really curious as to how most people are approaching these things.

    I'm still advocating for "19-EDO" as an "alternative temperament" that can offer some new things along with still allowing us to use our old compositional tricks, but now it's quite clear that I'm in the minority, as quartertone oriented 24-EDO (all of the quartertones) and 12/24-EDO (only some of the quartertones) takes over what limited interest there is in microtones.

    As a dabbler in 24-EDO and having a couple of published original compositions using 12/24-EDO, my own approach is really to just compose a "normal" song, then throw some quarter tones into it in places where I want to increase the musical tension a notch or to use the quarter steps as passing tones in a lick. I'm not really excited anymore (more like I lost interest back in 2012 or so, and just sort of use this more routinely now) about my own approach of how to use the extra notes of that scale.

    My approach with 19-EDO, to me, has more potential for creativity. Because the different notes are integrated into every chord and scale, I feel that, for me, it's easier to slip into a different mindset with composition. I can play a C chord, and it sounds just like a C chord, to me, even more in-tune, so there is still some grounding, but then I can go spell some nasty stuff like C7aug9 - Cmaj(add m3) and it sounds so funky and has so much tension resolving into another tense chord, so I feel like there is a dimension of extra, but it's added on top of the typical musical dimensions with which I'm already familiar.

    I'd assume people using even crazier tuning choices, like 26-EDO, have even more of a new world to explore, but, for me, not really having my music theory apply to anything anymore is quite frightening.
     
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  13. bostjan

    bostjan MicroMetal Contributor

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