Microtuning - A reasonably simple guide.

200907 water sound5

Posted on 29 March 2015

First of all why would we want to microtune?
By changing the tuning of our instruments away from the 'standard' western Equal Temperament tuning we are able to access and explore different feeling and resonance our music. Equal Temperament has very little (almost none) actual harmony, in both the maths and sound wave relationship between the notes. When we explore scales with harmonic tunings we can expect mathematical relationships that result in pure and beautiful sound geometry which is both heard and felt with our ears and body. Imagine the collage of sound of a song as the picture on a TV screen - in Equal Temperament there is an overall fuzziness but in harmonic tuning scales its like tuning our picture to HD. Because many of us have lived most of our lives in Equal Temperament we don't consciously hear/feel the tiny dis-harmonic intervals and oscillations taking place. But after you create music with micro tuning for a period of time you really start to feel it.

Further exploration and debate
As this is a quick guide we will not venture into the rabbit hole of conspiracy, measurements of time, "what feels good to you doesn't feel good to me", and so on. There is so much info out there now on this topic that with a quick web search one can find all sorts of perspectives. There will be some important and recommended links to follow.

To clarify
This is not repitching to 432Hz. This is about re-tuning each individual note in the 12 note octave so we end up with different and exciting harmony. When we re-pitch to 432Hz by tuning down 8Hz or 32cents we are still in equal temperament, so there is still the subtle chaos of Equal Temperament.

Most tunable soft synths and samplers will take advantage of scale files produced with Scala (.tun & .scl). You can use it to create all manner of microtuned scales and on the web page you can download about 2000 world, historic, and experimental scales to tune your synths to. I have a small number of 'harmonic' tunings that I prefer and will add links to these at the end.

I'm going to focus on the methods I use to micro tune the instruments I use. There is a huge list of synths that can be micro tuned and a quick internet search will reveal ones I have not mentioned and how to tune them.

How to...
1. Place tuning files in required locations
2. Open Instrument
3. Apply tuning
4. Lock tuning if possible

I recommend that you make a tuning folder on your hard drive and keep all your tuning files there for ease and grace.

DAWs -

Logic - has global tuning preferences so you can retune the onboard instruments. To add your own tuning to Logic you can copy a .scl file into the tuning folder located in the Logic application package, it will then show up in your list of user tunings in the tuning preferences.

Cubase - Has a Microtuner insert effect to tune its instruments.

Ableton Live - Live is lacking this but there are ways to work around. Here is a good example of micro tuning in Live - (Subaqueous)

Software Instruments
Camel Audio Alchemy®
- Load your micro tuning files into the tuning folder located here:
program files -- camel audio -- alchemy --- Libraries -- Tuning
Its a good idea to use a prefix that will put you favourite tuning at the top of the list which makes things faster when you want to apply your micro tuning.
In the - section of the Synth you click the tuning tab, select your tuning, click the 'preserve' button to lock the tuning and away you go.

Spectrasonics Omnisphere® - Load your micro tuning files into the tuning folder located here:
PC - program files - Spectrasonics - steam - Omnisphere - settings library - presets - tuning file
MAC - System - Library - Application Support - Spectrasonics - steam - Omnisphere - settings library - presets - tuning file
Make a new folder in this tuning file folder. Its a good idea to use a prefix that will put you new tuning folder at the top of the list which makes things faster when you want to apply your micro tuning. Now just copy your .tun files into this folder.
In the - section of the Synth you click the tuning tab, select your tuning and away you go. Omnisphere does not have a lockable tuning so you'll have to reload your tuning with each preset change. Omnisphere2 Has a lockable tuning option - YES!

Rob Papen® (Albino2 and others) -
On the back panel (Click on the synth name to access) of the instrument there is a tuning window. Click it and then browse for the .tun file you want to load.

Zefer® Serum - In the synths Global tab there is a section called Oscillator Settings. Click 'Tuning File' browse for the .tun file you want to load, select it and use the small padlock symbol to lock it in.
Note: The current version of Serum does not remember your tuning when you quit your session and load it back up again so just remember if you have any instances of Serum running in projects that you lock in the tuning when you load up your session.

Linplug® (Spectral) -
Click the 'Options' tab. On the back panel click the 'Load' button next to the 'Microtonal Scale' section.
Search for, and load the tuning you want. Good to go.

U-He® (Zebra2, ACE, Diva, Bazille) -
Load your micro tuning files into the tuning folder located here:
MAC - System - Library - Application Support - u-he - Tunefiles
PC - program files - u-he - Tunefiles
Its a good idea to use a prefix that will put you favorite tuning at the top of the list which makes things faster when you want to apply your micro tuning.
Zebra2 - Load the tuning in the global section.
Diva - Load in the Tuning section
ACE - Load in the Tweaks section
Bazille - Load in the Tweaks & FX section.
Left click on the loaded tuning and select 'Lock' from the drop down menu to lock the tuning in place.

Native Instruments® Kontakt - First you will need a script version of your tuning created in Scala. Open the script file with a text viewing application, select all, and copy. In Kontakt press on the Script tab (looks like a little sheet of paper), select an unused script tab and then paste the text from the contact script file. Choose 'save as' to save the script and name it accordingly. It will now show up in the load tab.

Native Instruments® Reaktor - This one is a little tricky. First you will need to download a user made Microtuner from the Reaktor used download section on the NI website.
Open Reaktor and then open the instrument inside it that you want micro tuned. In the same ensemble you will load in the microtuner so it appears next to your synth. Then you activate the edit mode and dive deep into the inner workings of the instrument till you find the Oscillator tuning section. You then wire the micro tuner into that section. This method will require patience and dedication but if you flow simple signal flow you will work it out. I have only been able to do this with Razor and would love to know if anyone has an easier method.

Working with sample content
As pretty much all (Melodic) sampled content is 440Hz Equal Temperament I work with it very little these days. But if I want to use a sample I will tune it relative to the pitch of my tuning (Usually 432Hz) by putting it in a sampler or by pitching it. I will only use it if it sounds and feels good to me.

Links and resources...

The software used to create microtonal scales for digital instruments. You can also download a HUGE list of tuning files.

Mathemagical Music
My number one recommendation for a comprehensive guide to microtuning and harmonic tuning.

Harmonic Tuning vs Equal Temperament
Here is a great example of the difference between standard (Disharmonic) tuning and a harmonic tuning. Listen with your whole body.

Mathemagical Music Production (including pdf book)
The PDF that is included with this music is my most recommended treasure when it comes to exploring the world of harmonic music, chakras, color, and other related goodness.

What Music Really Is
Deep and detailed perspectives on harmonic sound and the evolution of music.

Maria Renold Tuning files
This tuning is easy to use across the whole octave. Its based on the pythagorean tuning and rooted in A=432Hz.