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Miscellaneous topics
Tuning / High Third Mystery
"Lies My Music Teacher Told Me"
"The Sounds of Music: Perception and Notation"


LA Piano Tuners

Just thought I'd direct your attention to this morning's L.A. Times. The article is entitled "Piano Tuner's Blues." It deals with the digital vs. ear tuning debate among other things. Hope you're doing well.-- Ex-Student, Travis Erwin

Nice to hear from you, Travis. Thanks for the heads-up on this article. It clearly demonstrates that there is a lot more to tuning than the average music user realizes.By the way, there is an on-line video version of the article at <> One must register in order to see it, but registration is free. -- Jerry

Pitch and rhythm

It seems that the music world treats the topics of pitch and rhythm separately. Is this just my naive impression of the music world?

While pitch and rhythm must be combined in order to create an actual musical expression, they are very different perceptually. For example, a red car has both "red-ness" and "car-ness" but these attributes have no essential similarities. One must contemplate "red" and "cars" separately in order to understand them as concepts.

Therefore, when learning about the nature of pitch and rhythm, one must deal with them abstractly and separately. As you likely realize, we can experience one without the other.

The *interplay* of pitch and rhythm then is another subject, but obviously better understood when each has been understood separately. I hope this helps. -- J

Now what?

You have helped me bridge the gap between the world of music and the world of physics. I have bought and studied all your books and material at this point. I have also purchased the software from Justonic - Pitch Palette. Do you have a bibliography of recommended books and/or articles for further study? -- Warm Regards, Vuk

Actually, I haven't, Vuk. My writing has been more or less "for what it's worth." What you get is what makes sense to you. I haven't kept track of all of the sources and practical experiences that have led me to my current point of view on these matters.
A good source of information about what's in print would be the Yahoo "tuning group." These folks are very much into the subject of microtuning -- both acoustic and electronic -- and frequently discuss the "literature." Send a blank email to
<> -- Jerry

Where should I start?

I'm a student at Cal State San Marcos. I haven't ever taken a music class but I was reading an interview of one of my favorite hip hop artist, Del the Funky Homosapian, and he referred to "Lies My Music Teacher Told Me" as the best book he's found on music theory. I plan on reading this book, but I was wondering if you recommend reading the "Sounds of Music..." book first since I'm not very informed on the subject. Thanks for the help. — Linden

Thanks, Linden, for your email. For folks new to music theory, I recommend reading "Sounds" first. "Lies" is specifically for people who have had some training and are still trying to figure out the sense of it. "Sounds," on the other hand, is for readers like you who have little or no background and want to make sure all the basics are in place. Enjoy! — Jerry


I found "Lies" to be amazingly lucid and useful. Now I want to read "The Sounds of Music: Perception and Notation." — Tee Campion

I guess it can work the other way, too. — J

You have to have been around to know what the lies are. If you expect to read this book and catch your teacher in the lies, you won't have the knowledge to explain, and probably your teacher is too ignorant to understand. I've learned most (99%) of my music from books and teachers, which explains why I am not musical! I recommend this book to anyone who is good with theory, but has a suspicion that there is more to music than what they've been told or read. — D. K. Wilkes, Seattle, Washington

Thanks, D. K. You may be correct here. But I suspect you are more musical than you admit. Remember, a good music listener requires musicality. Your interest in music suggests that you are likely at least that. — J

"Sounds" is a fairly comprehensive explanation of the theory of music and provides an excellent alternate to the standard perspective. It's different from the other books on this topic I have read in that it starts "at the beginning," with very basic facts about human perception and the physics of producing sound, and follows an unusual but cogent route to a deeper understanding of music.

As a lifelong student of music (and recently-turned-professional performer), I was delighted to find this new perspective filling in a number of little holes in my understanding and challenging me to reconsider some of the ideas I had about music and which I never thought about very deeply. I recommend it highly for those who find value in multiple perspectives on the subject of music theory! — Wes Carroll, San Francisco

This is interesting, Wes, in that it has been suggested that I didn't have a clear focus on my "audience" while writing "Sounds." Initially, I tended to agree in the sense that writing the book was somewhat of a cathartic for me—largely a process of "getting it down" for whomever would take a fancy to read it. In retrospect, however, I remember taking care that everything should be as simple and clear as possible so as not to lose the novice. On the other hand, I remember imagining experienced readers "looking over my shoulder" and gaining a fresh perspective on the topic. Your comments above indicate that my apparent lack of audience focus is not really a problem. Thanks. — J

Tritone list?

Do you have a list of your favorite works that you use to show the functionalityand utility of the tritone? Specifically, I am interested in the works of Bach, Mozart, and Bethoven.
Although I frequently have the impulse to start such a list when I hear good examples, I have not followed through on the idea. Actually, almost any "functional" music (as in the music composed by the three composers you mention) must of necessity contain many instances of tritones directing the harmonic flow of the composition. -- J

The "High Third" mystery

I play stringed instruments. Mainly guitar and bass. The guitar sounds best with frets. The wire stopping at a fret makes a beautifully bright tone which cannot be replicated with a finger. Plus there is much less sustain when the wee wire is stopped by my fleshy digit (I know this from experimenting with a fretless guitar). Plus there is the whole Chord issue. If one cannot have fixed pitches, how does one place frets?
Sometimes, after reading about the problem of fixed pitches, I get so frustrated, that I feel compelled to have nothing to do with guitars and just play percussion and sing.
There must be a way to fret an instrument in tune.
Thank you,

You may be interested to know about a colleague of mine who is both a guitarist and microtonalist. John Schneider is well known for his "just tuned" fretboards. Since the pitches are necessarily fixed, this is not exactly the same as the flexible tuning produced by voices or violins. John's personal page on the Pierce College web site provides some interesting facts about his interests and activities. Perhaps a visit there will turn up something of value. -- J


Fascinating reading. I'm quite intrigued by it, coz I was always plagued by it in band, and played constantly into a tuner, which took a lot away from making real music.
Now I know that my instrument was made very poorly and had a horrid scale. Held me back musically, but sure did open up my ear 'oles! I look forward to the results, and may even have to check out your "tuning" Yahoo list. How does one sign up? I'm no expert, but a very willing learner. -- Happy Holidays, Lesa Walter

Thanks for participating, Lesa. Encourage your musical friends to do so as well. To get into the tuning list send a blank email to


Wow! In the Jerry 10 example I heard the third of the chord rise in the last couple of seconds. It made me realize that what I had always considered to be an "in tune" chord was actually not. The high third at the end is the sound I have come to prefer, but now I'm not so sure.In the Jerry 00 clip, I definitely heard the third alone at the end and it sounded flat. Was it really the same pitch that had been sounding all along? I am a singer (tenor) and choir director. I have a Masters Degree in choral conducting and am in the process of pursuing a doctorate at the University of Utah. — Mark Pearce

Interesting, Mark. Apparently, you heard the "low" (acoustic) third in Jerry10 and the "high" third in Jerry00. I find that when I focus on the pitch of the third in Jerry10, I tend to hear it low. However, when I focus on the sonority as a whole I hear the "high" third (and sense that it goes down when the second chord begins. Try doing that and see if your conscious "focus" makes any difference. Let me know, please.

Yes, I am told by the creator that the frequency of the third is the same throughout in Jerry00.— Jerry


Let me, Fred Reinagel, introduce myself - I have been involved with the application of historic tuning systems in the performance of vocal and instrumental early music for over 25 years. As a result, about 5 years ago I designed an electronic tuner that provides 17 historic temperaments, called "the PitchMan". I learned of you and your "Lies" book on the tuning list net group, and immediately bought the book (through - very good service). In general, I am in violent agreement with your sentiments about the deplorable ignorance and misinformation being taught about tuning.

The solution is farther from practical than I had earlier suspected. I am finding that even teachers who appreciate a fresh point of view regarding the teaching of music fundamentals are reluctant to forsake the "tried and untrue." We are considering publishing ancillary materials (student handbook and teacher's manual) to be used with my textbook "The Sounds of Music:Perception and Notation." Hopefully, these will encourage more college teachers to help turn the tide.

There are a few aspects, however, which I find puzzling - perhaps you can clear them up. On page 28, you imply that the average musician can readily notice that a pure 5th is wider than an equal-tempered 5th. The difference between them is only about 2 cents, which is one beat per 2.3 seconds at middle G. Even if the listener does detect beats (admittedly, the upper partials will beat faster), I doubt if any but the very most aurally gifted would be able to perceive the _sign_ of the pitch discrepancy (upper note sharper or flatter). On the other hand, the major 3rd, the equal-tempered version being almost 14 cents wider than the just, would make a much more perceivable and dramatic demonstration of the evils of equal temperament on acoustic (ie, harmonically consonant) tuning.

The practice of tuning, as I understand it, is not simply to adjust pitches a few cents up or down but rather to "float" them into agreement with other sounding pitches. Even my "baby choir" college students learn to tune a perfect fifth in this manner with little difficulty (once they catch on to what the goal is). It's a matter of finding adjustment of the pitch that causes it to "disappear" into the sounding fundamental.

After considerable practice locating these tunings harmonically, I find that one can place them rather precisely melodically as well.As a result melody sparkles with a new freshness that a piano can only dream about.

I am also confused by several passages which suggest that rendering chords and intervals in just intonation makes pitches sound generally sharp compared to "normal" (ie, equal-tempered) tuning. These occur in the first paragraph on page 32, the second paragraph on page 35, and the second paragraph on page 38. Discounting the 5th scale degree which should be very slightly higher than tempered (and in fact, when I sing them I always stretch them even a tiny bit on the wide side of pure), the 3rd, 6th, and 7th scale degrees all need to _lowered_ by nearly one comma to make them just. In the many years I've coached a cappella groups, I've always had to hound them to lower those tone's pitches to get good harmonic tuning. Comments, please?

In my experience, many, if not most, singers and string players tend to find a "locked" major third slightly higher than tempered when both the root and a well-tuned fifth are sounding. I have demonstrated this many times, even when the groups are not warned ahead of time what the point of the demonstration is. (The procedure is described in the "Mystery of the High Third" discussion on this site.)

Regarding "adjustments" of other scale steps, I hear scale step 6 finding a " lock" higher (8/13?) when tuning to the tonic than when tuning to the subdominant (4/6?-- subject to the above observation about thirds). Apparently we agree that scale step 4 when sounding as the seventh of the V7 is not the same pitch as scale step 4 sounding as the root of IV.


Thanks for "Lies"

Your book, Lies My Music Teach Told Me, confirms a lot of things I have thought about music but have been too timid to express.
Thanks for writing it. — Harris Lemberg

Thank you, Harris. Your note is a confirmation to me, as well. I have received a great many similar responses to “Lies” which lets me know that I am on the right track. Best wishes for the holidays and beyond. — Jerry

I am a private music teacher in violin, piano, and theory. I teach Suzuki Violin and piano to all ages. I have a BM in Piano, a BME in Music Education, an MM in Music throry and composition, a DMA in Composition and a BSN in Nursing! I received an epiphany when I read your book, and plan to immediately incorporate it into my teaching. I have taught both acoustics and music theory on college level.

My father was a pianist and my mother a singer. I grew up listening to them practice, humming alone, experimenting with my own voice in relation to their harmonies as well as to the (yes, indeed!) the whine of the vaccuum. When I took college theory, it was a process of hanging names on things I already knew from discovery. Reading "Lies My Music Teacher Told Me" was like validating my whole childhood experience.

Unfortunately, my formal music training did not carry on that experience. My mother was so afraid that I would never learn to read notes (I was reluctant to do it) that she forbade me to play by ear, so my early ability to reproduce what I heard at the keyboard died an unnatural death. Do you think I could teach my fingers at this age (56) to improvise beyond very elementary stuff?

I am going to order your "Natural Ear Training" to help me teach my students to trust their ears. I think this is the answer to the violin student who does not play in tune in spite of the fact that he or she has a normally discriminating ear (Can distinguish changes of one Hz on the electronic tuner and tell which direction the pitch goes but does not carry this over into playing. This has mystified me for years.)

I am wildly grateful for your book and any other guidance you might feel inspired to give. — Meredith Nisbet

Your email has brightened an otherwise dreary day, Meredith. It is always exhilarating to hear that my ideas have connected with a kindred spirit. Thanks for letting me know of your “epiphany.”

I know of no educational principle that would prevent 56 year old fingers from taking cues from a revitalized musical awareness. I suggest you “go, girl.” (Or "boy," as the case may be.)
Let us know how the "tin-eared" violin student does. — Jerry

"Sounds" feedback

I just got "The Sounds..." in the mail. I put on the CD and skimmed and listened through the whole book in one sitting, reading as fast as I could and only pausing the CD briefly to catch up inbetween. Wow! What a joy to find a book that so thoroughly explains music theory from a fresh viewpoint and in such an organized fashion. I can't wait to reread it now (slowly) and take it all in. I'll definitely put it on the top of my reading recommendations for my friends.

I especially appreciate doing away with the myth that Equal temperament is OK and addressing the attitude that pure ratios don't matter because the differences are imperceptible. Balderdash! The nerve of the Harvard Dictionary of Music! The true sound of the third and flat seventh is so beautiful not to mention all of the other intervals. I also appreciated the use and clarification of such new (to me) terminology as "digitals" and "pitch recognition". Not to sound too weird about it but, I just love this book!! — Peter Abood,Worship and Fine Arts Pastor, Central Christian Church,
Wichita KS

In one sitting? That's pretty impressive, Peter! After you have re-read more liesurely, be sure to send us your thoughts and suggestions. — Jerry


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