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Equal Temperance

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [DB]' started by dmark, Jan 24, 2002.

  1. I have enjoyed reading about the many conversions from Electric to Upright. One reason for the appeal might be this.

    Pure intervals are based on exact ratios of the frequencies (e.g. 3:2 is a perfect fifth). The problem is that if you follow fifths through all twelve tones the resulting octave will not be a 2:1 octave. Old instruments based on this system only sounded good played certain ways.

    Western music has settled on equal temperance to solve this problem. That is, each half step is the exact same distance apart. This problem is that a modern day fifth is not quite a true perfect fifth.

    Unless you play upright! As an unkeyed and unfretted instrument, its player if free to use any interval that sounds good and is not limited to any fixed pitch (which is why position markers might be bad).

    Does the upright tap the well of Platonic perfection, satisfying the soul in the margins of musical perception?
  2. Christopher


    Apr 28, 2000
    New York, NY
    I believe equal temperance was attempted by a fair number of musicians in the early part of the last century, but was quickly abandoned by double bass players as they supplanted tubas in jazz and came to rely on alcohol and other controlled substances to sustain their creative powers. Temperance is always good, in moderation :)

    As for equal temperament and where to stash the diatonic comma, you're right. Only fixed-pitch instruments (piano, guitar, marimba, viola de gamba...) need worry about it. The real question, though, is which sounds worse: an instrument with equal temperament or an instrumentalist with lousy intonation?
  3. Yes, and equal temperance is when you take your religion in the same moderation as your women and your booze.
  4. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Man, that sentence had POUNCE!!! written all over it. :D


    Welcome to Talkbass. Your ritualistic humor initiation has now begun (you gotta admit, the substitution of "Temperance" for "Temperment" was a pretty amusing Freudian slip...worthy of PDQ Bach himself). Don't mind the peanut gallery. They don't mean any harm, they just can't resist a good straight line when they hear one.

    To answer your question, yes, I think that the ability to find the "sweet spots" of intonation not only within what you are playing but also within the context of the entire group is one of the many great perks of playing DB.


  5. The problem with all the various tuning systems, Equal Temperment, Just Intonation, etc., is that they're all out of tune with my left hand.
  6. Sam Sherry

    Sam Sherry Inadvertent Microtonalist Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2001
    Portland, ME
    Euphonic Audio "Player"
    . . . yeah, the problem with my left hand is that it never quite seems to match up with all those ill-tempered guitarists, pianists and sax-players I know. However, I play very well in tune with drummers.

    The obvious problems involved in perfecting perfect-temper intonation is that you'll be saying, "I'm in tune! Move yer blinkin' frets!" a lot.

    But even aside from that, one confronts the essential reason that equal-temper was invented: The exploration of chromaticism in music. Pure temper works great with Gregorian chants and solo versions of "Conference of the Birds." Dave Holland aside, though, Jazz is ferociously chromatic: I can't picture moving from A Maj7 #11 to G# -7 b5 in equal temper.

    Kinda brings to mind the old, bad joke: "Didja hear about the bassist who was so out-of-tune her section noticed?"
  7. Couldn't you say the same thing about playing fretless slab...
  8. Jeff Bollbach

    Jeff Bollbach Jeff Bollbach Luthier, Inc.

    Dec 12, 2001
    freeport, ny
    I never played the EB-went directly from jazz guitar to upright almost overnight. Had nothin' to do with register or pitch, it was just that the notes came right out of my fingertips-there was no fret in the way. A step closer to singing.
  9. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    I could, and I have - fretless Plank was what got me close enough to the edge of River DB to finally decide I wanted to jump in. But I don't play fretless plank anymore, so I made the remark about DB.

    And Jeff is dead on with the "step closer to singing" comment. Amen to that.

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