﻿

# equal temperament

the division of an octave into 12 equal semitones, as in the tuning of a piano.

* * *

music
in music, a tuning system in which the octave is divided into 12 semitones of equal size. Because it enables keyboard instruments (keyboard instrument) to play in all keys with minimal flaws in intonation, equal temperament replaced earlier tuning systems that were based on acoustically pure intervals (interval), that is, intervals that occur naturally in the overtone series. For a more technical explanation of overtones, see sound: Standing waves (sound).

The search for satisfactory tuning systems parallels the development of the Western tonal system, with its reliance on enharmonic equivalence (for example, having the notes F♯ and G♭ sound the same) and multiple major and minor keys. In 1581 the Florentine music theorist Vincenzo Galilei (father of the astronomer Galileo) proposed a system of equal intervals for tuning the lute. The Chinese prince and musicologist Zhu Zaiyu in 1596 and the French philosopher and mathematician Marin Mersenne (Mersenne, Marin) in 1636, among others, wrote of such a system. The idea of equal temperament had its most effective advocates among German musicians and theorists, beginning with Andreas Werckmeister in the early 18th century. Even before the system was widespread, equal temperament was approximated in various degrees as a practical matter, in the small adjustments made by organ tuners and harpsichordists. Equal temperament tuning was widely adopted in France and Germany by the late 18th century and in England by the 19th. Other systems are discussed in tuning and temperament.

In equal temperament, each semitone is measured at 100 cents (1 cent = 1/1200 octave); measuring by frequency (vibrational cycles per second), each semitone step increases in frequency by a factor of the 12th root of 2, or about 1.059 hertz (cycles per second). The 12th semitone, which completes the octave, therefore has a multiplier of 2; for example, the standard A measures 440 hertz, the octave below 220 hertz, and the octave above 880 hertz. Because equal-tempered tuning is calculated by subdividing the octave, it is called a “divisional” system. Earlier European tuning systems—such as meantone temperament and just intonation—were “cyclic” systems, in which given intervals were calculated by adding together other “pure” intervals. Such systems accumulate intonational differences as they move to more distantly related keys (those with increasing numbers of sharps or flats in the key signature), with the result that keyboard instruments and others with fixed intonation will sound unpleasantly out of tune in those keys. In other words, music that would sound perfectly in tune in C major (with no sharps or flats) would sound wrong if transposed to B major (five sharps) because all of the intervals would actually be different in the two keys. In equal temperament, the perfect fifth, such as C–G, is narrower than the natural, or Pythagorean, fifth by 2 cents, a nearly imperceptible amount. These small intonational defects are equally distributed among the 12 tones of the chromatic scale, and only the octave remains as an acoustically pure interval.

* * *

Universalium. 2010.

### Look at other dictionaries:

• Equal temperament — is a musical temperament, or a system of tuning in which every pair of adjacent notes has an identical frequency ratio. In equal temperament tunings an interval mdash; usually the octave mdash; is divided into a series of equal steps (equal… …   Wikipedia

• Equal temperament — Equal E qual, a. [L. aequalis, fr. aequus even, equal; akin to Skr. ?ka, and perh. to L. unus for older oinos one, E. one.] 1. Agreeing in quantity, size, quality, degree, value, etc.; having the same magnitude, the same value, the same degree,… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

• Equal temperament — Temperament Tem per*a*ment, n. [L. temperamentum a mixing in due proportion, proper measure, temperament: cf. F. temp[ e]rament. See {Temper}, v. t.] 1. Internal constitution; state with respect to the relative proportion of different qualities,… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

• equal temperament — noun the division of the scale based on an octave that is divided into twelve exactly equal semitones equal temperament is the system commonly used in keyboard instruments • Hypernyms: ↑temperament …   Useful english dictionary

• 53 equal temperament — In music, 53 equal temperament, called 53 TET, 53 EDO, or 53 ET, is the tempered scale derived by dividing the octave into fifty three equally large steps. Each step represents a frequency ratio of 21/53, or 22.6415 cents, an interval sometimes… …   Wikipedia

• 19 equal temperament — In music, 19 equal temperament, called 19 TET, 19 EDO, or 19 ET, is the tempered scale derived by dividing the octave into 19 equally large steps. Each step represents a frequency ratio of 21/19, or 63.16 cents. Because 19 is a prime number, one… …   Wikipedia

• 31 equal temperament — In music, 31 equal temperament, which can be abbreviated 31 tET, 31 EDO, 31 ET, is the tempered scale derived by dividing the octave into 31 equal sized steps. Each step represents a frequency ratio of 21/31, or 38.71 cents.Division of the octave …   Wikipedia

• 72 equal temperament — In music, 72 equal temperament, called twelfth tone, 72 tet, 72 edo, or 72 et, is the tempered scale derived by dividing the octave into twelfth tones, or in other words 72 equally large steps. Each step represents a frequency ratio of 21/72, or… …   Wikipedia

• 22 equal temperament — In music, 22 equal temperament, called 22 tet, 22 edo, or 22 et, is the tempered scale derived by dividing the octave into 22 equally large steps. Each step represents a frequency ratio of 21/22, or 54.55 cents.The idea of dividing the octave… …   Wikipedia

• 34 equal temperament — In musical theory, 34 equal temperament, also referred to as 34 tet, 34 edo or 34 et, is the tempered tuning derived by dividing the octave into 34 equal sized steps. Each step represents a frequency ratio of 21/34, or 35.29 cents.Unlike… …   Wikipedia