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Re: how much do you care about your music being in strict equal temperment keys?

When I was a grad assistant teaching aural skills classes at a major university, our curriculum was designed specifically to force the perfect-pitchers out of their comfort area. Everything was transposed: melodic and harmonic dictation exercises and sight-singing melodies. Despite my students' opinions on the matter, the purpose was not simply to torture them. It's purpose was to get them to develop so-called "relative pitch." In other words, rather than rely on their perfect pitch to discern pitches, we forced them to focus on the relationship between pitches which is far more important to the understanding of how a piece of music is constructed (talking Western Common Practice here) than the actual pitches involved.

As to perfect pitch vs. non-Western tuning systems, methinks it's a matter of exposure and/or practice. One of my professors had perfect pitch, but had also developed the ability to 'adjust' the pitch discernment to both modern tuning (A=440) and the Baroque tuning (A=415) that was en vogue at the time among early music ensembles. He was also an avid student of the Karnatic musical traditions of Southern India and the Gamelan music of Indonesia, so he figured out a way to adapt his ears to those tuning systems, too.

Hearing the Bach WTC in a historical tuning is a transcendent experience. The first prelude of Book I (the C major arpeggio study) goes from being rather plain in 12-tet to being a remarkable progression of tension and release. Having been conditioned for years on 12-tet and approximations thereof, the primal need of returning a composition to the tonic key after modulating away seemed merely a way to affect structural symmetry. That because, with 12-tet, all the keys are equally in tune (or out of tune, really), so there isn't necessarily any extra tension created by moving from, say, C major to G major. In the historical tuning, however, G major is considerably less stable than C major, so there is definitely a ramping-up of the tension when moving away from home and a definite release of the tension when finally arriving back at C major.

But again, this has nothing to do with actual frequencies used, but rather the relationships between the frequencies.


Jon Southwood

On 2/21/07, Chris Smart <chris_s@sympatico.ca> wrote:
Well, I'm going to be the exception here it sounds like, and say
that equal temperament is very important to me! The more I play
music (guitar) the more my perfect pitch gets annoying. For
I would actually be very interested in hearing, say, the Bach
well-tempered clavier pieces as they were intended, on a
well-tempered instrument.