12 equal temperament

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12-tone equal temperament chromatic scale on C, one full octave ascending, notated only with sharps. Play ascending and descending

12 equal temperament (12-ET)[a] is the musical system that divides the octave into 12 parts, all of which are equally tempered (equally spaced) on a logarithmic scale, with a ratio equal to the 12th root of 2 (122 ≈ 1.05946). That resulting smallest interval, 112 the width of an octave, is called a semitone or half step.

Twelve-tone equal temperament is the most widespread system in music today. It has been the predominant tuning system of Western music, starting with classical music, since the 18th century, and Europe almost exclusively used approximations of it for millennia before that.[citation needed] It has also been used in other cultures.

In modern times, 12-ET is usually tuned relative to a standard pitch of 440 Hz, called A440, meaning one note, A, is tuned to 440 hertz and all other notes are defined as some multiple of semitones apart from it, either higher or lower in frequency. The standard pitch has not always been 440 Hz. It has varied and generally risen over the past few hundred years.[1]


The two figures frequently credited with the achievement of exact calculation of twelve-tone equal temperament are Zhu Zaiyu (also romanized as Chu-Tsaiyu. Chinese: 朱載堉) in 1584 and Simon Stevin in 1585. According to Fritz A. Kuttner, a critic of the theory,[2] it is known that "Chu-Tsaiyu presented a highly precise, simple and ingenious method for arithmetic calculation of equal temperament mono-chords in 1584" and that "Simon Stevin offered a mathematical definition of equal temperament plus a somewhat less precise computation of the corresponding numerical values in 1585 or later." The developments occurred independently.[3]

Kenneth Robinson attributes the invention of equal temperament to Zhu Zaiyu[4] and provides textual quotations as evidence.[5] Zhu Zaiyu is quoted as saying that, in a text dating from 1584, "I have founded a new system. I establish one foot as the number from which the others are to be extracted, and using proportions I extract them. Altogether one has to find the exact figures for the pitch-pipers in twelve operations."[5] Kuttner disagrees and remarks that his claim "cannot be considered correct without major qualifications."[2] Kuttner proposes that neither Zhu Zaiyu or Simon Stevin achieved equal temperament and that neither of the two should be treated as inventors.[3]


Early history[edit]

A complete set of bronze chime bells, among many musical instruments found in the tomb of the Marquis Yi of Zeng (early Warring States, c. 5th century BCE in the Chinese Bronze Age), covers five full 7-note octaves in the key of C Major, including 12 note semi-tones in the middle of the range.[6]

An approximation for equal temperament was described by He Chengtian [ru], a mathematician of the Southern and Northern Dynasties who lived from 370 to 447.[7] He came out with the earliest recorded approximate numerical sequence in relation to equal temperament in history: 900 849 802 758 715 677 638 601 570 536 509.5 479 450.[8]

Zhu Zaiyu[edit]

Prince Zhu Zaiyu constructed 12 string equal temperament tuning instrument, front and back view

Zhu Zaiyu (朱載堉), a prince of the Ming court, spent thirty years on research based on the equal temperament idea originally postulated by his father. He described his new pitch theory in his Fusion of Music and Calendar 律暦融通 published in 1580. This was followed by the publication of a detailed account of the new theory of the equal temperament with a precise numerical specification for 12-ET in his 5,000-page work Complete Compendium of Music and Pitch (Yuelü quan shu 樂律全書) in 1584.[9] An extended account is also given by Joseph Needham.[5] Zhu obtained his result mathematically by dividing the length of string and pipe successively by 122 ≈ 1.059463, and for pipe length by 242,[10] such that after twelve divisions (an octave) the length was divided by a factor of 2:

Similarly, after 84 divisions (7 octaves) the length was divided by a factor of 128:

Zhu Zaiyu has been credited as the first person to solve the equal temperament problem mathematically.[11] At least one researcher has proposed that Matteo Ricci, a Jesuit in China recorded this work in his personal journal[11][12] and may have transmitted the work back to Europe. (Standard resources on the topic make no mention of any such transfer.[13]) In 1620, Zhu's work was referenced by a European mathematician.[who?][12] Murray Barbour said, "The first known appearance in print of the correct figures for equal temperament was in China, where Prince Tsaiyü's brilliant solution remains an enigma."[14] The 19th-century German physicist Hermann von Helmholtz wrote in On the Sensations of Tone that a Chinese prince (see below) introduced a scale of seven notes, and that the division of the octave into twelve semitones was discovered in China.[15]

Zhu Zaiyu's equal temperament pitch pipes

Zhu Zaiyu illustrated his equal temperament theory by the construction of a set of 36 bamboo tuning pipes ranging in 3 octaves, with instructions of the type of bamboo, color of paint, and detailed specification on their length and inner and outer diameters. He also constructed a 12-string tuning instrument, with a set of tuning pitch pipes hidden inside its bottom cavity. In 1890, Victor-Charles Mahillon, curator of the Conservatoire museum in Brussels, duplicated a set of pitch pipes according to Zhu Zaiyu's specification. He said that the Chinese theory of tones knew more about the length of pitch pipes than its Western counterpart, and that the set of pipes duplicated according to the Zaiyu data proved the accuracy of this theory.


Simon Stevin's Van de Spiegheling der singconst c. 1605.

Early history[edit]

One of the earliest discussions of equal temperament occurs in the writing of Aristoxenus in the 4th century BC.[16]

Vincenzo Galilei (father of Galileo Galilei) was one of the first practical advocates of twelve-tone equal temperament. He composed a set of dance suites on each of the 12 notes of the chromatic scale in all the "transposition keys", and published also, in his 1584 "Fronimo", 24 + 1 ricercars.[17] He used the 18:17 ratio for fretting the lute (although some adjustment was necessary for pure octaves).[18]

Galilei's countryman and fellow lutenist Giacomo Gorzanis had written music based on equal temperament by 1567.[19] Gorzanis was not the only lutenist to explore all modes or keys: Francesco Spinacino wrote a "Recercare de tutti li Toni" (Ricercar in all the Tones) as early as 1507.[20] In the 17th century lutenist-composer John Wilson wrote a set of 30 preludes including 24 in all the major/minor keys.[21][22] Henricus Grammateus drew a close approximation to equal temperament in 1518. The first tuning rules in equal temperament were given by Giovani Maria Lanfranco in his "Scintille de musica".[23] Zarlino in his polemic with Galilei initially opposed equal temperament but eventually conceded to it in relation to the lute in his Sopplimenti musicali in 1588.

Simon Stevin[edit]

The first mention of equal temperament related to the twelfth root of two in the West appeared in Simon Stevin's manuscript Van De Spiegheling der singconst (c. 1605), published posthumously nearly three centuries later in 1884.[24] However, due to insufficient accuracy of his calculation, many of the chord length numbers he obtained were off by one or two units from the correct values.[13] As a result, the frequency ratios of Simon Stevin's chords has no unified ratio, but one ratio per tone, which is claimed by Gene Cho as incorrect.[25]

The following were Simon Stevin's chord length from Van de Spiegheling der singconst:[26]

Tone Chord 10000 from Simon Stevin Ratio Corrected chord
semitone 9438 1.0595465 9438.7
whole tone 8909 1.0593781
tone and a half 8404 1.0600904 8409
ditone 7936 1.0594758 7937
ditone and a half 7491 1.0594046 7491.5
tritone 7071 1.0593975 7071.1
tritone and a half 6674 1.0594845 6674.2
four-tone 6298 1.0597014 6299
four-tone and a half 5944 1.0595558 5946
five-tone 5611 1.0593477 5612.3
five-tone and a half 5296 1.0594788 5297.2
full tone 1.0592000

A generation later, French mathematician Marin Mersenne presented several equal tempered chord lengths obtained by Jean Beaugrand, Ismael Bouillaud, and Jean Galle.[27]

In 1630 Johann Faulhaber published a 100-cent monochord table, which contained several errors due to his use of logarithmic tables. He did not explain how he obtained his results.[28]

Baroque era[edit]

From 1450 to about 1800, plucked instrument players (lutenists and guitarists) generally favored equal temperament,[29] and the Brossard lute manuscript compiled in the last quarter of the 17th century contains a series of 18 preludes attributed to Bocquet written in all keys, including the last prelude, entitled Prélude sur tous les tons, which enharmonically modulates through all keys.[30][clarification needed] Angelo Michele Bartolotti published a series of passacaglias in all keys, with connecting enharmonically modulating passages. Among the 17th-century keyboard composers Girolamo Frescobaldi advocated equal temperament. Some theorists, such as Giuseppe Tartini, were opposed to the adoption of equal temperament; they felt that degrading the purity of each chord degraded the aesthetic appeal of music, although Andreas Werckmeister emphatically advocated equal temperament in his 1707 treatise published posthumously.[31]

Twelve-tone equal temperament took hold for a variety of reasons. It was a convenient fit for the existing keyboard design, and permitted total harmonic freedom with the burden of moderate impurity in every interval, particularly imperfect consonances. This allowed greater expression through enharmonic modulation, which became extremely important in the 18th century in music of such composers as Francesco Geminiani, Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach, and Johann Gottfried Müthel.[citation needed] Twelve-tone equal temperament did have some disadvantages, such as imperfect thirds, but as Europe switched to equal temperament, it changed the music that it wrote in order to accommodate the system and minimize dissonance.[b]

The progress of equal temperament from the mid-18th century on is described with detail in quite a few modern scholarly publications: It was already the temperament of choice during the Classical era (second half of the 18th century),[citation needed] and it became standard during the Early Romantic era (first decade of the 19th century),[citation needed] except for organs that switched to it more gradually, completing only in the second decade of the 19th century. (In England, some cathedral organists and choirmasters held out against it even after that date; Samuel Sebastian Wesley, for instance, opposed it all along. He died in 1876.)[citation needed]

A precise equal temperament is possible using the 17th century Sabbatini method of splitting the octave first into three tempered major thirds.[32] This was also proposed by several writers during the Classical era. Tuning without beat rates but employing several checks, achieving virtually modern accuracy, was already done in the first decades of the 19th century.[33] Using beat rates, first proposed in 1749, became common after their diffusion by Helmholtz and Ellis in the second half of the 19th century.[34] The ultimate precision was available with 2 decimal tables published by White in 1917.[35]

It is in the environment of equal temperament that the new styles of symmetrical tonality and polytonality, atonal music such as that written with the twelve tone technique or serialism, and jazz (at least its piano component) developed and flourished.

Comparison of historical approximations of the semitone[edit]

Year Name Ratio[36] Cents
400 He Chengtian 1.060070671 101.0
1580 Vincenzo Galilei 18:17 [1.058823529] 99.0
1581 Zhu Zaiyu 1.059463094 100.0
1585 Simon Stevin 1.059546514 100.1
1630 Marin Mersenne 1.059322034 99.8
1630 Johann Faulhaber 1.059490385 100.0

Mathematical properties[edit]

One octave of 12-ET on a monochord

In twelve-tone equal temperament, which divides the octave into 12 equal parts, the width of a semitone, i.e. the frequency ratio of the interval between two adjacent notes, is the twelfth root of two:

This interval is divided into 100 cents.

Calculating absolute frequencies[edit]

To find the frequency, Pn, of a note in 12-ET, the following definition may be used:

In this formula Pn refers to the pitch, or frequency (usually in hertz), you are trying to find. Pa refers to the frequency of a reference pitch. n and a refer to numbers assigned to the desired pitch and the reference pitch, respectively. These two numbers are from a list of consecutive integers assigned to consecutive semitones. For example, A4 (the reference pitch) is the 49th key from the left end of a piano (tuned to 440 Hz), and C4 (middle C), and F#4 are the 40th and 46th key respectively. These numbers can be used to find the frequency of C4 and F#4:

Just intervals[edit]

7-Limit just intervals approximated in 12-ET

The intervals of 12-ET closely approximate some intervals in just intonation.[37]

By limit[edit]

12 ET is very accurate in the 3 limit, but as one increases prime limits to 11, it gradually gets worse by about a sixth of a semitone each time. Its eleventh and thirteenth harmonics are extremely inaccurate. 12 ET's seventeenth and nineteenth harmonics are almost as accurate as its third harmonic, but by this point, the prime limit has gotten too high to sound consonant to most people.[citation needed]

3 limit[edit]

12 ET has a very good approximation of the perfect fifth ( 3 /2) and its inversion, the perfect fourth ( 4 /3), especially for the division of the octave into a relatively small number of tones. Specifically, a just perfect fifth is only one fifty-first of a semitone sharper than the equally-tempered approximation. Because the major tone ( 9 /8) is simply two perfect fifths minus an octave, and its inversion, the Pythagorean minor seventh ( 16 /9), is simply two perfect fourths combined, they, for the most part, retain the accuracy of their predecessors; the error is doubled, but it remains small – so small, in fact, that humans cannot perceive it. One can continue to use fractions with higher powers of three, the next two being  27 /16 and  32 /27, but as the terms of the fractions grow larger, they become less pleasing to the ear.[citation needed]

5 limit[edit]

12 ET's approximation of the fifth harmonic ( 5 /4) is approximately one-seventh of a semitone off. Because intervals that are less than a quarter of a scale step off still sound in tune, other five-limit intervals in 12 ET, such as  5 /3 and  8 /5, have similarly sized errors. The major triad, therefore, sounds in tune as its frequency ratio is approximately 4:5:6, further, merged with its first inversion, and two sub-octave tonics, it is 1:2:3:4:5:6, all six lowest natural harmonics of the bass tone.[citation needed]

7 limit[edit]

12 ET's approximation of the seventh harmonic ( 7 /4) is about one-third of a semitone off. Because the error is greater than a quarter of a semitone, seven-limit intervals in 12 ET tend to sound out of tune. In the tritone fractions  7 /5 and  10 /7, the errors of the fifth and seventh harmonics partially cancel each other out so that the just fractions are within a quarter of a semitone of their equally-tempered equivalents, but the tritone still sounds dissonant to most people.[citation needed]

11 and 13 limits[edit]

The eleventh harmonic ( 11 /8) is about 550 cents, meaning that it falls almost exactly halfway between the nearest two equally-tempered intervals in 12 ET and therefore is not approximated by either. In fact,  11 /8 is almost as far from any equally-tempered approximation as possible in 12 ET. The thirteenth harmonic ( 13 /8), at about two-fifths of a semitone sharper than a minor sixth, is almost as inaccurate. Although this means that the fraction  13 /11 (and also its inversion,  22 /13) is accurately approximated (specifically, by three semitones), since the errors of the eleventh and thirteenth harmonics mostly cancel out, most people who are not used to quarter tones are not used to the eleventh and thirteenth harmonics, so this fraction would not sound consonant to most people. Similarly, the error of the eleventh or thirteenth harmonic could be mostly canceled out by the error of the seventh harmonic, but for the same reason as before, most people would not find the resulting fractions consonant.[citation needed]

17 and 19 limits[edit]

The seventeenth harmonic ( 17 /16) is only about 5 cents sharper than one semitone in 12 ET. It can be combined with 12 ET's approximation of the third harmonic in order to yield  17 /12, which is, as the next Pell approximation after  7 /5, only about three cents away from the equally-tempered tritone (the square root of two), and  17 /9, which is only one cent away from 12 ET's major seventh. The nineteenth harmonic is only about 2.5 cents flatter than three of 12 ET's semitones, so it can likewise be combined with the third harmonic to yield  19 /12, which is about 4.5 cents flatter than an equally-tempered minor sixth, and  19 /18, which is about 6.5 cents flatter than a semitone. However, because 17 and 19 are rather large for consonant ratios and most people are unfamiliar with 17 limit and 19 limit intervals, 17 limit and 19 limit intervals are not useful for most purposes, so they can likely not be judged as playing a part in any consonances of 12 ET.[citation needed]


In the following table the sizes of various just intervals are compared against their equal-tempered counterparts, given as a ratio as well as cents. Differences of less than six cents cannot be noticed by most people, and intervals that are more than a quarter of a step; which in this case is 25 cents, off sound out of tune.[citation needed]

Number of steps Note going up from C Exact value in 12-ET Decimal value in 12-ET Equally-tempered audio Cents Just intonation interval name Just intonation interval fraction Justly-intoned audio Cents in just intonation Difference
0 C 2012 = 1 1 play 0 Unison 11 = 1 play 0 0
1 C or D 2112 = 122 1.05946... play 100 Septimal third tone 2827 = 1.03703... play 62.96 -37.04
Just chromatic semitone 2524 = 1.04166... Play 70.67 -29.33
Undecimal semitone 2221 = 1.04761... play 80.54 -19.46
Septimal chromatic semitone 2120 = 1.05 play 84.47 -15.53
Novendecimal chromatic semitone 2019 = 1.05263... play 88.80 -11.20
Pythagorean diatonic semitone 256243 = 1.05349... play 90.22 -9.78
Larger chromatic semitone 135128 = 1.05468... play 92.18 -7.82
Novendecimal diatonic semitone 1918 = 1.05555... play 93.60 -6.40
Septadecimal chromatic semitone 1817 = 1.05882... play 98.95 -1.05
Seventeenth harmonic 1716 = 1.0625... play 104.96 +4.96
Just diatonic semitone 1615 = 1.06666... play 111.73 +11.73
Pythagorean chromatic semitone 21872048 = 1.06787... play 113.69 +13.69
Septimal diatonic semitone 1514 = 1.07142... play 119.44 +19.44
Lesser tridecimal 2/3-tone 1413 = 1.07692... play 128.30 +28.30
Major diatonic semitone 2725 = 1.08 play 133.24 +33.24
2 D 2212 = 62 1.12246... play 200 Pythagorean diminished third 6553659049 = 1.10985... play 180.45 -19.55
Minor tone 109 = 1.11111... play 182.40 -17.60
Major tone 98 = 1.125 play 203.91 +3.91
Septimal whole tone 87 = 1.14285... play 231.17 +31.17
3 D or E 2312 = 42 1.18920... play 300 Septimal minor third 76 = 1.16666... play 266.87 -33.13
Tridecimal minor third 1311 = 1.18181... play 289.21 -10.79
Pythagorean minor third 3227 = 1.18518... play 294.13 -5.87
Nineteenth harmonic 1916 = 1.1875 play 297.51 -2.49
Just minor third 65 = 1.2 play 315.64 +15.64
Pythagorean augmented second 1968316384 = 1.20135... play 317.60 +17.60
4 E 2412 = 32 1.25992... play 400 Pythagorean diminished fourth 81926561 = 1.24859... play 384.36 -15.64
Just major third 54 = 1.25 play 386.31 -13.69
Pythagorean major third 8164 = 1.265625 play 407.82 +7.82
Undecimal major third 1411 = 1.27272... Play 417.51 +17.51
Septimal major third 97 = 1.28571... play 435.08 +35.08
5 F 2512 = 1232 1.33484... play 500 Just perfect fourth 43 = 1.33333... play 498.04 -1.96
Pythagorean augmented third 177147131072 = 1.35152... play 521.51 +21.51
6 F or G 2612 = 2 1.41421... play 600 Classic augmented fourth 2518 = 1.38888... play 568.72 -31.28
Huygens' tritone 75 = 1.4 play 582.51 -17.49
Pythagorean diminished fifth 1024729 = 1.40466... play 588.27 -11.73
Just augmented fourth 4532 = 1.40625 Play 590.22 -9.78
Just diminished fifth 6445 = 1.42222... play 609.78 +9.78
Pythagorean augmented fourth 729512 = 1.42382... play 611.73 +11.73
Euler's tritone 107 = 1.42857... Play 617.49 +17.49
Classic diminished fifth 3625 = 1.44 play 631.28 +31.28
7 G 2712 = 12128 1.49830... play 700 Pythagorean diminished sixth 262144177147 = 1.47981... play 678.49 -21.51
Just perfect fifth 32 = 1.5 play 701.96 +1.96
8 G or A 2812 = 34 1.58740... play 800 Septimal minor sixth 149 = 1.55555... play 764.92 -35.08
Undecimal minor sixth 117 = 1.57142... play 782.49 -17.51
Pythagorean minor sixth 12881 = 1.58024... play 792.18 -7.82
Just minor sixth 85 = 1.6 play 813.69 +13.69
Pythagorean augmented fifth 65614096 = 1.60180... play 815.64 +15.64
9 A 2912 = 48 1.68179... play 900 Pythagorean diminished seventh 3276819683 = 1.66478... play 882.40 -17.60
Just major sixth 53 = 1.66666... play 884.36 -15.64
Nineteenth subharmonic 3219 = 1.68421... play 902.49 +2.49
Pythagorean major sixth 2716 = 1.6875 play 905.87 +5.87
Septimal major sixth 127 = 1.71428... Play 933.13 +33.13
10 A or B 21012 = 632 1.78179... play 1000 Harmonic seventh 74 = 1.75 play 968.83 -31.17
Pythagorean minor seventh 169 = 1.77777... play 996.09 -3.91
Large minor seventh 95 = 1.8 play 1017.60 +17.60
Pythagorean augmented sixth 5904932768 = 1.80203... play 1019.55 +19.55
11 B 21112 = 122048 1.88774... play 1100 Tridecimal neutral seventh 137 = 1.85714... play 1071.70 -28.30
Pythagorean diminished octave 40962187 = 1.87288... play 1086.31 -13.69
Just major seventh 158 = 1.875 play 1088.27 -11.73
Seventeenth subharmonic 3217 = 1.88235... play 1095.04 -4.96
Pythagorean major seventh 243128 = 1.89843... play 1109.78 +9.78
Septimal major seventh 2714 = 1.92857... play 1137.04 +37.04
12 C 21212 = 2 2 play 1200 Octave 21 = 2 play 1200.00 0


12-ET tempers out several commas, meaning that there are several fractions close to  1 /1 that are treated as  1 /1 by 12-ET due to its mapping of different fractions to the same equally-tempered interval. For example, 729/512 ( 36/29) and  1024 /729 ( 210/36) are each mapped to the tritone, so they are treated as nominally the same interval; therefore, their quotient, 531441/ 524288  ( 312/219) is mapped to/treated as unison. This is the Pythagorean comma, and it is 12-ET's only 3-limit comma. However, as one increases the prime limit and includes more intervals, the number of commas increases. 12-ET's most important five-limit comma is 81/ 80  (34/ 24 × 51), which is known as the syntonic comma and is the factor between Pythagorean thirds and sixths and their just counterparts. 12-ET's other 5-limit commas include:

  • Schisma: 32805/ 32768  =  38 × 51/215 = (531441/ 524288 )1 × (81/ 80 )−1
  • Diaschisma: 2048/ 2025  = 211/ 34 × 52 = (531441/ 524288 )−1 × (81/ 80 )2
  • Lesser diesis: 128/ 125  =  27/53 = (531441/ 524288 )−1 × (81/ 80 )3
  • Greater diesis: 648/ 625  =  23 × 34/54=(531441/ 524288 )−1 × (81/ 80 )4

One of the 7-limit commas that 12-ET tempers out is the septimal kleisma, which is equal to 225/ 224 , or  32×52/25×71. 12-ET's other 7-limit commas include:

  • Septimal semicomma: 126/ 125  =  21 × 32 × 71/53 = (81/ 80 )1 × (225/ 224 )−1
  • Archytas' comma: 64/ 63  = 26/ 32 × 71 = (531441/ 524288 )−1 × (81/ 80 )2 × (225/ 224 )1
  • Septimal quarter tone: 36/ 35  =  22 × 32/51 ×v71 = (531441/ 524288 )−1 × (81/80)3 × (225/ 224 )1
  • Jubilisma: 50/ 49  =  21 × 52/72 = (531441/ 524288 )−1 × (81/ 80 )2 × (225/ 224 )2

Similar tuning systems[edit]

Historically, multiple tuning systems have been used that can be seen as slight variations of 12-TEDO, with twelve notes per octave but with some variation among interval sizes so that the notes are not quite equally-spaced. One example of this a three-limit scale where equally-tempered perfect fifths of 700 cents are replaced with justly-intoned perfect fifths of 701.955 cents. Because the two intervals differ by less than 2 cents, or 1600 of an octave, the two scales are very similar. In fact, the Chinese developed 3-limit just intonation at least a century before He Chengtian created the sequence of 12-TEDO.[38] Likewise, Pythagorean tuning, which was developed by ancient Greeks, was the predominant system in Europe until during the Renaissance, when Europeans realized that dissonant intervals such as 8164[39] could be made more consonant by tempering them to simpler ratios like 54, resulting in Europe developing a series of meantone temperaments that slightly modified the interval sizes but could still be viewed as an approximate of 12-TEDO. Due to meantone temperaments' tendency to concentrate error onto one enharmonic perfect fifth, making it very dissonant, European music theorists, such as Andreas Werckmeister, Johann Philipp Kirnberger, Francesco Antonio Vallotti, and Thomas Young, created various well temperaments with the goal of dividing up the commas in order to reduce the dissonance of the worst-affected intervals. Werckmeister and Kirnberger were each dissatisfied with his first temperament and therefore created multiple temperaments, the latter temperaments more closely approximating equal temperament than the former temperaments. Likewise, Europe as a whole gradually transitioned from meantone and well temperaments to 12-TEDO, the system that it still uses today.


While some types of music, such as serialism, use all twelve notes of 12-TEDO, most music only uses notes from a particular subset of 12-TEDO known as a scale. Many different types of scales exist.

The most popular type of scale in 12-TEDO is meantone. Meantone refers to any scale where all of its notes are consecutive on the circle of fifths. Meantone scales of different sizes exist, and some meantone scales used include five-note meantone, seven-note meantone, and nine-note meantone. Meantone is present in the design of Western instruments. For example, the keys of a piano and its predecessors are structured so that the white keys form a seven-note meantone scale and the black keys form a five-note meantone scale. Another example is that guitars and other string instruments with at least five strings are typically tuned so that their open strings form a five-note meantone scale.

Other scales used in 12-TEDO include the ascending melodic minor scale, the harmonic minor, the harmonic major, the diminished scale, and the in scale.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Also known as twelve-tone equal temperament (12-TET), 12-tone equal division of the octave (12-TEDO), 12 equal division of 2/1 (12-ED2), 12 equal division of the octave (12-EDO); informally abbreviated to twelve equal or referred to as equal temperament without qualification in Western countries.
  2. ^ It is probably not an accident that as tuning in European music became increasingly close to 12ET, the style of the music changed so that the defects of 12ET appeared less evident, though it should be borne in mind that in actual performance these are often reduced by the tuning adaptations of the performers.[citation needed]


  1. ^ von Helmholtz & Ellis 1885, pp. 493–511.
  2. ^ a b Kuttner 1975, p. 163.
  3. ^ a b Kuttner 1975, p. 200.
  4. ^ Robinson 1980, p. vii: Chu-Tsaiyu the first formulator of the mathematics of "equal temperament" anywhere in the world
  5. ^ a b c Needham, Ling & Robinson 1962, p. 221.
  6. ^ Kwang-chih Chang, Pingfang Xu & Liancheng Lu 2005, p. 140.
  7. ^ Goodman, Howard L.; Lien, Y. Edmund (April 2009). "A Third Century AD Chinese System of Di-Flute Temperament: Matching Ancient Pitch-Standards and Confronting Modal Practice". The Galpin Society Journal. Galpin Society. 62: 7. JSTOR 20753625.
  8. ^ Barbour 2004, pp. 55–56.
  9. ^ Hart 1998.
  10. ^ Needham & Ronan 1978, p. 385.
  11. ^ a b Cho 2010.
  12. ^ a b Lienhard 1997.
  13. ^ a b Christensen 2002, p. 205.
  14. ^ Barbour 2004, p. 7.
  15. ^ von Helmholtz & Ellis 1885, p. 258.
  16. ^ True 2018, pp. 61–74.
  17. ^ Galilei 1584, pp. 80–89.
  18. ^ Barbour 2004, p. 8.
  19. ^ de Gorzanis 1981.
  20. ^ "Spinacino 1507a: Thematic Index". Appalachian State University. Archived from the original on 2011-07-25. Retrieved 2012-06-14.
  21. ^ Wilson 1997.
  22. ^ Jorgens 1986.
  23. ^ "Scintille de musica", (Brescia, 1533), p. 132
  24. ^ Cohen 1987, pp. 471–488.
  25. ^ Cho 2003, p. 223.
  26. ^ Cho 2003, p. 222.
  27. ^ Christensen 2002, p. 207.
  28. ^ Christensen 2002, p. 78.
  29. ^ Lindley, Mark. Lutes, Viols, Temperaments. ISBN 978-0-521-28883-5
  30. ^ Vm7 6214
  31. ^ Andreas Werckmeister (1707), Musicalische Paradoxal-Discourse
  32. ^ Di Veroli 2009, pp. 140, 142 and 256.
  33. ^ Moody 2003.
  34. ^ von Helmholtz & Ellis 1885, p. 548.
  35. ^ White, William Braid (1946) [1917]. Piano Tuning and Allied Arts (5th enlarged ed.). Boston, Massachusetts: Tuners Supply Co. p. 68.
  36. ^ Barbour 2004, pp. 55–78.
  37. ^ Partch 1979, p. 134.
  38. ^ Needham, Ling & Robinson 1962, pp. 170–171.
  39. ^ Benward & Saker 2003, p. 56.


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External links[edit]