Samathy Barratt


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Book Review: How Equal Temperament Ruined Harmony

I don't normally write book reviews on my blog, but I figured since I've written it for Goodreads I might as well post this review here.

I've been trying to up-my-game on the front of music and music theory. I've played guitar since I was about 10, starting with classical, moving to 'electric' ( which was really just doing the RockSchool grades, mega boring), and then getting bored with it for a few years. I've recently taken more of an interest in playing jazz and blues after pushing myself to find time for guitar again.

Both jazz and blues require a more intimate knowledge of musical theory than playing classical pieces or 'electric' grades. Largely because of their focus on improvisation. Hence my reading some music theory books.

You can buy "How Equal Temperament Ruined Harmony" here.

This is a perfect introduction to non-ET western musical systems. It does not require much knowledge of ET music theory to enjoy.

How Equal Temperament Ruined Harmony ruined my confidence that I understand musical theory at all.

By that I mean, it opened my eyes and expanded my horizons past the common understanding of how music works that we're taught in the west.

The book goes into depth about how the western Equal Temperament system works, and what problem it exists to solve. Followed by discussing many of the temperament systems ( mostly western ) that came before ET, which composers may have used them, which musicians might have used them and the benefits and disadvantages of each.

Completely surprising to me is the excellent presentation of the argument for using non-ET temperaments in the current day, especially for historical music ( music we call 'Classical', from Renaissance to Modern ) but also for new music. ET is not the perfect solution to making harmonious music, as we are lead to believe nowadays. Other systems exist and can, apparently, be beautiful in their own way.

I particularly enjoyed the frequent humorous comics to illustrate a point, as well as the regular sections covering a brief life-and-times of a specific composer being discussed.

This book is very approachable to those interested in music theory, historical music and probably mathematics. Its not very long, a short read.