I'm creating a software synthesizer and I want to add musical tunings, mostly those like you can find in keyboards from Roland etc.

Now I don't have them in my mind, and I wish to add at least 5 to 10 interesting ones like the Roland keyboards do. I looked up the Scala archive for .scl files and found 17 tunings that looked good to me, the well known ones like Werckmeister and those that are available on Wikipedia.

The way I want to add them is just like the keyboards, hardcoded, not via .scl format, because I haven't got an .scl parser in my preferred programming language, and more so I have no idea how to make it look good when someone were to browse through thousands of .scl files. I want to preselect the important ones.

I asked people from the Huygens Fokker website whether it's okay to copy a substantial amount of scales into something, but I got no reply.

So, is there a collection of tunings that is public domain and I could use it? I thought an old book maybe. I looked into a book from Werckmeister and I'm struggling to read it.

A CC-BY-SA license as Wikipedia text is would be okay too, but also problematic, because it's share-alike. And compared to how easy .scl files are, I have problems to read the scale tables there, too.

  • So your question is, are tunings copyrighted? Like, "tuning" = array of 12 decimal numbers. For example: (0.0, +0.1, -0.1, +0.04, -0.01, +0.1, +0.2, -0.09, -0.01, +0.1, -0.3, -0.2) I call that the Jussumnumbas Tuning. If someone copies that into their app, should I sue them for copyright violation? If I create a library of such arrays, it's probably different. How about if someone takes a dozen of the arrays from my library and, say, converts them to a more or less accurate representation? Any copyright lawyers here? – piiperi Reinstate Monica Jan 9 '20 at 8:16

Most tunings in western music can be (and were, historically) derived mathematically. You can not copyright mathematics.

You can certainly copyright a document containing mathematics (e.g. a math textbook) but the copyright is of the arrangement of the text on the page, not of the maths itself.

So IMO you can include any tunings you like in your software with no copyright issues, but you may have problems with copyright violation in the documentation (assuming some published documentation actually exists, of course!)

There could be a legal grey area if you are reproducing a measured tuning system which doesn't have any clear theoretical basis, e.g. the tuning of a specific historical musical instrument, as measured and documented by someone else in a copyrighted book. That could also apply to pitch standards, e.g. some researcher demonstrates that a particular tuning fork was owned by a particular musician, measures its frequency, and publishes the result in a copyrighted work. But I guess that is unlikely to be what you are doing.


Which programming language do you use? I have created a mainly bug to bug compatible Scala parser for Mutabor (C++/Bison/Flex).

And there is a book “The Mathematical theory of tone systems” by Jan Haluška which countains lots of tunings.

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