I'm interested in popular or used microtonal scales. I don't need a list of all possible ones, just those that are used.

If you could also please give the uses of such microtonalities to hear not just the names of them, I'de be very happy. Thank you!

I have come up and used in my works the following ones: Augmented C half-sharp

Augmented D half-sharp

D/A half-sharp Augmented D/A half-sharp

  • Welcome! Please read about the topics that are covered here. Although it's not spelled out on that page, questions for which the answer would mainly be a "list" of items are also discouraged. You mentioned you don't need an exhaustive list, but maybe it would be helpful to edit the question to ask more about such microtonal uses, rather than just for their names. Especially, it might be helpful to narrow the focus to certain music cultures or genres. It might be easier to discuss these in a context of practice than abstract theory. Oct 24, 2022 at 12:53
  • Combined with your previous question, it seems that you're working with microtones, but there's probably a lot to be gained from addressing the "how" rather than "what do I call it." (For instance, I'm curious why you're including a standard-tuned piano playing in unison with the microtonal violin part, and how that works out...) Oct 24, 2022 at 12:56
  • @AndyBonner, I'm very interested in the "how" too. I edited the question to say that. I don't want to reinvent the wheel, so yes, you're right Oct 24, 2022 at 12:59
  • @RedMermaid have you seen the Xenharmonic Wiki? The article "Why use alternative tunings?" may be a helpful starting point.
    – Theodore
    Oct 24, 2022 at 14:02
  • There's the ever-popular 'I'm not very good yet' microtonal chromatic, but this might not be what you're after. Oct 24, 2022 at 14:04

2 Answers 2


I hope others can give a more detailed answer, but my advice would be to start by studying those cultures and genres that use microtonality. Middle Eastern music springs to my mind; especially music for the oud; this might be the closest to the Western concept of "scale," in which we conceive of a given scale degree as being a certain frequency, "always" or in the abstract.

The violin is also used in Carnatic music, with non-Western techniques and tunings. The concept of scale is more complicated in this and other genres, because it's not just a matter of static pitch, but of rules about how you raise, lower, and bend pitches in different contexts. For that matter, there are plenty of Western practices that encourage us to "bend" or alter pitches for contextual reasons, from the "blue note"(s) in blues to the way classical players narrow the gap between the leading tone and the tonic. In the history of classical music, the notion that all half-steps are equal distances ("equal temperament") is relatively new; for centuries, the frequencies would be adjusted or "tempered," and even instruments with fixed pitch like lute or harpsichord would be able to adjust the temperament (in the case of lute, with moveable frets). For a deep dive into how this system still affects piano tuners (at least, smart ones) today, see The Seventh Dragon: The Riddle of Equal Temperament by Anita Sullivan.

Scandinavian folk music also exhibits "altered" tunings; I think of the willow flute which plays the overtone series with its "out of tune" notes, and both Norwegian and Swedish fiddle traditions adjust certain pitches noticeably out of the standard scale (see this article).

It's debatable whether "microtonal" is the right word for these practices of temperament or altered intonation, though. In the case of pre-Romantic Western music's "temperaments," this was still a system built on the tetrachord and the familiar 12 semitones that we derive from it; it's not a matter of dividing the octave into more or fewer parts than 12 and identifying "other notes."

  • 1
    I like the term "mesotonal" (coined by Kraig Grady) for tuning systems that are still in the neighborhood of 12 tones, but not 12-EDO or other common "Western" systems.
    – Theodore
    Oct 24, 2022 at 14:07
  • @Theodore s/12 tones/diatonicism/. Most folk genres don't use 12 tones at all – they can often be played well on a 12-edo instrument, but usually it's quite clear that the starting point is rather a Pythagorean or 5-limit tuning (just as in the history of mainstream European art music). They typically use, like, 8 or 9 tones; for example Norwegian is usually in E major or B major, Irish is usually in D major or G major or their relatives, etc.. The idea to modulate anywhere, and thus require temperament, is historically the exception. Oct 24, 2022 at 22:26
  • @leftaroundabout Not sure how that relates to my comment. I know all this. I was only offering an alternate term for "microtonal" when we're just talking about altered intonations.
    – Theodore
    Oct 25, 2022 at 0:52
  • @Theodore it relates to the number 12 in your comment, which IMO misses the point. You could just as well say their in the neighbourhood of 31 or 34 tones or perhaps even 17 tones, or indeed any other number of tones if it's not EDO anyway – this is meaningless. What does characterize mesotonal tunings however is that they're in the neighbourhood of a diatonic scale. Oct 25, 2022 at 7:17
  • @leftaroundabout I see what you mean now and I don't wish to argue about what seems to be a minor point. I guess I should have said 7 instead of 12, though I would personally consider the range of 5 ~ 12 to be "in the neighborhood of 7" (especially when compared to, say, 53). FWIW, Kraig Grady has referred to both his 12-tone Centaur (7-limit) and Centaura (11-limit) just tuning systems as "mesotonal".
    – Theodore
    Oct 25, 2022 at 13:26

"Or any instrument that can easily get microtones?"

You didn't specify if you are open to synthesizers or not. There are a few that allow very controlled specification of microtonal scales and of course, allow easier control to play the desired pitches. Using a synthesizer with microtonal control would also allow you to provide an accompaniment with matching scales. The Hydrasynth, for one, allows uploading up to 32 user defined microtonal scales.

  • Yes, I am open to them Oct 26, 2022 at 12:29

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