Tag Archives: Scale

Something I realized on scale temperament

When I started music almost thirty years ago, one of my music teachers told us that there was a difference between a flat and a sharp note. I didn’t really understand as on a trumpet, both would be the same! I forgot about it, until a few years ago, I was introduced ti the concept of temperament.

It started with he fact that the fifth in a scale has a mathematical relationship to the root note, and all other notes were built from there. At least for the 12 notes we have in the occidental world. Then, I read that at some point, this imperfect scale was replaced by another one, where all 12 notes were evenly split. Of course, that means that the fifth is not the fifth anymore…

Then, I watched a French video on it again, with the proper scientific explanation for different scales, and it got me thinking again. That was what my music teacher was talking about. If you build your scale with the harmonics, you end up with a difference between flats and sharps. But even more, I thought that a melody with flats was more melancholic than one with sharps. But this doesn’t make sense for an evenly tempered scale! They all feel the same way, no matter which scale you use. It’s only if you do like Bach and use an imperfect temperament that you can feel a difference.

So then a musical instrument like strings, or voices, can actually work in a pure temperament. For winds, you can work on adjusting notes on the fly, and also have kind of pure temperament. On a piano, you can’t, you need to tune it right (BTW, I still don’t know how piano tuners can tune pianos when you have to tune them “imperfectly”! Their job is just amazing), or it will feel different from with a symphonic orchestra that can use a pure temperament of any scale.

And this is something quite difficult to achieve with a digital instrument. We expect equal temperament. I wonder how Celemony handles these differences when they tune a voice track.

Anyway, maybe the pure scale is imperfect because the 13th note is not exactly the same of the original note, maybe the equal temperament makes everything similar, but they all bring something. We shouldn’t probably forget about these differences and use them in modern music as well.