# Algorithms for Mapping Diatonic Keyboard Tunings and Temperaments

## Kenneth P. Scholtz

KEYWORDS: Algorithm, chain of fifths, diatonic scale, equal temperament, enharmonic, just intonation, meantone, Pythagorean tuning, schisma, syntonic comma

ABSTRACT: Diatonic keyboard tunings in equal temperament, just intonation, meantone and well tempered scales are derived from Pythagorean tuning using algorithms whose operations involve combinations of pure fifths and syntonic commas. Graphic diagrams of the line of fifths are used to show the harmonic and mathematical relationships between common tunings and temperaments. Four modes of just intonation are derived from Pythagorean tuning by an algorithm that narrows each major third by one syntonic comma. Equal temperament is approximated with imperceptible error by algorithms that narrow Pythagorean and justly tuned enharmonic intervals by one or more syntonic commas.

Copyright © 1998 Society for Music Theory

**Table of Contents**

5. The Four Modes of Just Intonation

8. Algorithms for Schismatic and Syntonic Equal Temperment

**1. Introduction**

[1.1] This article describes algorithms that map the traditional
harmonic tunings and temperaments for the keyboard: Pythagorean
tuning, equal temperament, just intonation, and historical
variations on meantone temperaments. Keyboard tuning is used
because it has been worked out in detail over hundreds of years
and is understood to give a reasonable approximation of the pitch
choices made by performers on instruments without fixed pitches.
I have excluded analysis of multiple divisions of the octave into
more than twelve notes because they were not commonly used
temperaments. Working from the chain of fifths, we will
demonstrate how the intervals in any tuning or temperament can be
mapped from Pythagorean tuning by algorithms that combine pure
fifths and syntonic commas.^{(1)} The algorithms that map the
tunings and temperaments into one another are not purely
mathematical, but are derived from the harmonic structure of the
chain of fifths and enharmonic relationships between notes.

[1.2] This article is not concerned with generating diatonic scale tuning from prime numbers or otherwise deriving its form from physical or mathematical principles. We will use the historic definition of a diatonic scale as two tetrachords plus one additional tone that completes the octave. The diatonic octave is divided into five whole tones and two semitones in all tunings and temperaments. The convention of assigning letter names to notes in a 12-note chromatic keyboard for diatonic scales will be observed. The chain of fifths will be introduced and used as the defining feature common to all scales without initially assuming any particular tuning.

[1.3] Several modern theorists, including Mark Lindley^{(2)} and
Easley Blackwood^{(3)}
have applied algebraic techniques in
describing the tonal relationships which form traditional
diatonic scales. Others have developed diagrams to compare the
differences in pitch for a note in various tunings.^{(4)} Although
such techniques have their uses, I did not personally find them
particularly helpful in visualizing the overall difference
between one tuning system or temperament and another. For my own
analysis, I prefer to diagram the chain of fifths and use
rational fractions to express the size of the intervals.^{(5)}
Differences between tuning systems are indicated by placing
commas or fractional commas between adjacent fifths. This
provides a visual comparison between the separate diatonic
tunings and temperaments of a complete scale and makes it easier
to demonstrate the mathematical and musical relationships between
them.

[1.4] Theorists classify tuning systems as either cyclic,
generated by a reiterative sequence of fifths, or divisive,
tunings that subdivide the octave.^{(6)} Historically, this
division is somewhat arbitrary. Euclid and Boethius derived the
Pythagorean tuning that we now associate with a sequence of
fifths by dividing a monochord into two octaves.^{(7)} Methods
based upon the overtone series or other systems which attempt to
derive just intonation from acoustic phenomena are often
considered to be divisive in nature. The typographical diagrams
utilized in this article interpret tunings and temperaments in
terms of the line of fifths.

**2. The Chain of Fifths**

[2.1] It is well known that every diatonic scale can be reordered into a sequence of fifths. For the C-major scale, the sequence of fifths is F–C–G–D–A–E–B, renumbering the notes of the scale in the order 4–1–5–2–6–3-7. This is the sequence of notes produced when one starts with C and then tunes a keyboard alternately down a fourth and up a fifth until the last note of the scale is reached. For consistency of metaphor, I call the sequence of fifths a “chain” in which the fifths are “links,” without assuming any specific tuning system.

**Figure 1**. A Section of the Chain of Fifths

(click to enlarge)

**Figure 2**. Six Diatonic Scales in a Chromatic Chain From

(click to enlarge)

[2.2] The chain of fifths has its origin at C and extends to the
sharp notes on the right and the flat notes on the left. The
chain is theoretically endless, neither closing nor repeating, so
that each note in the chain is musically unique.^{(8)} **Figure 1**
shows the central 21 links in the chain, with C at the origin.
All the notes in the chain are considered to be within a single
octave bounded by two C’s. Since fifths and fourths are
inversions, each note is a fifth above the note to its left and a
fourth above the note to its right. As a matter of convention,
it is useful to consider the links to the right of C to be
ascending fifths and the those to the left to be ascending fourths. The same seven letter names repeat themselves over and over in
the same invariant sequence of the C-major scale—F–C–G–D–A–E–B—with each repetition augmented by sharps to the
right and flats to the left. Any group of six adjacent links
defines a major diatonic scale whose tonic note is one link from
the left end of the group, and a natural minor scale which starts
two links from the right end. Horizontal movement of any
six-link group is the equivalent of transposition of the scale
into a new key as exemplified by **Figure 2**. A twelve-note
chromatic keyboard commonly contained the notes from

[2.3] The chain of fifths can be used to rationally order the
harmonic structure of the diatonic scale. **Figure 3** lists the
harmonic intervals available on a twelve-note chromatic keyboard
for each pairing of links in the chain of fifths. The pairs of
notes listed are examples that start with C. Any interval can be
horizontally transposed along the chain of fifths. Figure 3 classifies harmonic intervals by the number of links and
their direction on the chain of fifths. Each pair of intervals
are inversions of one another. Chromatic intervals have more
than six links, diatonic intervals have six or fewer. Generally
speaking, major intervals and augmented intervals ascend from
left to right, while minor intervals and diminished intervals
ascend from right to left. The perfect fourth is the only
consonant interval that ascends from right to left, which may
reflect its harmonic ambiguity. Intervals that ascend to the
right from a flat to a natural are always major, such as

**3. Pythagorean Tuning**

[3.1] Tuning the diatonic scale with pure fifths, now known as
Pythagorean tuning, was the norm for nearly 2,000 years. The
Pythagorean tuning of twelve notes in a standard **Figure 4**. The links are a sequence of powers of 3/2
to the right of C and powers of 4/3 to the left of C. Whenever
necessary, the fraction is divided by two to keep the pitch
within the compass of a single 2/1 octave. Thus, 3/2 x 3/2 =
9/4. 9/4 is divided by 2, making D = 9/8. Logarithms allow the
sequence to be calculated by addition instead of multiplication.
In logarithmic measure, each perfect fifth is approximately
702 cents. The tuning of D is equal to 204 cents, obtained by
subtracting a an octave of 1200 cents from 702 + 702 = 1404.
Since all the links are the same size, the harmonic intervals can
be transposed freely. All major seconds are 9/8, all major
thirds, 81/64, and etc. The dashes between the letter names of the notes in Figure 4
indicate that the fifths are pure.

[3.2] Although ^{(9)} As Euclid
knew, it is also the difference between six whole tones and one
octave.^{(10)}

[3.3] A wolf fifth, “w,” occurs at the end of the line when ^{(11)} It was
known as the wolf fifth, because of the howling sound that it
made on an organ.

**4. Equal Temperament**

[4.1] Equal temperament has been commonly used for the
past 150 years to tune pianos and organs and, before that, was
used for fretted instruments such as guitars and lutes. Equal
temperament flattens the fifths (and sharpens the fourths) by
1/12 of a Pythagorean comma, “p,” as shown in **Figure 5**. This is
just enough to give a true octave from a chain of 12 links. In
musical terms, the 12 fifths in the chromatic line are made
exactly equal to 7 octaves. As can be seen from Figure 5, the
term “equal temperament” only applies to the fifths. The other
intervals are not tempered equally with respect to Pythagorean
tuning. In Figure 5, the Pythagorean comma is indicated by the upper-case
“P” and 1/12 of the Pythagorean comma by the lower-case “p.” The
direction of the arrow indicates the ascending harmonic interval.
Reversing the arrow would invert the interval and change the sign
of the fraction, as illustrated by the fifth (-1/4p) and the
fourth (+1/4p).

[4.2] Since equal temperament makes every thirteenth note the
same, it makes all enharmonic pairs equal; for example, ^{(12)}

[4.3] We can easily demonstrate from the chain of fifths that
equal temperament makes both the tuning and the musical function
of each pair of enharmonically equivalent notes equal, using the
12 links from C to **Figure 6**. ^{(13)} This process can be extended out to infinity by vertically stacking
each group of 12 notes in rows below

**Figure 7**. Equal Temperament

(click to enlarge)

**Figure 8**. Dissonant Internal Intervals in Just Intonation Scale

(click to enlarge)

**Figure 9**. Just scales in

(click to enlarge)

[4.4] Calculating the tuning of an equally tempered scale
generates irrational numbers,^{(14)} because the rational fraction
that measures the Pythagorean comma must be divided into twelve
roots. One equally tempered semitone equals the twelfth root of
2, an irrational number whose value is normally given in a
decimal approximation as 1.05946 (100 cents.) The tuning of the
chain of equal tempered fifths in six place decimals is given in
**Figure 7**. Using the diagram in Figure 5, the 700-cent logarithmic tuning of
an equally tempered fifth is narrower than a 702 cent perfect
fifth by 2 cents, 1/12 of the 24-cent Pythagorean comma. The
last column in Figure 7 displays this pattern; the pitch of each
note in the vertical chain is 700 cents above the note below it
before subtracting out the octave.

**5. The Four Modes of Just Intonation**

[5.1] In Pythagorean tuning, only the fifths and fourths are
tuned as consonant intervals. The thirds and sixths generated by
a sequence of perfect fifths are not generally considered
consonant by comparison to the most consonant major third which
is 5/4, a minor third of 5/6 and their inversions, a major sixth
of 5/3 and a minor sixth of 8/5. The diatonic tuning that
includes both consonant thirds and pure fifths is known as just
intonation. One traditional method of forming a C-major scale in
just intonation is to combine consonant tonic, dominant and
subdominant triads, F–A–C, C–E–G and G–B–D. This tunes the just
diatonic scale shown in **Figure 8**. The D–A link is narrowed by a
syntonic comma indicated by the “k.” Since the other links are
pure, the pitch of A, E and B will also be lower than Pythagorean
by a syntonic comma. Even though each note has its optimum
tuning relative to C, just intonation is a theoretical scale
which is unsatisfactory for tuning an instrument with fixed pitch
because the narrow D–A results in the unjust intervals shown in
Figure 8. The narrow D–A sounds much the same as a Pythagorean
wolf fifth. The Pythagorean minor third and its inversion, the
major sixth between D and F also sound badly out of place in an
otherwise just scale.

[5.2] Tuning a chromatic octave in just intonation creates
further difficulties since alternate tunings are required for
each note. A theoretical scale of just intonation can be
calculated for four diatonic major scales in the chromatic octave
by replicating the procedure used to form the scale of C-major.
A scale of **Figure 9** shows the
two alternative tunings for G, D and A that are required for
these four scales. The multiplicity of alternate tunings makes
just intonation even more impractical for the normal keyboard
with twelve keys to the octave. It can also be seen from Figure 9 that the absolute location of
the syntonic comma moves but that its relative location is always
on the fourth link of the scale. Each just scale could be
considered to be virtually a separate entity whose tuning is
fixed by the tuning of the triads that it contains.

[5.3] It is helpful at this point to introduce the concept of an algorithm, which is a set of instructions for making a series of calculations. Each of the tunings we have discussed so far can be derived from an algorithm for tuning the chain of fifths into one 12-note chromatic octave on a keyboard. The Pythagorean tuning algorithm has four steps:

- C is tuned to an arbitrary unit pitch of 1.
- Tune the pitch of each note to be a perfect fifth (3/2)

from the notes immediately adjacent to it. - If the pitch of any note is greater than 2, divide the

pitch by 2 to keep it within the same octave. - Stop after the 12 notes from
E toG have been tuned.

The equal temperament algorithm is the same as the Pythagorean algorithm except that the interval in step 2 is 1/12 of a Pythagorean comma narrower than a pure fifth. Although justly tuned scales often have been considered to represent a different species from the Pythagorean or the equally tempered scale, we will show in Figure 10 how an algorithm can be derived that maps Pythagorean tuning into just chromatic scales.

[5.4] The scale in **Figure 10** has a syntonic comma at every
fourth link. This produces a chromatic scale in which the
diatonic scale of C-major is just and the maximum number of major
thirds are a consonant 5/4. This scale is generated by an
algorithm in which (1) the fourth link of a Pythagorean C-major
scale is narrowed by a syntonic comma and (2) every fourth link
above and below that link is also narrowed by a syntonic comma.
The tuning of the just chromatic scale from ^{(15)} We can use the graphic diagram in Figure 10 to evaluate the
difference between the just and Pythagorean pitch of each note
without having to multiply out the 81/80 syntonic comma. In this
just chromatic scale,

F-major: major fourth broadened by a syntonic comma.

C-major: fifth of the II chord narrowed by a syntonic comma.

G-major: fifth of the dominant triad narrowed by a comma.

D-major: fifth of tonic triad narrowed by a syntonic comma.

A-major: major fourth broadened by a syntonic comma.

It is, thus, amply clear that just scales with consonant thirds cannot be meaningfully used on a chromatic keyboard.

[5.5] Since the scale in Figure 10 was created by an algorithm
that narrowed every fourth link by one syntonic comma, one can
generate four chromatic modes of just intonation, one for each of
the scales shown in Figure 9. These are the only just chromatic
scales that are possible when C has the relative tuning of 1,
since the pattern of the algorithm repeats after the fourth
link.^{(16)} **Figure 11** presents the tuning of the four modes of
just intonation along a chromatic scale from ^{(17)} Instead of presenting just
intonation as a series of pitches that are independently derived,
Figure 11 shows that the pitch of the sharp and flat notes are
modified in a regular progression as syntonic commas are
sequentially added to or subtracted from Pythagorean tuning.
The logarithmic tuning of each note can be easily calculated
using the fact that a pure fifth is 702 cents, a pure fourth, its
inversion, is 498 cents, and a syntonic comma is 22 cents. As an
example, 27/25, the tuning of

[5.6] F. Murray Barbour listed 22 historical scales of just
intonation dating from 1482 to 1776 in his historical survey of
tuning and temperament.^{(18)} Barbour defined just intonation more
broadly than we have done, including within the concept any
12-note chromatic scale that possessed some pure fifths and at
least one pure third. Barbour described a late 18th-century
tuning by Marpurg which is the same as Figure 10 as “the
model form of just intonation.”^{(19)} Two scales which correspond
to the F-major mode shown in Figure 11 were described by Barbour
as “the most symmetric arrangement of all.” The first was an
early 17th century scale by Salomon de Caus which started with
^{(20)} An even
earlier tuning by Fogliano in the F-major mode starting with ^{(21)} None of the other tunings are precisely
in the form of Figure 11. A complete listing of these historical
just tunings is given in Appendix I.

[5.7] It is also interesting to compare the actual tuning of
notes in Figure 11 with Ellis’s “Table of Intervals not exceeding
One Octave” in his appendix to Helmholtz.^{(22)} Figure 11 gives
new significance to intervals whose names as given by Ellis imply
a diatonic origin. Thus Ellis’s list includes the following
varieties of fourths: “acute,” 27/20, a “superfluous,” 25/18 and
another “superfluous,” 125/96. Figure 11 shows that the
“acute” fourth is the just fourth in the G-major mode, the first
“superfluous” fourth is an augmented fourth,

[5.8] We can now appreciate why the chain of fifths is useful
for evaluating the harmonic consequences of alternate tunings of
a diatonic scale embedded in a chromatic keyboard. It is not
possible to arbitrarily change the pitch of one note without
altering its relationship with all other notes in the chromatic
space. The interdependence of tuning is not limited to
instruments with fixed pitch. For example, a string quartet
could not play passages containing a sequence of triads in
just intonation without altering the melodic intervals and,
possibly the overall level of pitch.^{(23)} The problems of tuning
harmonic intervals can only be solved by dynamic ad hoc
adjustments of pitch to obtain optimum consonance while
preserving the melodic line and stability of pitch.^{(24)} This is
one of the reasons why it is so difficult for inexperienced
musicians to achieve good ensemble intonation.

[5.9] The syntonic comma is not an independent variable; the
independent variables are the tuning ratios for the consonant
fifth and major third as determined by psychoacoustic
measurements, which are 3/2 and 5/4. The syntonic comma, even
though it has been known and separately named for two thousand
years is merely derived from the difference between the consonant
or just major third and the Pythagorean major third generated by
four consecutive fifths. However, one would not intuitively
expect that this single dependent variable could be used to
measure all the differences in tuning between Pythagorean and
just scales, including intervals that are not generated by major
thirds.^{(25)} The just intonation algorithms provide a coherent
framework for this ancient and well respected dependent variable
known as the syntonic comma. As was noted above, just intonation
and Pythagorean tuning are commonly thought of as different
species of tuning. The just intonation algorithms demonstrate
that just intonation can more completely be understood in terms
of the chain of fifths and syntonic commas than if considered
independently.

**6. Meantone Temperament**

[6.1] Meantone temperament is a keyboard tuning that makes a
chromatic scale with consonant major thirds playable in diatonic
scales in a few closely related keys. It does so by equally
dividing the syntonic comma over the four links of each
major third. This results in a whole tone that is exactly half-
way between the alternate 9/8 and 10/9 found in just scales. The
name “meantone” is derived from the resulting mid-size interval
for the whole tone even though the division of the whole tone was
only a by-product of distributing the syntonic comma. Dividing
the comma into four “quarter commas” and distributing the
quarter-commas so that every fifth was tempered by one
quarter-comma also smooths out the three narrow fifths created by
the undivided comma in the just scale, replacing them with a
sequence of tempered fifths that are far more tolerable to
the ear. The earliest generally accepted meantone scale was
described by Pietro Aron in the early sixteenth century for a
chromatic scale from ^{(26)}

[6.2] The quarter-comma (4q = 1k) narrowing of each link in the
chain of fifths is shown in **Figure 12**, which also depicts the
resulting alteration of other intervals from Pythagorean tuning.
Compared to Pythagorean tuning, it is evident that the fifths to
the right of C are all tuned a quarter-comma flat, while the
fourths to the left of C become a quarter-comma sharp. As before, Figures 10 and 12 allow us to measure the difference
between the just and meantone scales without using arithmetic.
As an example, a mean-tone chromatic semitone is narrowed by 7/4
syntonic commas compared to Pythagorean tuning and 3/4 of a
syntonic comma compared to just intonation.

[6.3] Meantone temperament and its variations was the established
mode for tuning keyboards for nearly three centuries. English
pianos and organs were tuned this way until the middle of the
nineteenth century.^{(27)} As Thurston Dart explained in his
treatise on early music:

Thus mean-tone provides the player with a group of about a dozen ‘central’ keys in which all the important chords are more in tune than they are in the modern piano. . . . Mean-tone is admittedly imperfect as a tuning for chromatic music; for diatonic music, however, it cannot be bettered, as the musicians of earlier times knew very well.^{(28)}

For a time, organs were built with more than twelve keys per
octave in order to utilize more of the extended chromatic scale.
The keys could be split or other devices used to enable the
performer to play either note of an enharmonic pair such as ^{(29)} There was a practice, apparently, of raising or
lowering the location of the wolf in the tuning of harpsichords
to fit the composition being played at the moment.^{(30)} However,
manufacturers refrained from constructing instruments with more
than 12 keys per octave and performers refrained from learning
how to play such instruments, probably because the standard
keyboard was suitable for most uses. As musical development led
to the use of more keys outside its central compass, meantone
temperament became increasingly impractical.

[6.4] Since a syntonic comma is 81/80, a quarter-comma, its fourth root, is an irrational number. However, rational fractions that closely approximate the size of a quarter-comma and which cumulatively equal a full syntonic comma can be derived by arithmetically dividing a syntonic comma of 324/320 into four parts as follows:

324/320 = 321/320 x 322/321 x 323/322 x 324/323

Therefore, a quarter-comma fifth may calculated as being:

3/2 x 320/321 = 160/107

Rational fractions approximating each of the other meantone
intervals may be calculated in a similar manner, using the other
fractions in the expansion. A chromatic meantone tuning for a
keyboard is shown in **Figure 13** for a chain of fifths tempered by
a quarter-comma (q).^{(31)} Logarithmic values for a meantone scale can be easily calculated
by subtracting one-fourth of a syntonic comma (22/4 = 5.5 cents)
from every pure fifth. Thus each meantone fifth will be 696.5
cents.

**7. Well Temperament**

[7.1] The term well temperament includes a family of temperaments that modified meantone temperament to eliminate wolves and to expand the range of playable keys by taking advantage of the small difference between the Pythagorean comma and the syntonic comma. The difference between the two commas is an interval of 32805/32786 (2 cents), which is called the schisma. If only four links of a chromatic keyboard scale are tempered by a quarter-comma, with the remainder being tuned pure, the chromatic scale will exceed an acoustic octave by only a schisma and the wolf fifth will be thereby minimized to the point of nonexistence.

**Figure 14**. Schematic of Well Temperament

(click to enlarge)

**Figure 15**. Well Temperament

(click to enlarge)

[7.2] **Figure 14** illustrates a simplified form of well temperament
in which all but the central four links are Pythagorean and the
major thirds vary from just (C–E) to fully Pythagorean (**Figure 15**. A number of historical well temperaments were devised that
separated the quarter commas by one or more links to improve
playability in desired keys. Other temperaments subdivided the
syntonic even further into 2/7 and 1/6 commas. The more that the
commas were divided and dispersed, the more that well temperament
approached equal temperament.

**8. Algorithms for Schismatic and Syntonic Equal Temperament**

[8.1] We will develop and expand upon the method advocated by
Kirnberger in the eighteenth century for deriving a scale of
equal temperament from Pythagorean intonation.^{(32)} A scale
obtained by the first procedure is schismatic equal temperament
and a scale obtained by the second procedure is syntonic equal
temperament. The tuning of schismatic ET is exactly equal to the
tuning for syntonic ET, the only difference being in their
algorithms. Both match the tuning of equal temperament to
several decimal places as shown in Figure 16.

[8.2] Schismatic and syntonic equal temperament is derived by
extending a well-tempered scale eleven links to the left and
right of C. When the eleventh note to the left of C is raised by
one syntonic comma and the eleventh note to the right of C is
lowered by one syntonic comma the results are tunings for

E#-1k | = | 10935/8192 | = | 1.334839 | F(ET) | = | 1.334840 | |

= | 16384/10935 | = | 1.498308 | G(ET) | = | 1.498307 |

This strategy works because a syntonic comma is very nearly 11/12
of a Pythagorean comma, expressed as k = 11/12P. Therefore a
schisma, defined as sk = P-k = 32805/32786, is very nearly 1/12
of a Pythagorean comma “p,” the amount by which each link is
narrowed in equal temperament. The pitch of

As shown in Figure 5, F+p is the pitch of F in equal temperament.
Since the precise value of a schisma is 1.954 cents and 1/12 of a
Pythagorean comma is 1.955 cents, the error is only 1/1000 of a
cent. One can then obtain decimal tunings for equal temperament
by reiterating the proportions for

[8.3] We will now derive and apply two algorithms which map
Pythagorean tuning into equal temperament. The algorithm based
upon the schisma produces schismatic ET. As with ordinary equal
temperament, this procedure equates the tuning of enharmonic
pairs, substituting G for

- Starting with C, move 10 links to the left to
A +1k. Substitute G enharmonically for A +1k. - Move 1 link to the right 5 times, adding 1 schisma to the width of each interval. Rename each note enharmonically.
- Returning to C, move 10 links to the right to
E -1k. Substitute F enharmonically forE -1k. - Move 1 link to the left 4 times, subtracting 1 schisma from the width from each interval. Rename each note enharmonically.

**Figure 16**. Schismatic and Syntonic Equal Temperament

(click to enlarge)

**Figure 17**. Just (C-Major mode) Schismatic and Syntonic Equal Temperaments

(click to enlarge)

[8.4] The algorithm that produces syntonic equal temperament
also starts with the intervals C–**Figure 16**. The algorithm
for syntonic ET is as follows.

- Starting with C, move 10 links to the left to
A + k. Substitute G enharmonically for A +1k. - Reiterate the action 5 more times, adding 1 syntonic comma to the width of each 10-link interval. Rename each note enharmonically.
- Returning to C, move 10 links to the right of C to
E -1k. Substitute F enharmonically forE -1k. - Reiterate the action 4 more times, subtracting 1 syntonic comma for each 10-link interval. Rename each note enharmonically.

[8.5] We can now go a step further and derive the algorithm that
maps just intonation into syntonic ET from the algorithms
previously used to map Pythagorean tuning into just intonation.
For example, **Figure 17** gives
scales of just schismatic and just syntonic ET for the C-major
scale.

[8.6] Of course, neither syntonic nor schismatic ET are
precisely equal. They do not merge all enharmonically equivalent
notes, as shown by the outer sections of Figure 16 which contains
notes from

**9. Concluding Thoughts**

[9.1] This article has explored the relations between keyboard tunings based upon the chain of fifths. We began by accepting the historical definition of a diatonic scale embedded in a 12-note chromatic keyboard. We demonstrated that the terms used to name diatonic and chromatic intervals can be rationally ordered according to the number of links between the intervals on the chain of fifths. We then derived algorithms that map Pythagorean tuning into just intonation and equal temperament and map just intonation into equal temperament. Pythagorean tuning and just intonation have traditionally been classified as distinct tuning strategies, while Pythagorean tuning and equal temperament have been related only by the Pythagorean comma. This article has shown that the three tunings can be related using algorithms that utilize combinations of pure fifths and syntonic commas.

**Appendix I
Historical Scales of Just Intonation Listed by Barbour**

The numbers in the left hand margin correspond to the number used by Barbour. The table lists the author of the temperament, the date of its publication, the chromatic compass of the tuning on the chain of fifths, and the number of intervals which are pure or are altered by one or more commas, starting at the left end of the chain.

81. Ramis, 1482. Ab-F# Ab-G, 8=0, 4=-1k. 82. Erlangen, 15c. Ebb, Bbb, Gb-B, 2=+1k, 8=0, 2=-1. 83. Erlangen revised, Eb-G#, 7=0, 3=-1k. 84. Fogliano 1529 Eb-G#, 1=+1k, 4=0, 4=-1k, 3=-2k. 85. Fogliano 1529 Eb-G#, 2=+1k, 4=0, 3=-1k, 3=-2k. 86. Fogliano 1529 Eb-G#, 1=+1k, 1=+1/2k, 3=0, 1=-1/2k, 3=-1k, 3=-2k. 88. Agricola 1539. Bb-D#, 8=0, 4=-1k 89. De Caus 17c. Bb-D#, 4=0, 4=-1k, 4=-2k 90. Kepler 1619 Eb-G#, 2=+2, 5=0, 5=-1 91. Kepler 17c. Ab-C#, 3=+1, 5=0, 4=-1 92. Mersenne 1637 Gb-B, 4=+1, 4=0, 4=-1 93. Mersenne 1637 Bb-D#, 4=0, 4=-1, 4=-2 94. Mersenne 1637 Gb-B, 5=+1, 3=0, 4=-1 95. Mersenne 1637 Gb-B, 5=+1, 4=0, 3=-1 96. Marpurg 1776 Eb-G#, 2=+1, 4=0, 4=-1, 2=-2 97. Marpurg 1776 Eb-G#, 1=+1, 6=0, 2=-1, 2=-2 98. Marpurg 1776 Eb-G#, 2=+1, 3=0, 4=-1, 3=-2 99. Malcolm 1721 Db-F#, 3=+1, 5=0, 4=-1 100. Rousseau 1768 Ab-C#, 3=+1, 4=0, 3=-1, 2=-2 101. Euler 1739 F-A#, 4=0, 3=-1, 5=-2 102. Montvallon 1742 Eb-G#, 1=+1, 5=0, 6=-1 103. Romieu 1758 Eb-G#, 1=+1, 5=0, 4=-1, 2=-2

**Appendix II. Ellis’s Table of Intervals not Exceeding an Octave**

This chart lists the intervals identified by Ellis as being
formed from pure fifths and major thirds. It provides the
inverted proportions used by Ellis and his name for the interval
along with the Pythagorean equivalent of the interval from Figure
11.

24:25 Small semitone C#-2k 128:135 Larger limma C#-1k 15:16 Diatonic or just semitone Db+1k 25:27 Great limma Db+2k 9:10 The minor tone of just intonation D-1k 125:144 Acute diminished third Ebb+3k 108:125 Grave augmented tone D#-3k 64:75 Augmented tone D#-2k 5:6 Just minor third Eb+1k 4:5 Just major third E-1k 25:32 Diminished fourth Fb+2k 96:125 Superfluous fourth E#-3k 243:320 Grave fourth (F-1k) 20:27 Acute fourth F+1k 18:25 Superfluous fourth F#-2k 32:45 Tritone, augmented fourth F#-1k 45:64 Diminished fifth Gb+1k 25:36 Acute diminished fifth Gb+2k 27:40 Grave fifth G-1k 16:25 Grave superfluous fifth G#-2k 256:405 Extreme sharp fifth (G#-1k) 5:8 Just minor sixth Ab+1k 3:5 Just major sixth A-1k 75:128 Just diminished seventh Bbb+2k 125:216 Acute diminished seventh Bbb+3k 72:125 Just superfluous sixth A#-3k 128:225 Extreme sharp sixth A#-1k 5:9 Acute minor seventh Bb+1k 27:50 Grave major seventh B-2k 8:15 Just major seventh B-1k 25:48 Diminished octave Cb+2k 64:125 Superfluous seventh B#-3k

Kenneth P. Scholtz

2821 Anchor Ave.

Los Angeles, CA 90064-4605

kscholtz@earthlink.net

### Footnotes

1. The syntonic comma is defined as the difference between the
Pythagorean tuning and just tuning of the major third. The
difference between the just third (5/4) and the Pythagorean third
(81/64) is 81/80, calculated as follows: 81/64 x 4/5 = 81/16 x
1/5 = 81/80. The syntonic comma is also the difference between
the Pythagorean and just tunings for all diatonic intervals other
than the fourth and fifth, which are the same in both tunings.
The reason for the repeated appearance of the syntonic comma will
be apparent from the discussion of the four modes of just
intonation in section 5.

Return to text

2. Mark Lindley and Ronald Turner-Smith, “An Algebraic Approach
to Mathematical Models of Scales,” *Music Theory Online* 0.3
(1993), which is a commentary based upon their book,
*Mathematical Models of Musical Scales* (Bonn: Verlag fuer
Systematische Musikwissenschaft, 1993).

Return to text

3. Blackwood, *The Structure of Recognizable Diatonic Tunings*,
(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985).

Return to text

4. See, for example, L. L. Lloyd’s diagrams in his articles in
the 1954 *Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians* on “Just
Intonation” and “Temperaments.”

Return to text

5. Intervals measured by rational fractions can be converted
into cents using the following approximate values: octave = 1200
cents, perfect fifth = 702 cents; Pythagorean comma = 24 cents;
syntonic comma = 22 cents.

Return to text

6. See Lindley and Turner-Smith, “An Algebraic Approach,”
paragraph 4.

Return to text

7. In modern terminology, dividing the string in half gives two
octaves, in thirds gives a fifth and an eleventh, and in fourths
gives a fourth, octave and double octave. The other diatonic
notes are then determined by calculating intervals of a fifth
from these intervals. This produces two diatonic octaves in
Pythagorean tuning.

Return to text

8. Perfect fifths do not combine to produce a perfect octave.
The nth fifth in a sequence of n fifths is defined mathematically
by the expression (3/2)^{(n)}, which can never be an exact multiple
of 2 since every power of 3 is an odd number. The mathematical
proof that no sequence of fourths can ever produce an octave is
less obvious since every even number can be expressed as a
fraction with an odd denominator, and every power of 3 can be
associated with an infinite sequence of even numbers, such as
18/9, 36/9,

Return to text

9. In logarithmic measure, a perfect fifth is 702 cents.
Therefore twelve perfect fifths equals 8424 cents while seven
octaves is 8400 cents. The difference, the Pythagorean comma, is
therefore equal to 24 cents.

Return to text

10. Euclid (attrib.), *Section of the Canon*, in Barker, *Greek
Musical Writings*, vol. 2 (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1989), 199. Twelve links on the chain of fifths can be
interpreted as 12 fifths, 6 whole tones, 4 minor thirds and 3
major thirds. Thus, the Pythagorean comma is also equal to the
difference between three major thirds or four minor thirds and an
octave. In Pythagorean tuning, a Pythagorean comma is the
interval between any two notes separated by 12 links on the chain
of fifths.

Return to text

11. Blackwood, *Recognizable Diatonic Tunings*, 58.

Return to text

12. The development of the 12-tone school of composition was a
logical consequence of accepting the 12-semitone model of equal
temperament in place of a chain of harmonic fifths.

Return to text

13. These stacked rows appear in Helmholtz’s *On the Sensations
of Tone* (London: Longman, 1885; New York: Dover, 1954; orig.,
4th ed., Braunshweig: Verlag von Fr. Vieweg u. Sohn, 1877), 312,
where it is used to illustrate the enharmonic relation between
notes in Pythagorean intonation.

Return to text

14. An irrational number, such as pi or the square root of two,
is one that cannot be expressed as the ratio of two integers. An
irrational number includes a nonterminating decimal written to
the number of decimals needed for practical accuracy.

Return to text

15. Rossing, *The Science of Sound* (Reading, Mass: Addison Wesley,
1982), 161. This is a general textbook on acoustics. Rossing’s
chart lists the equally-tempered, just and Pythagorean tunings for a
22-note chromatic scale in cents and decimals. The just scale
corresponds to the “C” scale in Figure 10.

Return to text

16. It is possible to generate an infinite number of chromatic just scales by allowing the four adjacent links in Pythagorean tuning to freely slide along the chain of fifths. Whenever C is not part of the Pythagorean notes, it will necessarily be raised or lowered by one or more syntonic commas and no note in the chromatic scale will be tuned to 1. However, changing the absolute tuning of the notes in this manner does not change their relative tuning. Therefore, all of the just chromatic scales generated in this manner can be transposed into one of the four modes listed in Figure 11. The major and minor scales available in each of the four modes are the following:

G-mode: Cb, Eb, G, B, D# E-minor mode: Fb, Ab, C, E, G# C-mode: Fb, Ab, C, E, G# A-minor mode: Bbb, Db, F, A, C# F-mode: Bbb, Db, F, A C# D-minor mode: Gb, Bb, D, F#, A# Bb-mode: Ebb, Gb, Bb, D, F# G-minor mode: Cb, Eb, G, B, D#

Return to text

17. The algorithm used to construct just chromatic scales can be
used to illustrate why intervals generated by the prime 7 cannot
be systematically included in diatonic keyboard tunings. Pleasant
sounding intervals can include sevens. Examples which are
commonly cited are a 7/4 minor seventh, a 7/5 diminished fifth,
both of which are part of a diminished seventh chord in which the
notes C, E, G,

Eb- Bb-s-F--C--G-s-D----A 7/6 7/4 4/3 1 3/2 7/4 21/16

However, temperaments based on 7’s or factors of 7 do not produce a usable family of chromatic keyboard scales from the chain of fifths, which would have the desired ratios for the diminished seventh chord. The “septimal” comma which produces a 7/4 minor seventh and an 8/7 major second on the second link of the chain of fifths is 64/63 (27 cents). Therefore, reiteration of the septimal comma, “s”, in an algorithm which tunes every minor seventh to 7/4 produces two modes of septimal chromatic scales in which E is 64/49, not the desired 5/4.

Mode 1 (F) Mode 2 (G) G# 4096/2041 (+4s) 4096/2041 (+4s) C# 8192/7203 (+4s) 348/343 (+3s) F# 512/343 (+3s) 512/343 (+3s) B 2048/1029 (+3s) 96/49 (+2s) E 64/49 (+2s) 64/49 (+2s) A 246/147 (+2s) 12/7 (+1s) D 8/7 (+1s) 8/7 (+1s) G 32/21 (+1s) 3/2 C 1 1 F 4/3 21/16 (-1s) Bb 7/4 (-1s) 7/4 (-1s) Eb 7/6 (-1s) 147/128 (-2s) Ab 49/32 (-2s) 49/32 (-2s) Db 49/48 (-2s) 1029/1024 (-3s) Gb 343/256 (-3s) 343/256 (-3s) Cb 343/192 (-3s) 7203/4096 (-4s) Fb 2401/2048 (-4s) 2401/2048 (-4s)

These septimal modes are worse than the just modes because the
septimal comma is broader than the syntonic comma by five cents.
The deviation from just intonation is further aggravated because
septimal commas increase the pitch of notes to the right of C and
decrease the pitch of notes to the left of C, contrary to the
action of the syntonic comma. Thus, compared to just intonation,
the pitch of notes to the right of C will be painfully sharp and
notes to the left will be dismally flat. For example, the major
third necessary for the diminished seventh chord will be 2s+1k
(76 cents) broader than in a just scale while the minor sixth
will be 2s + 1k (49 cents) narrower.

Return to text

18. Barbour, *Tuning and Temperament: A Historical Survey*
(East Lansing, Michigan: Michigan State College Press, 1953),
90–102.

Return to text

19. Ibid., 100.

Return to text

20. Ibid., 97–98.

Return to text

21. Ibid., 94.

Return to text

22. Helmholtz, *On the Sensations of Tone*, 453. A similar
list of “Extended Just Tuning” is found in Blackwood,
*Recognizable Diatonic Tunings*, 116–119.

Return to text

23. Blackwood, *Recognizable Diatonic Tunings*, 74, demonstrates
that in a common progression of C-major triads from II to V, just
intonation would require that D as the root of the II chord be
one syntonic comma lower in pitch than D as the fifth of the V
chord. In *The Science of Musical Sound* (*Scientific American
Books*, 1983, 67), John Pierce shows a five chord
progression, I, IV, II, V, I, in which the just tuning of C drops
by a syntonic comma from the first chord to the last.

Return to text

24. It is for this reason that Lloyd in his article on Just
Intonation in the 1954 Grove Dictionary adopted the position that
instruments without fixed pitch and vocalists use a flexible
scale in which the size of the intervals vary according to the
context and part of the reason that Lindley and Turner-Smith
introduced the concept of “leeway” into their algebraic tuning
theory.

Return to text

25. Inspection of the chain of fifths tells us that a major
third can only generate one-quarter of the infinite series of
chromatic notes that are generated by the fifth. This is why the
tuning of the major third is a subsidiary factor in the
generation of diatonic scales.

Return to text

26. Barbour, *Tuning and Temperament*, 26.

Return to text

27. *Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians* (1954),
“Temperaments” (380).

Return to text

28. Dart, *The Interpretation of Music* (New York: Harper & Row,
1963), 47.

Return to text

29. Barbour, *Tuning and Temperament*, 108–9. Since the first
reference to split keys found by Barbour goes back to 1484, this
device must have been used for both Pythagorean and meantone
tunings.

Return to text

30. *Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians*,
“Temperaments” (379).

Return to text

31. Barbour’s table 24 gives a monochord mean-tone tuning derived by Gibelius in 1666 by arithmetic division of the comma which is the same tuning shown in Figure 12. Gibelius’s monochord is divided into an octave between 216000 and 108000, in which G = 144450, D = 193200 and A = 129200. The equivalence of these monochord tunings to Figure 12 is calculated as follows:

G = 216000/144450 = 4320/2889 = 480/321 = 160/107 D = 216000/193200 = 540/483 = 180/161 A = 216000/129200 = 540/323

Barbour states that these approximations “check closely with
numbers obtained by taking roots,” with the G being off by
0.000003. Barbour, *Tuning and Temperament*, 29.

Return to text

32. Barbour, *Tuning and Temperament*, 64.

Return to text

*Music Theory Online*0.3 (1993), which is a commentary based upon their book,

*Mathematical Models of Musical Scales*(Bonn: Verlag fuer Systematische Musikwissenschaft, 1993).

*The Structure of Recognizable Diatonic Tunings*, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985).

*Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians*on “Just Intonation” and “Temperaments.”

^{(n)}, which can never be an exact multiple of 2 since every power of 3 is an odd number. The mathematical proof that no sequence of fourths can ever produce an octave is less obvious since every even number can be expressed as a fraction with an odd denominator, and every power of 3 can be associated with an infinite sequence of even numbers, such as 18/9, 36/9,

*Section of the Canon*, in Barker,

*Greek Musical Writings*, vol. 2 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 199. Twelve links on the chain of fifths can be interpreted as 12 fifths, 6 whole tones, 4 minor thirds and 3 major thirds. Thus, the Pythagorean comma is also equal to the difference between three major thirds or four minor thirds and an octave. In Pythagorean tuning, a Pythagorean comma is the interval between any two notes separated by 12 links on the chain of fifths.

*Recognizable Diatonic Tunings*, 58.

*On the Sensations of Tone*(London: Longman, 1885; New York: Dover, 1954; orig., 4th ed., Braunshweig: Verlag von Fr. Vieweg u. Sohn, 1877), 312, where it is used to illustrate the enharmonic relation between notes in Pythagorean intonation.

*The Science of Sound*(Reading, Mass: Addison Wesley, 1982), 161. This is a general textbook on acoustics. Rossing’s chart lists the equally-tempered, just and Pythagorean tunings for a 22-note chromatic scale in cents and decimals. The just scale corresponds to the “C” scale in Figure 10.

G-mode: Cb, Eb, G, B, D# E-minor mode: Fb, Ab, C, E, G# C-mode: Fb, Ab, C, E, G# A-minor mode: Bbb, Db, F, A, C# F-mode: Bbb, Db, F, A C# D-minor mode: Gb, Bb, D, F#, A# Bb-mode: Ebb, Gb, Bb, D, F# G-minor mode: Cb, Eb, G, B, D#

Eb- Bb-s-F--C--G-s-D----A 7/6 7/4 4/3 1 3/2 7/4 21/16

However, temperaments based on 7’s or factors of 7 do not produce a usable family of chromatic keyboard scales from the chain of fifths, which would have the desired ratios for the diminished seventh chord. The “septimal” comma which produces a 7/4 minor seventh and an 8/7 major second on the second link of the chain of fifths is 64/63 (27 cents). Therefore, reiteration of the septimal comma, “s”, in an algorithm which tunes every minor seventh to 7/4 produces two modes of septimal chromatic scales in which E is 64/49, not the desired 5/4.

Mode 1 (F) Mode 2 (G) G# 4096/2041 (+4s) 4096/2041 (+4s) C# 8192/7203 (+4s) 348/343 (+3s) F# 512/343 (+3s) 512/343 (+3s) B 2048/1029 (+3s) 96/49 (+2s) E 64/49 (+2s) 64/49 (+2s) A 246/147 (+2s) 12/7 (+1s) D 8/7 (+1s) 8/7 (+1s) G 32/21 (+1s) 3/2 C 1 1 F 4/3 21/16 (-1s) Bb 7/4 (-1s) 7/4 (-1s) Eb 7/6 (-1s) 147/128 (-2s) Ab 49/32 (-2s) 49/32 (-2s) Db 49/48 (-2s) 1029/1024 (-3s) Gb 343/256 (-3s) 343/256 (-3s) Cb 343/192 (-3s) 7203/4096 (-4s) Fb 2401/2048 (-4s) 2401/2048 (-4s)

These septimal modes are worse than the just modes because the septimal comma is broader than the syntonic comma by five cents. The deviation from just intonation is further aggravated because septimal commas increase the pitch of notes to the right of C and decrease the pitch of notes to the left of C, contrary to the action of the syntonic comma. Thus, compared to just intonation, the pitch of notes to the right of C will be painfully sharp and notes to the left will be dismally flat. For example, the major third necessary for the diminished seventh chord will be 2s+1k (76 cents) broader than in a just scale while the minor sixth will be 2s + 1k (49 cents) narrower.

*Tuning and Temperament: A Historical Survey*(East Lansing, Michigan: Michigan State College Press, 1953), 90–102.

*On the Sensations of Tone*, 453. A similar list of “Extended Just Tuning” is found in Blackwood,

*Recognizable Diatonic Tunings*, 116–119.

*Recognizable Diatonic Tunings*, 74, demonstrates that in a common progression of C-major triads from II to V, just intonation would require that D as the root of the II chord be one syntonic comma lower in pitch than D as the fifth of the V chord. In

*The Science of Musical Sound*(

*Scientific American Books*, 1983, 67), John Pierce shows a five chord progression, I, IV, II, V, I, in which the just tuning of C drops by a syntonic comma from the first chord to the last.

*Tuning and Temperament*, 26.

*Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians*(1954), “Temperaments” (380).

*The Interpretation of Music*(New York: Harper & Row, 1963), 47.

*Tuning and Temperament*, 108–9. Since the first reference to split keys found by Barbour goes back to 1484, this device must have been used for both Pythagorean and meantone tunings.

*Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians*, “Temperaments” (379).

G = 216000/144450 = 4320/2889 = 480/321 = 160/107 D = 216000/193200 = 540/483 = 180/161 A = 216000/129200 = 540/323

Barbour states that these approximations “check closely with
numbers obtained by taking roots,” with the G being off by
0.000003. Barbour, *Tuning and Temperament*, 29.

*Tuning and Temperament*, 64.

### Copyright Statement

#### Copyright © 1998 by the Society for Music Theory. All rights reserved.

[1] Copyrights for individual items published in *Music Theory Online* (*MTO*)
are held by their authors. Items appearing in *MTO* may be saved and stored in electronic or paper form, and may be shared among individuals for purposes of
scholarly research or discussion, but may *not* be republished in any form, electronic or print, without prior, written permission from the author(s), and advance
notification of the editors of *MTO.*

[2] Any redistributed form of items published in *MTO* must include the following information in a form appropriate to the medium in which the items are
to appear:

This item appeared in

Music Theory Onlinein [VOLUME #, ISSUE #] on [DAY/MONTH/YEAR]. It was authored by [FULL NAME, EMAIL ADDRESS], with whose written permission it is reprinted here.

[3] Libraries may archive issues of *MTO* in electronic or paper form for public access so long as each issue is stored in its entirety, and no access fee
is charged. Exceptions to these requirements must be approved in writing by the editors of *MTO,* who will act in accordance with the decisions of the Society
for Music Theory.

This document and all portions thereof are protected by U.S. and international copyright laws. Material contained herein may be copied and/or distributed for research purposes only.

Prepared by Jon Koriagin and Rebecca Flore, Editorial Assistants