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Microtonal music is music that uses notes "between the keys" of our standard twelve equally spaced notes to an octave. This wiki covers microtonal music in its broadest sense, the people, music and culture. You can read about the microtonal composers, theorists, instrument makers, microtonal traditions, compositions, and the history of microtonal music. The tunings are presented in that context. If microtonal music is new to you, see #What is Microtonal music. Some of the topics we cover here:

This project originated on Wikipedia. Many of the articles are in process of being copied over and they need to be vetted and often corrected. If you notice errors do help correct them! This wiki lets us do many things we can't do in Wikipedia and it also is much easier to work on the material in a small friendly wiki see #Background. For the Xenharmonic wiki, which is a little more technical and mathematically orientated, see #Xenharmonic wiki


Aka girls, Forest Peoples Music, a sweet Lullaby


Erv Wilson Explaining His Work in the Tuning Field to a child


Matama playing the Japanese Shakuhachi


Fanfare in 19-EDO
by Easley Blackwood


Seigneur Dieu ta pitié
by Guillaume Costeley in 19 equal temperament, hia only known composition.


Musica prisca caput Madrigal for 4 voices, by Nicola Vicentino on 24 tone harpsichord in meantone, originally for vocal ensemble and Archicembalo with 31 keys per octave.


The Harry Partch Instrumentarium - Harry Partch


Chorus of Shadows - Harry Partch


Tenth Decade in Concert: Live In Escondido (Raga Mala) - Ravi Shankar

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What is Microtonal music

Microtonal music is music that uses notes "between the keys" of our standard twelve equally spaced notes to an octave. Our system is actually something of a compromise, depending on what you want to achieve in a tuning ssytem. None of the musical intervals are harmonically pure. It approximates some pure musical intervals reasonably well, especially fourths and fifths. Major and minor thirds are approximated less well, and there are other intervals and chords that it doesn't get close to.

Our musical system in Europe goes back to the ancient greek tetrachord which divides the fourth rather than the octave. An octave consists of two tetrachords with a whole tone joining them. Early musicians in Western Europe used a Pythagorean twelve tone system which gives pure fourths and fifths, which were the only intervals they regarded as pure consonances. They treated major and minor thirds as dissonances, resolved to fourths or fifths, often by stepwise motion, a different style of composition from that used today. In Arabic music the earlier systems were developed in a different direction in the Arabic maqam. But here we'll focus on the Western Europe traditions, as that's what lead to the twelve equal system most are familiar with.

Later on, as composers and musicans began to use major and minor thirds as consonances, they developed the Quarter-comma meantone system which makes many of the major thirds pure. The fourths and fifths in this systerm are no longer entirely pure, but are acceptable. However that happens at the expense of one major third in three being very sharp (because if you stack three pure major thirds on top of each other they fall short of the octave by a Diesis of 128/125). Moreover it has one key signature with a very sharp fifth wolf intervals which was regarded at the time as unplayable.

When composers such as Johannne Sebastian Bach began to explore music that would rapidly visit remote keys, then it was no longer acceptable to have an unplayable key signature. So tuning theorists dveloped well temperaments such as the Werckmeister temperament. These however still favoured the white keys with the most consonant intervals, leading to systems in which different keys had different characteristics. Bach's "Well tempered clavier" was writtten for use with Well temperaments, and not for twelve equal tuned keyboards.

Later as composers made more and more use of remote keys, and listeners came to tolerate rougher sounding major and minor thirds, they used temperaments that more closely approximated twelve equal. However, even as recently as Chopin, the tuning system he used for his pianos did not have the intervals exactly equally spaced and it's only more recently that exact twelve equal tuning has become widespead. However, for practial reasons, twelve equal has been used for fretted instruments such as viols and guitars since the earliest times of twelve tone music in the West. Microtonal guitarists either play fretless, or they use many more frets to an octave, or additional half frets that let them explore these extra notes between the notes of the twelve tone system.

The twelve tone system was developed gradually over many centuries, based on a seven note system inherited from the Romans. For instance, early organs had only the seven white keys, and they added one black key at a time until eventually they reached the twelve we have today. But then in the sixteenth century composers and instrument builders like Nicola Vicentino began to add yet more keys, building instruments like the Archicembalo to explore systems of 19, 31, and more notes to an octave which distinguish in pitch between, for instance, F# and Gb. For a brief history see How did Western music settle on a 12 note scale, and Why twelve notes as one attractive arrangement. For the early explorations of systems of more than 12 notes per octave see Early developments of keyboards with more than 12 notes per octave.

Other musical cultures never developed twelve note systems, until they contacted Western music. For instance, Arabic and Turkish music uses a flexible system of pitches based on tetrachords, also inherited from the Romans. In Gamelan music each Gamelan has its own unique tuning not based on Western harmonies at all, and in Indian ragas they work with the pitches found in pure harmonics, over a drone, Thai classical music uses severn roughly equal pitches to an octave, and there are many other world music traditions.

In modern Western music the composer Harry Partch was one of the pioneers. He built many musical instruments to explore interrelations of pitches such as the Quadrangularis Reversum shown to the right, to explore a system of pitches with large numbers of pure consonant harmonies known as the Tonality diamond. More recently, Erv Wilson whose ideas are used by many composers today developed pitch systems based on three dimensional and higher geometries such as the Hexany, which achieves eight pure musical triads in a six note system based on the octahedron, and other ideas used by modern microtonal composers, such as Moments of symmetry, the Scale tree and Golden horograms. Other theorists have designed tuning systems that maximize the numbers of near consonances, such as George Secor's Miracle temperament. It's been easier to explore these with modern microtonal synthesizers, an early example is the Motorola Scalatron. Then with the developing capabilities of modern computers, many now use Microtonal software for composition.

Background

Most of the articles originated in Wikipedia and we are in the process of vetting them. There may well be errors, so do be patient and if you notice anything be sure to say or indeed join in with fixing them. It originated in a project to improve the Wikipedia coverage of microtonal music, but it didn't come to anything and we are now doing it here which also gives more flexibility such as the ability to embed videos, to set our own criteria for what count as reliable sources, see #Vision and scope and #Criteria for sources.

It also means we can use any license we like - most articles are CC by SA like Wikipedia, meaning anyone can work on them and they can be reproduced and used anywhere, including commercially - but experts can contribute editorial type articles with the "no derivatives" license, so that others can only work on them with their approval. They can also require that their work is not used commercially without their permission. For the background see: #Origins of this wiki.

Origins of this wiki

This originated as a project proposal on Wikipedia: Wikipedia project proposal: Microntoal Music, Tuning, Temperaments and Scales. However it proved hard to get sufficient interest there to get it started, and it is also tricky because of Wikipedia's rules on reliable sources and the need to prove to other editors that, e.g., Erv Wilson's works are reliable sources in microtonal music. Also Wikipedia doesn't permit knowledgeable editors to do original research for their contributions, or to contribute articles under other licenses such as non commercial, or no derivatives.

Finally, after that proposal had been there for getting on for a year with not much movement, I got indef blocked from Wikipedia for reasons unrelated to microtonal music, for my attempts to correct errors there in various topics, which lead to our new Astrobiology, Encyclopedia of Buddhism, and Doomsday Debunked wikis - this means that I can't edit Wikipedia any more. It also means that any others who have been topic banned or indef blocked from Wikipedia can edit here instead.

Vision and scope

The scope is microtonal music, instruments and tuning systems, and the people and cultures that use them. It's imported from Wikipedia where we tried to start up [a microtonal music project but there wasn't a huge amount of interest there. 12 votes for the project[1] after running for many months. I've imported the project page into this wiki here: Microtonal:Wikipedia project proposal - Microtonal Music, Tuning, Temperaments and Scales.

This is a place where you can edit the pages in a spirit of mutual respect, and editors blocked from Wikipedia can edit it too (I'm currently blocked indefinitely, happens all too easily there[1]). This wiki can also embed music videos from YouTube as in the examples to the right. Let's make it one that is media rich so that readers can listen to examples of the various types of microtonal music, with videos embedded right in the page itself.

Criteria for sources

We can also set our own criteria for sources. For instance, anything by Erv Wilson counts as a highly credible source. Or anything by Paul Erlich, Gene Ward Smith or Margo Schulter to name a few of our modern experts we all recognize for their scholarly approach and thoroughness of their work.

We also consider microtonalists as reliable sources for their own bios or for instruments they themselves constructed or were involved in developing. Similarly we regard microtonal composers as expert on their own compositions, microtonal theorists as experts on their own tuning theories, and those who work on microtonal notation systems are expert on their own notation system, programmers are expert on their own software, etc.

We can also use the xenharmonic wiki as a source too. Just use your own judgement - if you think it belongs in a modern encyclopedia of microtonal music, it is fine to cite it and use it. If anyone on Wikipedia wants to merge some of this material back to the articles there, then they can do it since it's shared under the same license. They just have to credit us with a note on the talk page and a link in the edit summary. But they should be aware that our criteria for sources may not always be accepted by other Wikipedia editors.

Small friendly wiki

You are welcome to join in and help edit it. We welcome those knowledgeable in topics covered by this wiki especially, and your expertise and knowledge will be respected here. The aim here is to have a small friendly wiki, where we work together, and know each other. We expect you to respect the work of others here too, especially when it comes to rewrites, to make sure other editors are on board and want you to do it. This works best if we all know each other. In a small wiki this is unlikely to be a major issue.

If you are expert then you can also contribute authored work, released under a license such as CC by NC ND which means nobody else can edit your page without your say so, and it can't be used commercially. Of course you can re-release it under any other license, See for instance,

If some decision has to be made, e.g. simple example, what skin to have as the default, we'll try for a consensus, but I'll make the final decision as the one who started the encyclopedia. I think especially for a small wiki that works better, and indeed, maybe Wikipedia woulid have worked out better if Jimmy Wales had retained a bit more control of the decision making process, I think it's better to have one person's vision, even if eccentric at times, than to meander about from one voted for RfC to another. Robertinventor (talk) 19:18, 21 September 2018 (UTC)

Guide for new editors

If you join in editing this wiki - do go to this page and introduce yourself: New editors. It's meant as a friendly place where we work together in mutual respect. So good to know who is here, also it acts like a kind of "contributors" page for the wiki.

If new to editing Wikis - see my short Newbie editors - getting started. If you get problems registering an account, e.g. with the Captcha, let em know, post to my talk page here or email to support@robertinventor.com, and any other questions do get in touch. Thanks! Robertinventor (talk) 02:52, 11 September 2018 (UTC)

You can choose your own license for your article

The main articles, e.g. about a particular instrument, tuning system or whatever need to be released under a license that lets everyone in the wiki edit them. The guideline is that we respect each other and normally shouldn't delete other people's work or substantially rewrite it, e.g. to different conclusions, without first getting agreement from them. As sysop I'm prepared to intervene if necessary to resolve such a situation, but it's rare for there to be issues of this sort in a small friendly wiki.

However we also permit articles that present a particular approach or thesis, or viewpoint. For those, authors may be happy releasing their work for others to copy elsewhere non commercially so long as they are attributed - but don't want their work to be rewritten by others who may introduce errors or present different conclusions. The "no derivatives" license lets you create pages here that only you can edit in substantial ways. If you use this license, others can edit them only with your permission.

For examples see Margo Schulter's Why twelve notes as one attractive arrangement and my Early developments of keyboards with more than 12 notes per octave. Do feel free to do minor edits such as fixing formatting issues, and typos. For anything substantial do comment on the talk page and most likely it will be accepted, especially if correcting an error or addressing an omission - but it's up to the author of the article whether to accept your suggestion.

Microtonalist bios - fine to edit your bio - or add yourself

You can browse the bios here:

Select [►] to view subcategories - many pages currently rather eccentrically categorized!

Are you a microtonal composer, musician, instrument maker, software developer, or microtonal theorist etc? Do feel free to edit your bio as you wish, and add in a bio if not yet listed here. Unlike Wikipedia there are no problems at all about adding a bio about yourself - also about your music, instrument, compositions, software you've created, new musical theories you have developed etc etc. Just write in a reasonably encyclopedic tone.

There is no notability requirement. If you do a substantial amount of microtonal activity then that's all that's needed for a bio here. And if there is anything inaccurate in your bio - or just something you don't want shared on the web - just remove it or correct it. Please write in an encyclopedic style, see some of the other bios for an ideaa of hw to do it. Usually starts "... is a ...~"

Also, it's okay to describe your instruments, hardware, software, your albums, or whatever, and link to a musician's page. We are permitted to have links with commercial sites here, just that it's a condition of the free hosting here that the wiki shouldn't have commercial activities as its primary purpose. If it is a natural thing to do to link to a page about you or your music, software, instruments, albums, etc, that also has options to buy your products - that's absolutely fine, go ahead!

If you are a composer, be sure to tag your bio with the category Category:Microtonal composers. You can add YouTube videos as well as your compositions, etc, with either the tag <youtube>CODE</youtub> or {{#widget:YouTube|id=CODE}} or you can use the {{YouTube Videos}} template.

As for your user space, the difference is, pages in the main space turn up in the searches of the encyclopedia you do in the search box for the site, while pages in user space do not. So your user space is good for more informal or off topic things. That includes your user page and also sub pages User:YOURNAME/Sub page

If you have any issues creating your own user account here, let me know as I can create a user account for you. Robertinventor (talk) 21:28, 9 September 2018 (UTC)

Xenharmonic wiki

The Xenharmonic wiki has the tunings themselves as the main focus, and so is presented differently - often the articles are shorter, and have more mathematical details. It's the go-to resource on microtonal music theory and maths. But some of the pages are very technical.

You can find it here, and it also has links to many other resources on the web:

Another project that might interest you is Joseph Monzo's Tonalsoft Encyclopedia.

Other wikis

These wikis are also developed from Wikipedia pages originally:

See also, my science blog post here:

Mcrotonal music and tuning navigation