The mathematics of tuning

Since we’re about to embark on a season of non-standard tunings, ranging from columns of septimal JI intervals (thanks to Mr. Randy Gibson) to 31-note ET (a speculative historical journey with everyone’s favorite musical murderer, Don Carlo Gesualdo da Venosa), I thought it might be interesting to have a quick review of the mathematics of tuning.

We’ve recently discussed JI and ET tunings, and they differ in mathematical foundations. Absurdly briefly put: JI is based on ratios; ET is based on logarithms.

I highly recommend Kyle Gann’s Just Intonation Explained for a basic background on ratio tunings, and to be able to hear exactly what all those numbers mean.

And though I hesitate to link to it for obvious reasons, Wikipedia actually has a very clear writeup on the math of equal temperament! I’ve linked you past the rambling and somewhat questionable narrative section straight to the goods, starting with the Chinese discovery of the logarithmic solution to equal temperament.

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