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A very comprehensive discussion!

Since I commented last time on temperament I thought another tidbit on the subject might be of interest. When using tuning systems before equal temperament some notes were very out of tune when playing is certain keys. This was a big problem on instruments having fixed pitches like the harpsichord.

There were several approaches taken to get out of this difficulty. The most common was not to write music in the "bad" keys.

A second was to retune the instrument when changing keys, but this was slow and annoying.

The most creative approach was to squeeze in extra keys to handle the worst notes. I haven't been able to find a photo of an actual instrument, but this diagram from Wikipedia gives the idea:

The illustration shows what is called a short octave, which was used to save creating a few notes at the bottom of the scale which would never be played as the lowest note in a chord, but the use of the accidentals split in th a front and back half is the technique I'm referring to.

The most common notes to be split were D#/Eb and G#/Ab. These notes have the same pitch under modern tuning but where noticeably different under older systems like meantone.

There is still some discussion as to whether modern violinists and singers adjust the pitch as they perform so as to be closer to the natural harmonic series.

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by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Wed Apr 23rd, 2008 at 05:09:59 PM EST

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