What was the reference pitch before the invention of the tuning fork in 1711? Was it somewhat a task to try and get within the ballpark of referenced pitch?

Like for instance, maybe they knew what diameter and length a chosen note of a portative organ should be. Same as for flutes, and maybe acceptable string length for different sizes of lutes.

Is there any historical proof (documents/paintings), of a similar practice? Or did it differ from region to region that the note C drastically could be the equivalent of the modern A as well as F.

  • 1
    music.stackexchange.com/q/75624 this looks very similar to your question.
    – DavidW
    Aug 3, 2020 at 5:34
  • I consider this as two questions: 1) what was the reference pitch 2)how it was if not measured, so at least transported. The latter part is covered by the linked question, for the first one complete books exist due to the variety over place and time. Note, that your proposed string length does not help much due to influence of string mass and tension.
    – guidot
    Aug 3, 2020 at 7:26
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    I think a third question is in order as well, "Was there a reference pitch?" There's no reason why there has to be one.
    – Duston
    Aug 3, 2020 at 13:08
  • I remember there was something about the Ancient Greeks using a specifically measured metal rod Aug 3, 2020 at 19:49
  • @Duston: I consider these two reasons as sufficient: 1) For a multi-instrument concert you need a common reference pitch, even if just for this occasion. It may not be called reference pitch and might not be stated in hertz. 2) Lots of instruments can't be tuned to a significantly higher or lower pitch than that intended by its maker and even less remain if the time for re-tuning is reasonably limited.
    – guidot
    Aug 4, 2020 at 13:59

1 Answer 1


That's why Bach is considered "the father of music". He convinced the musicians how exactly to tune instruments (see Well Tempered Clavier story).

  • 2
    No he isn't, and no he didn't :-)
    – Laurence
    Aug 3, 2020 at 23:59

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