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Theory: Inventions that shape understanding

Theories are not discoveries but inventions of humans, usually meant to formally describe regularities in experience, which often bring forth new ways of experiencing. (The music-making itself ('practice'), if at odds with existing theories, may provoke the creation of new theories; it is thus important to recognize that theory and practice mutually and reciprocally influence each other.)

There is a great deal of theory around the creation and/or discovering of tunings, scales, and temperaments, but whether it is useful to bother learning any of them is a matter of personal decision. (It is always possible to load up a random tuning on your retunable instrument of choice and explore it through music, without bothering to understand the theoretical considerations that led to the construction and/or discovery of said tuning.) Below you will find a partial list of currently-established theories related to alternative intonations.

Reality tunnels into microtonality

  • Just Intonation: an infinite world of rational numbers and numerous models: the harmonic series, integer frequency ratios, tonality diamonds, eikosany, etc.
  • Equal tunings: each one a subtle monoculture of intervals. May be treated as temperaments, or not
  • In Western common practice music, the (somewhat forgotten) use of historical temperaments (meantones, well temperaments) with 12 or more unequal notes per octave
  • Musical traditions of indigenous, ancient, and/or non-Western cultures
  • Regular Temperaments (including Linear Temperaments): a centuries-old practice that has recently undergone a mathematical facelift, in which Just Intonation is selectively and regularly detuned in various ways, to better meet a variety of compositional desires
  • Moment of Symmetry, a means of iterating a single generative interval, modulo a period interval, to produce scales of two step-sizes. Brought to you by Erv Wilson
    • Graham complexity, a complexity measure which works well with MOS scales and rank two regular temperaments.
  • Empirical This is a form of hands-on, field research as opposed to a form of acoustical or scale engineering where tunings are specifically derived from listening and playing experiments carried out in the pitch continuum.
  • Tetrachordal Scales, which use divided fourths as building blocks for composition.
  • Isoharmonic chords/scales
  • Pretty Pictures that represent scales in one way or another
  • Notation(pretty pictures for a the purpose of writing music down)
  • the notion of a Scalesmith who builds scales, with various methods, perhaps for single occasions
    • Counter-intuitive, random, arbitrary scales
    • Numerology-based, computationally demanding scales
    • Scale stretching
    • Acoustically-based (resonant frequencies of performance space, for example)
  • (Corollaries, traces left by other reality tunnels, which by themselves are completely trivial and obvious)
  • Redundancy in a tuning system

External links