Thursday, February 10, 2011

Imperialism and the Piano

Before the Piano, for many if not most cultures a 12 note scale was not the norm. And the clash between equal and natural temperament shows that the piano - the most important instrument of the West - is a highly flawed concept adapted to facilitate thick and complex harmonic structures.

Some aspects of our ears are deadened as a result. A prominent Arab musician and historian told me (us) once that at the turn of the century, the average Arab could heard 32 pitches within an octave. With the centuries long intrusion of the piano into the Middle East, 'traditional' arab music now has around 16, with the use of half flats.

And one always does feel a bit clunky as a Westerner playing Arab melodies. Americans have the blues, a distant relative through time, but it doesn't feel as subtle or smooth.

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