Posted by Joseph Felton on December 15, 1998 at 09:53:43:
In Reply to: Re: Re: tuning tendancies of the harmonic series posted by I Easton on December 15, 1998 at 07:49:08:
I had rather hoped that someone more knowledgable than myself would step forward on this topic. However, I will attempt to share what limited knowledge I have courtesy of the Harvard Brief Dictionary of Music and my own understanding of these matters. If I'm terribly wrong please be certain to let me know.
As best as I can gather western music began by using the system of Just Intonation ala Pythagorean Scale. Just intonation is acoustically perfect in that the frequency of pitches are multiples of each other. This system works great when you are playing a melodic line in a well defined key but can create intonation issues when playing certain chords or switching keys because just intonation is going to change depending upon the key you are in. I suppose that theoretically one could create a piano that sounds great in C major ala just intonation but would sound terrible in D.
The dictionary makes reference to an intermediary step between our modern standard of intonatin and just intonation refered to as the Mean Tone System and used from ~1500-~1700. From ~1700 to the present, however, we have used equal temperament. The one constant, as I understand it, between all these systems is the octave. The distinction falls in how we treat the notes in between. In equal temperament all pitches are always the same distance from on another regardless of the key we are in. This solves all of our issues regarding switching keys and creating chords. An issue that brass players have to deal with is playing an instrument that resonates most freely at multiples of its fundamental and thus is actually closer to Just intonation.
Now comes time for application: It is my contention(this idea introduced to me by my current Tuba Prof, Dr. Mordue. It doesn't not make sense so I present it here for those that get excited by such things.) that most people probably listen to melodies through a just intonation tainted ear but listen to the music as a whole through equal temperament tainted ears.
In the end this is all academic and the only thing that matters is what sounds good. So stay awake during ear training class and listen to the people around you while in band.