How Equal Temperament Ruined Harmony (and Why You Should Care) by Ross Duffin
W. W. Norton, paperback
“Don’t even start thinking about this stuff,” said my friend, an excellent musician who does a lot of period performance work. “It’ll ruin your ability to enjoy most music that you hear – anything with piano.” The forbidden topic under discussion: the art and science of temperament and the tuning of the Western 12-note scale. While I can’t say that I’ve had quite the full-on crisis that she warned of, thinking seriously about this topic has led my ear and brain to some unexpected places, and it’s changed a lot about how I hear some music and what I want to do when I’m playing certain music. And the best place for most of us to start to come to grips with this topic is this slim volume by musicologist Ross Duffin. It’s an excellent and highly readable introduction to the (almost) lost history of how we ended up with the scales we have today – scales that we’ve all been conditioned to believe are “correct” but that in fact represent only one of many possible ways to tune the chords and notes that we hear.
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