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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    Double post
     
  14. ElRay

    ElRay Mostly Harmless

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    . This to me seems to be the most obvious first step. All you’re doing is eliminating the existing #/b enharmonicities. And creating B#/Cb and E#/Fb—Pretty even without going to 21-EDI, which moves a lot more familiar stuff away.

    Quarter-tone just seems to be more of the usual and only offers increased dissonance and no increased consonance
     
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  15. bostjan

    bostjan MicroMetal Contributor

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    That's pretty much the thing for me. In a high-gain situation, the slightly narrower fifths don't really seem noticeable, and the much more accurate thirds seem to be a big plus for me. Any jarring intervals through a lot of gain seem to either come through kind of thin-sounding, or just too scratchy to use in anything other than the jarring-screechy context.

    Having spent a few years now fiddling around with 24-EDO and 19-EDO on guitar, I'm still more excited about 19, but I'm equally excited now about 22-EDO, after Brendan Byrnes's pop/rock album that uses the tuning in some very surprisingly musical ways. Maybe I should just hit him up online and see if he's willing to chat with me about tuning in some sort of non-747-cockpit way.
     
  16. IGC

    IGC Guitar farter arounder

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    Halfing standard 12 EDO to get 24 EDO makes sence...quarter steps...but how mathematically do you get 19 EDO? Do you need to manipulate the standard constant ? Or are we only bisecting certain frets based off of the major scale intervals?
     
  17. Necris

    Necris Bonitis.

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    1200 (the number cents in an octave) divided by [number] = size of your smallest interval. I.E. 1200/19 = 63.157 cents; the smallest step in 19-EDO. 63.157 x 19 = 1200
    You don't need to divide by the octave - you can have equal divisions of any interval you care to, Equal divisions of the perfect fifth or minor 6th or whatever - but the octave is most common.
     
    Last edited: Aug 14, 2018
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  18. bostjan

    bostjan MicroMetal Contributor

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    19 doesn't translate to exactly the same notes as 12, but, from my perspective, 12 is a representation of the natural notes from "just intonation."

    So, the only note I have that is perfectly equivalent to any "standard" note is A (I use A4=440Hz, but all of my A's are the same as all standard A's). When I play a C, it's a little sharp of the standard C, and when I play C#, it's a little flat of standard C#...but...

    In just intonation, musical intervals are all rational. The ratio between the lengths of a string between a note and the intervals are as follows:

    The octave 2:1
    The fifth 3:2
    The fourth 4:3
    The major third 5:4
    The minor third 6:5

    ...and so on.

    So, if you play a guitar along with someone playing a naturally tuned instrument, like a bugle, the only note you have that is a perfect unison is going to be the reference note to which you both tuned, and every octave of that note.

    The problem with tuning a guitar this way is that there are no recursive patterns. If you go up a fifth twice, you have a ratio of 3x3:2x2 or 9:4. Three times, and you get 27:16, four times 81:32, five times 243:64, and all the way up to twelve times 531441:4096, where 7 octaves would be 524288:4096, so it's "off" by a fair amount. If you'll excuse a little mathematics, I'd say that since the octave is base two, and the fifth has a prime factor of three, you can never stack up any number of perfect fifths to equal any other number of octaves. In other words, 3^X is never equal to 2^Y if X and Y are both whole numbers. Same goes for major thirds and octaves, or major thirds and fifths. A keyboard or a fretted instrument has a limited number of notes that can be played, that is, you can't play a different note for G in the key of C as you do in the key of G or the key of Eb, so, instead, you let some notes be a little out of tune. Say that you make the fifth just a little flat. Hardly anyone will notice, and then you can make 12 fifths equal to 7 octaves exactly. That generates a keyboard or fretboard with 12 different notes, but you can play any interval starting from any note and it'll sound pretty much just as in-tune or out-of-tune as the same interval starting from any other note. You preserve the perfect octave, and the fifth isn't too terrible, but maybe the other notes are not as in-tune as you would want, but it's a compromise.

    So, instead of making the fifth a little flat and getting 12 fifths crammed into 7 octaves, you can shrink the fifth a tiny bit more to get 19 fifths into 11 octaves, and that just gives an alternate approach. The fifths sound a tiny bit worse (IMO it's not a big deal, since it's still a narrower detuning than most chorus pedals affect), but the thirds sound much better. Of course, no equal temperament is equivalent to just intonation all around, otherwise we would all be using that for guitar, but 12 works really well, and IMO, so does 19.

    I can play my 19 note guitar along with standard keyboards or bugles or whatever, and it sounds almost close enough to ignore the differences in some keys. In fact, most casual listeners do ignore the differences, just like they would ignore the pitch differences between a brass instrument and a keyboard or fretted instrument. But in other keys, we would run into some pretty sour intervals. That's why you don't want to write an arrangement for horns and guitar in a silly key like Ab major - it will sound "bad" when played with certain instrument combinations, whereas keys like C major and Bb major sound pretty good.

    But looking at things note-for-note, 19-EDO notes are just different from 12-EDO notes, so all of the fret positions are different, with the exceptions of the 12th and 24th frets of a standard guitar matching with the 19th and 38th frets of a 19-EDO guitar.
     
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  19. ElRay

    ElRay Mostly Harmless

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    Man, you’re dragging me down this rabbit hole again. :rofl:

    I started looking into historical non-EDO temperaments because I wanted to get the “color” of different keys that EDO/TET tempered away. But the required “wavey” frets were too impractical for anything other than standard tuning on standard sized necks. Then I looked at non-EDO temperaments (e.g. Lucy Tuning), but they were all trying to keeps both 3rds and 5ths (especially across octaves) sounds bring good.

    That all lead me to micro-tonal, so I could at least “fake” D-Major sounding different than C-Major, but I just didn’t have the time to get down into the weeds to find the right EDO and which notes to flatten/sharpen by a fret to simulate the pre-modern EDO/TET temperaments.
     
  20. bostjan

    bostjan MicroMetal Contributor

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    There are a lot of session players in pop and country who temper-tune their strings (a la Buzz Feiten) without the wavey frets. It doesn't yield the same effect as the wavey frets, but I think it gives the same sort of "feel." Instead of certain keys sounding characteristic, it goes by chord shapes, so, for example, you can tune so that your A and B strings are a few cents flat, and it alters the character of most of the common open chords to sound a little sweeter. If you play barre chords, though, you get everything sounding quite same-y, unless you play also more advanced shapes that look like the open C and G chords with index finger barres.

    Since non-octave ET's, like Lucy Tuning, work, mechanically, the same way as EDO tunings, I don't think you'll get distinct key colours to come out of those. As guitarists, we are stuck with either wavey frets, compensated nuts, or flattening a couple of open strings.
     
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