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Topic Options
#1800365 - 12/04/11 08:55 AM Just Intonation....
RoyR Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/30/08
Posts: 55
Loc: Alexandria, Virginia
I've heard of tuning to Just Intonation, but up until now, I've never tried it, although my two keyboards can do it.

I was wondering if many of you have experimented with this type of tuning? I realize you must play within the single key you tuned for, so there are limitations, perhaps more severe limitations for advanced players who fluidly move between keys.

So...what types of music have yielded the most pleasing results using Just Intonation for you? Do certain voices--and multiple layers of voices--work better than others, such as string ensemble or full orchestra? Can you suggest hints on it's proper use?

I posted this thread here on the Synth forum, since only electronic instruments can readily tune in this manner. Perhaps I'll post it on another PW forum as well.

FYI, in case this is relevant to my questions: I primarily play on a Roland Juno Gi, which can split/layer as many as four voices/tones in any four overlapping or separate ranges on the keyboard.

Now...off to try this out!


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#1800366 - 12/04/11 09:01 AM Re: Just Intonation.... [Re: RoyR]
Dave Horne Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/07/04
Posts: 5315
Loc: Vught, The Netherlands
The strange thing for me, I'll play in a different tuning just for the heck of if it and then when I switch back to equal temperament tuning I'm not 100 percent sure if I'm really ... back. smile

mp3\wav files

AvantGrand N3, CP5

#1800429 - 12/04/11 12:17 PM Re: Just Intonation.... [Re: RoyR]
maurus Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/21/11
Posts: 1067
Welcome to the world of alternative tunings!

I admit to love playing with these alternatives. I even invented my own tuning some time ago... Just tuning gives (in the selected base key) pure intervals in the tonic, subdominant, and dominant chords. Since pure intervals have no beats, these chords may sound very static and a little lifeless. But if you want to indulge in pure major and minor chords, go for it!

Due to the fundamental problem of tuning (the comma) intervals not belonging to the basic chords (such as the fifth between the second and the sixth tone of the diatonic scale) will sound rather out of tune in just tuning. This is where other tunings try to improve: mean tone temperament, or one of the well-tempered tunings of the 18th century (which are again different from the more recent equal temperament and also have a base key). Just try them out, and listen to thirds and fifths in particular to hear the differences.

And yes - Dave is absolutely right: After having adapted to one of these tunings, returning to equal temperament may sound rather odd. Main reason: The major thirds of equal temperament are much larger than the 'natural' intervals, while minor thirds are much smaller than their 'natural' counterparts.

PS. Apologies if my technical terms are not perfectly correct, I am not a native speaker of the English language.
Shigeru Kawai SK-2, etc.

#1800820 - 12/05/11 01:17 PM Re: Just Intonation.... [Re: RoyR]
arley Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/27/09
Posts: 47
Here is a mathematical analysis of the difference between just intonation and equal temperament:


And if you're really interested in this, Ross Duffin has written a spirited book on the subject, "How Equal Temperament Ruined Harmony (And Why You Should Care)":


I have a Peterson Virtual Strobe tuner for my guitar. Generally I use the default temperament, but when I tune the guitar in an open tuning (say, for doing slide work, or just playing a song in an open tuning) if I have the time I'll retune in just intonation. Steel guitar and pedal steel guitarists often use just intonation, I believe. Just intonation seems to be most useful for things that can be infinitely adjusted (unfretted stringed instruments, the human voice), but for fretted instruments and keyboards you pretty much have to choose some sort of a compromise temperament, and equal temperament is by far the most commonly used.

#1801014 - 12/05/11 06:13 PM Re: Just Intonation.... [Re: RoyR]
David Sprunger Offline
Full Member

Registered: 09/30/07
Posts: 162
Loc: Oregon, USA
To me, Just Intonation sounds out of tune. That a subject statement I know, but I'd go so far and say that I think it really is out of tune, considering that equal temperament has an equal distance ratio between the frequencies of all the notes.

That's totally my opinion, and I'm not basing my eternal salvation on it smile but I'm pretty convinced of it.

Some have said that "equal temperament" is a compromise between all the notes, but I think it's actually a natural arrangement of the scale.

In just tuning, the 4ths are "beatless", and that's why it's so easy for strings players to tune their instruments in 4ths. But I think it's artificial, and very sterile sounding. Not to mention it's totally whacked when you go chromatic. No wonder Bach so enthusiastically wrote the "well tempered clavier" in response to someone putting in an equal distance between all the notes.

David Sprunger - Learn to play piano by ear using the revolutionary technique of "Rhythmic Patterns". Piano Lessons Homepage here - includes library of piano lessons for beginners through advanced piano and keyboard players.

#1801039 - 12/05/11 07:27 PM Re: Just Intonation.... [Re: RoyR]
MacMacMac Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/24/09
Posts: 4395
Loc: North Carolina
Bach's "well-temperament" was not equal temperament.

Just intonation sounds quite IN tune, so long as it's been tempered for the key you're playing in. That's the trouble with it (and other temperaments): You get in trouble when moving to distant keys.

#1801195 - 12/06/11 03:31 AM Re: Just Intonation.... [Re: RoyR]
maurus Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/21/11
Posts: 1067
There is no perfect tuning for a piano-type instrument. All tunings are compromises (and so is equal temperament). Choose your tuning according to the music you are playing. It's great that our modern gadgets allow for this (and all modern DP's should). Bach is said to have been able to (re-)tune his instrument within 15 minutes or so. Clearly he was a fan of changing his tunings (or at least his base key) as well....
Shigeru Kawai SK-2, etc.

#1801287 - 12/06/11 10:11 AM Re: Just Intonation.... [Re: RoyR]
Vectistim Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/17/10
Posts: 317
Loc: Reading, UK
There were some entertaining attempts at keyboards that could deal with this with many more notes to the octave.

With 53 notes per octave.

#1801314 - 12/06/11 11:02 AM Re: Just Intonation.... [Re: David Sprunger]
dewster Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/07/09
Posts: 4675
Loc: Northern NJ
Originally Posted By: David Sprunger
To me, Just Intonation sounds out of tune. That a subject statement I know, but I'd go so far and say that I think it really is out of tune, considering that equal temperament has an equal distance ratio between the frequencies of all the notes.

The first time I heard Just Intonation was in an NPR piece on the subject. I was expecting some kind of magic to pour forth from the speakers, but instead the instrument (harpsichord IIRC) sounded somewhat out-of-tune, but in an intentional methodical way. I didn't care for it at all.

Originally Posted By: David Sprunger
Some have said that "equal temperament" is a compromise between all the notes, but I think it's actually a natural arrangement of the scale.

I haven't exhaustively studied it, but it seems pretty amazing that 12 note equal temperament more or less aligns the fundamentals with so many important harmonics. Like Ben Franklin's apocryphal beer, maybe it's a sign that god loves us? wink
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#1801605 - 12/06/11 06:43 PM Re: Just Intonation.... [Re: RoyR]
maurus Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/21/11
Posts: 1067
I don't know why the thread is so fixated on just vs. equal... Equal temperament is so so and quite usable, just is very special and for most purposes quite horrible. As usual, the truth, and the art, is in between smile

And a tip to all fans of equal temperament: Do not ever listen too extensively to some beautiful thirds in one of the well-tempered, unequal tunings.

Edited by maurus (12/06/11 06:45 PM)
Shigeru Kawai SK-2, etc.

#1801987 - 12/07/11 11:17 AM Re: Just Intonation.... [Re: RoyR]
bennevis Online   content
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/14/10
Posts: 7093
If you play simple music (like most pop) which stays in the same key, or at most modulates to the dominant/subdominant/relative minor, using an unequal temperament which has pefectly tuned 3rds or 5ths (usually Meantone) will sound great. Once you start straying away from related keys and lots of accidentals intrude, the music begins to sound abrasive - great if you want this effect (amd some Baroque composers deliberately make use of it) but not if you don't. Not for nothing is Bach's '48' also known as 'The Well-tempered Clavier', even if he probably didn't use equal temperament as we know it today.

Classical singers and string, woodwind and brass players often flit between equal and unequal temperaments depending on what they're playing, and they probably do so without consciously thinking about it. When a solo violinist is playing double-stopped notes in 3rds, 4ths or 5ths, he'll obviously tune them perfectly with each other, for instance. A piano playing the same notes will sound slightly out of tune.
"I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life."

#1802005 - 12/07/11 11:47 AM Re: Just Intonation.... [Re: RoyR]
maurus Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/21/11
Posts: 1067
Meantone fifths are much smaller than 'natural' fifths (in order to reduce the comma). Still, due to nice thirds the basic chords sound quite well.

The human voice is least bound to a given tuning. Thus a solo singer or an a capella choir can (and often will) slightly shift intonation along the way. Keeping close to 'just' intervals when modulating may sometimes lead to an (intentional) overall increase or decrease of intonation at the end of a piece....
Shigeru Kawai SK-2, etc.


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