Temperament in Tuning Systems of Southeast Asia and Ancient India

  • Rolf BaderEmail author
Part of the Current Research in Systematic Musicology book series (CRSM, volume 5)


Tuning systems in many musical cultures in Southeast Asia as well as in India are often considerably different from Western tuning systems. Within these cultures, the literature as well as oral tradition on theoretical reflections of why choosing which tuning system are scarce. For Western scholars, only considering the pitches played or the tuning of instruments is not perfectly satisfying, as it lacks insight into the reasons for certain tunings. Still when considering ecological constraints, like ensemble setups, instrument building, or the acoustics involved, often the reasons for choosing a special tuning becomes clear. The paper presents examples from fieldwork in this regions between 1999 and 2014, and often finds musicians wanting to get close to just intonation, but deviating from it mainly because of three constraints: The need to switch between different ensemble types, constraints of instrument building, and acoustical constraints. The paper therefore suggests that many tunings in Southeast Asia are temperaments in the sense of compromises between a desired system, often just intonation, and such constraints.



My thanks to the performers and informants in Cambodia, Myanmar and Sri Lanka, especially Kai Sokmean So Tia, Savuth Prum, Prof. Dr. Annang, Kyaw Zay, Na Na Masan New Songi, Hpung Taung La Hum Seuy Aung, Myittung Gam, the UNHCR people Paul Knudsen, Lu Zaw and Saw Yu for their wonderful music, support, ideas and patience. Also many thanks to Anton Isselhardt in Phnom Penh, whose excellent work and engagement in music, organization of music festivals, and musical exchange between Cambodia and Germany for many years enriches the musical scene in Cambodia a lot, and to my dear colleague Dieter Mack for his links and support. Also many thanks to all the others helping at and around the field works.

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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Systematic Musicology, University of HamburgHamburgGermany

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