Thursday, July 18, 2013

Equal and Just Temperament -- They Have Nothing to Do with How Well You Behave

Written by Matt Lammers

We've all been there: you've practiced your quartet part well. You know the notes and can play them. You head into rehearsal confident that the opening chords will slot beautifully into place, but are greeted instead by beat frequencies, colleagues frowning at each other, and self-depricating, frustrated remarks like, "well, I guess this'll never be in tune". So you go home and sit in front of a tuner...and it gives you a nice little beep and green light, as if to say, "congrats! You're perfect!" Alas, you know you aren't. Rather than putting your temper to the test, let's put temperament to the test.

Simply put, temperament is the spacing between the pitches in a scale; it defines the sizes of intervals. Take the most notorious temperament issue for example: the third in a major or minor chord. Let's say the third of either chord is A (this means our major and minor keys are F-Major/FM and f#-minor/f#m). If you were to play an A in an FM chord at the pitch your tuner says is correct, you would find that your A sounds sharp (see video). If you were to play that same exact tuner-tuned A in am f#m chord, it would sound flat. In either case your A, which is supposedly in tune, sounds out of tune in reality. Don't blame your colleagues, blame physics. If you haven't encountered this issue before, watch our video that demonstrates the problem: