Tartini tones and temperament: an introduction for musicians

The Tartini tone is an auditory illusion*: often it is a low note perceived when the only sounds present are high notes. More than just a curiosity, it is a useful tuning aid. Some argue that it has an important role in the development of scales and temperament.

To talk about the Tartini tone, we need a few musical terms: Equal temperament (ET) is the tuning approximated by pianos: from one note to its chromatic neighbour, the frequency increases by 5.9% and in that sense, all semitones are equal. For finer divisions, the ET semitone is divided into 100 cents. These are the units marked on electronic tuners. One cent is a frequency increase of 0.058%. (See Notes and frequencies to convert notes, frequencies, MIDI numbers etc.)

Tartini tones in musical notation

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