How Equal Temperament Ruined Harmony (and Why You Should Care)

"A fascinating and genuinely accessible guide....Educating, enjoyable, and delightfully unscary."—Classical Music

What if Bach and Mozart heard richer, more dramatic chords than we hear in music today? What sonorities and moods have we lost in playing music in "equal temperament"—the equal division of the octave into twelve notes that has become our standard tuning method? Thanks to How Equal Temperament Ruined Harmony, "we may soon be able to hear for ourselves what Beethoven really meant when he called B minor 'black'" (Wall Street Journal).In this "comprehensive plea for more variety in tuning methods" (Kirkus Reviews), Ross W. Duffin presents "a serious and well-argued case" (Goldberg Magazine) that "should make any contemporary musician think differently about tuning" (Saturday Guardian). 48 illustrations

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By Danielle (Daegu, Gyeongsangbuk-do, Korea, Republic of) · ★☆☆☆☆ · March 31, 2011
First, I read this book on Kindle. The Kindle version (which has apparently been taken off the "shelves") is disastrous. None of the figures are there (although I didn't miss any of them. They seemed useless anyway). Footnotes are in the middle of pages without warning. It is a mess to navigate.... ...more
By Imogen (Portland, ME) · ★★★★★ · February 26, 2009
When I was a little kid, I'd always shoot straight through the book store to the humor section, to suck down easy, unchallenging, y'know, bullshit. (Not that comics are necessarily bullshit; just that, at that point in my life, what I wanted was something easy that I didn't have to think critical... ...more
By Mangoo (Bruxelles, Belgium) · ★★★★☆ · January 11, 2011
Duffin's thesis is pretty straightforward: 1) equal temperament is not the best temperament in all occasions, as compared to its many alternatives, and 2) it was known long ago (long before its almost universal adoption as a standard) and still dismissed by most musicians for a long time because... ...more
By Angie · ★★★★☆ · September 14, 2014
If you really care about intonation, this is the book for you. And if you're like me, an amateur musician who cares a little about intonation, but is also fascinated by the science of harmony, this is the perfect book for you. But if none of that sounds interesting, don't bother, because that's a... ...more
By Meara (Sebastopol, CA) · February 21, 2008
This book is dorky and deeply satisfying. ...more
By David (Roslindale, MA) · July 13, 2012
If the full text can be characterized by the first half, it's a fairly breakneck tour through the modern history of the adoption of equal temperament tuning. Coming into it I was aware that there were different tunings outside of ET, but I had no real idea what benefits over it they provided. Duf... ...more
By Joe (The United States) · ★★★☆☆ · June 19, 2011

OK, maybe that's not true. But the musical scale that you take for granted? There's a lot more to it than you might expect.

Notes are frequencies of vibration; certain ratios of vibrations work well together. The most basic ratio is 2:1 -- if you pluck a string, then pl... ...more
By Alex · ★★★☆☆ · February 07, 2013
I was glad to take on so many of my learned assumptions as a musician by reading this book. Its goal of giving a fresh (and not-so-new) perspective on the way we listen and play chamber music together was achieved. This book was a quick and easy read. However, my one gripe was with the constant i... ...more
By Tim (Richmond, VA) · ★★★★★ · February 12, 2010
In short, this book explores the history of different tuning systems in Western music, and how the one we use today, called "Equal Temperament," has changed (ruined, as he says) the way we hear and perform music. Ruined, because the intervals on a piano are not the ones that mathematically ought... ...more
By John Martin Marks (The United States) · June 22, 2014
Persuasive argument, but I was predisposed to being persuaded. ...more