Microtonality in Western MusicJan 14, 2022
musicthe smallest interval we handle, the smallest space between two notes is a semitone, a voice known as a half step on a keyboard for example, the smallest interval I can move any note up or down is a semitone, but even though we can't easily play them on a keyboard, there are images between these two notes, for example, this C here has the frequency of 261 point 6 Hertz, that's the frequency at which these sound waves vibrate to create the pitch, but the next note above C sharp jumps up to 277 point two hertz, so there is certainly space between these two frequencies, so what if you played a note with a pitch between C and C sharp? this pitch is 269 point four hertz, the note halfway between C and C sharp and what we would call C half sharp, even the untrained ear can hear that this note is clearly different from C or C sharp so why what is not available on my keyboard?
Why don't people use sustained media when? They write
musicwell, some musicians and composers do, and the music they write using these sub-semitone intervals is known as microtonal music. Western classical composers have been experimenting with
microtonalitysince at least the early 20th century. as 12 Tet or twelve-tone equal temperament because it divides the octave into 12 equally spaced squares, but composers such as Whisk and Gretzky and Ives used alternative systems that divided the octave into even smaller divisions, most commonly 24 divisions which double our standard twelve tones . about this most often writing for two pianos, one tuned 1/4 tone flatter than the other, meaning that between the two pianos they had access to 24 notes per octave when whistling Gretzky's Prelude Number One, take advantage of the 24 quarter tones up and down in this ultra-chromatic scale in this excerpt from 3/4 tone pieces by Charles Ives, the focus of the music is fast swinging back and forth between the two pianos, swinging like a pendulum between tuning 12 and 24 tension in the brief moments when we only hear one of the two pianos, we experience only the standard 12 tuning, but when the second piano kicks back in and the two overlap, we are plunged once more into microtonal darkness as If we look at the sheet music, we won't actually see any accidental quarter tones, that is, half sharps or half flats because each piano by itself is not playing any microtonals. intervals, but it is the interplay between these two pianos tuned to a chord pitch apart that creates micro tonality, so micro tonality has been used in some experimental classical music, but can we find it in any modern pop or rock music? ?
Perhaps the most common place to find micro tonality in Western music is with instruments that can slide or glissando between the standard 12 tones, for example, at the beginning of George Gershwin's rhapsody in blue, the clarinet glides smoothly slyly from this low F to this high B flat if the clarinet were restricted to the 12 tone system like a piano the Glide would sound like this, but because the clarinet can access notes between the standard twelve tones it can achieve this smooth continuous glide in modern electronic pop music a glide like this is often called a riser for example this riser right before the uptown funk chorus like clarinet glissando in Rhapsody in Blues rises like this are tapping into the notes between the notes otherwise. they couldn't achieve this continuous increase in tension on the guitar, the string can be bent so that the sounding note is somewhere between two standard tones, notes are often bent 1/4 totin instead of a full semitone, which which gives us a microtonal. note that this is a very common technique in blues or at least in music that has been influenced by blues like rock, for example with the bass riff of will you be my girl? of the features jet 2/4 to ne Bend when the D is bent here it only rises to a half D sharp rather than our usual D sharp as the note is so short and ornamental it can be hard to hear the difference here, but there certainly is. one when i pay the two different notes in isolation for example the difference is much clearer this is d natural followed by a normal Disha and this is what jet d-natural followed by D 1/2 sharp does in context of the song either o This note is not a DS sharp or a half D sharp, it acts like a Balu note.
Microtones are perfect to use as blue notes, as blue notes are notes that are added from off the scale to add a sense of tension and what might be more off the scale than a microtone, but perhaps the most instrumental. suitable in
microtonalitymusic is the voice. The human voice, of course, is not restricted to any tuning system, so you can easily sing any and all intervals if properly trained for example. It is common for singers to embellish their melodies by slipping between two different notes of pitch. the scale in Paramore's misery business song at the end of the chorus hayley williams slides slowly between these two notes spending a reasonable amount of time in the space between the standard tones this slow deliberate glide between the two notes makes use of those dissonant notes micro tonals in the middle, though the only problem with referring to slides and glissandos as microtonals is that they almost always only pass through a micro tonal note on the way to a standard pitch that the microtonal note does not rest on is long enough enough for the listener to register it.
Is there any rock music pop that uses microtonal intervals with the same weight as normal intervals instead of a little spice on top of our standard tonality? Any music that uses microtonal intervals instead of our usual tonality when in 2017 Australian rock band king gizzard and the lizard Wizard released their album flying microtonal ba nana, which is written using a 24 tete tuning that divides the octave into 24 tones Instead of 12, like the classical composers we talked about earlier, the band achieved this 24-tattoo tuning using purpose-built microtonal guitars that featured additional frets on the neck to access the microtonal notes King Gizzard's Stu macKensie originally wrote this record to play on his baglama, a Turkish instrument that has frets set at intervals that are close to what Western musicians would consider quarter tones listen to his rattlesnake melody which is written in F sharp minor but with a middle plus and a second degree which gives us a half G sharp instead of a G sharp and also a sixth degree C-middle sharp giving us a D-middle sharp instead of a D-natural, the resulting tonality is like a mix of old and new to Western ears, the major intervals of the minor scale, the fifth, fourth, and third minor, have been preserved, except for the second semiplane and the ha.
If you kick us up to sixth in a land of exotic limbo between the Phrygian and Dorian Aeolian scale listening to a flying microtonal banana, you might notice that instead of the song relying on chord progressions like most pop and rock music , the music is harmonically static and usually stays in a central middle key for the entire song, the music focuses on melodic development rather than harmonic development. I imagine this is due, at least in part, to the fact that writing satisfying chord progressions using micro tonal intervals can often be very challenging and confusing for Western musicians. which are used to stacking thirds, fourths and fifths to make chords, not quarter tones, but another reason for the problem is that you may have chosen to keep the microtonality purely melodic rather than harmonic so that it isn't too overwhelming for the listener having only quarter tones. appearing periodically in the melody for much of the song we're really only in 12 Tet western your normal ning it's only when we come across these microtonal notes in the melody that we slip into this exotic 24 tete unlocking the microtonal sound how to fade out Full of Radiohead features some microtonality in its string arrangement annotated by johnny green words the strings randomly slip between tones creating a bewildering chaotic texture it's hard to really identify the tones the strings are playing here and that's the point in the one that spends as much time in the spaces between the standard images as in them, leading to a totally disorienting ultrachromatic sound.
I mentioned earlier that the human voice is perhaps the most versatile instrument for writing and performing microtonal music and a fantastic example of this is the a cappella arrangement of Jacob Talia in the coleus arrangement of Bleak Midwinter by Bl eak Midwinter not only uses microtonal chords, but actually modulates to a microtonal key through the use of four rising chords. The slightly microtonal chords were changed from standard major to the key of G half-sharp major. Check out this clip where Jacob demonstrates that before the modulation, his song is perfectly in tune on a standard piano, but just four chords later he's got it pretty good. modulated us a quarter tone out of standard tuning which means the music is now out of tune with the piano for magic chords the four chords Jacob uses here use subtly widened or reduced intervals so when we get to the end of progression, our perception of pitch has been changed enough that the key of G 1/2 sharp sounds perfectly logical and harmonious once we land on G half sharp, the first melody note we hear is half sharp in five oh eight point three six Hertz if I play that key like a sine wave over this section of music in G half sharp, it sounds harmonious because it's tuned to the key of G half sharp major and if I play the same key over this part of the music before we've modulated the pitch, it's expected to sound out of tune, but what's interesting is that if I play this pitch while hovering over the modulation, you can hear how the pitch starts out out of tune and then slowly starts to sound in tune as we go by.
About these four chords, a common point of confusion that I wanted to address before the end of this video is songs that are not recorded in concert key if you take a piece of music and change the key so that it is no longer in tune with one of our 12 tones that are not actually an example of micro tonality, for example, Friday I'm in love by The Cure and don't look back in angry by Oasis are not recorded in a standard concert key, they are not recorded at an equal to 440 Hertz, which means that if you try to play one of these songs on a standard tuned instrument, it will sound out of tune, but the reason this doesn't make these melodies microtonal is that microtonality is all about using intervals which are smaller than our standard western. i intervals that don't use notes that are tuned to different pitches songs like don't look back in angry and friday i'm in love still only use these same standard intervals the note frequencies may be different than normal but all frequencies they've been moved by the same amount, they've been offset from each other, so the intervals between tones remain the same as before as a musician or composer.
Microtonality is one of those concepts that completely ends his approach to music. You can no longer rely on your years of experience and your muscle memory which is based on the standard tuning system forces you to think completely outside the box makes you almost feel like you are learning your instrument from scratch again as part of my research for this video I decided to write my first microtonal composition and thought it would be interesting if I shared with you how I approach this, so I set my keyboard to play in 24 Tet ie. in quarter tones like this, I started experimenting with different Winterfell microtonals and eventually settled on this extra flat minor third, the interval between G half flat and a natural.
Then I started writing the melody on top and found that it was a bit much. It's confusing to play this on the keyboard, so I'd hum the note I wanted to hear and then find it on my MIDI coil, which was also tuned to 2410. What I found really interesting is the different approaches people take to creating mics. tonal music, so if you can suggest other microtonal music, I'd love to see that microtonality may be quite common in some non-Western cultures. David Bruce has an excellent video on how different cultures around the world have used different tuning systems in their music, often including intervals that we would consider microtonal, and as always, a huge thank you to my patrons, including Adam Granger and Anesthesia's race Andrew Andrew Brown Andy d eacon Austin Barrett Bob McKinstry Whitney Parker Bruce Mount Cameron all available Chris Cobell Kieran Benin Darren Harvey D David Lee fish David de fin de fer dr.
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