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a monochord

A monochord is an ancient musical and scientific laboratory instrument. The word "monochord" comes from the Greek and means literally "one string." A misconception of the term lies within its name. Often a monochord has more than one string, most of the time two, one open string and a second string with a movable bridge. In a basic monochord, a single string is stretched over a sound box. The string is fixed at both ends while one or many movable bridges are manipulated to demonstrate mathematical relationships between sounds. With two strings you can easily demonstrate how a consonant just chord sounds. Both open strings are tuned equal and then the movable bridge is put in a mathematical position to demonstrate, for instance, the major third (at 4/5th of the string length) or the minor third (at 5/6th of the string length).

The monochord can be used to illustrate the mathematical properties of musical pitch. For example, when a monochord's string is open it vibrates at a particular frequency and produces a pitch. When the length of the string is halved, and plucked, it produces a pitch an octave higher and the string vibrates at twice the frequency of the original (2:1). Half of this length will produce a pitch two octaves higher than the original—four times the initial frequency (4:1)—and so on. Standard diatonic Pythagorean tuning (Ptolemy’s Diatonic Ditonic) is easily derived starting from superparticular ratios, (n+1)/n, constructed from the first four counting numbers, the tetractys, measured out on a monochord.

Monopipe is a wind instrument which serves the same purpose as the monochord.

Monochord practitioners

In 1618, Robert Fludd devised a mundane monochord (also celestial or divine monochord) that linked the Ptolemaic universe to musical intervals. An image of the celestial monochord was used on the 1952 cover of Anthology of American Folk Music by Harry Everett Smith and in the 1977 book The Cosmographical Glass: Renaissance Diagrams of the Universe (p. 133) by S.K. Heninger, Jr., ISBN 9780873282086.

A modern playing technique used in experimental rock as well as contemporary classical music is 3rd bridge. This technique shares the same mechanism as used on the monochord, by dividing the string into two sections with an additional bridge.

See also


1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

MONOCHORD (Gr. µovSXopOov,;caw :o p µovaucos) : med. Lat.

monochordum), an instrument having a single string, used by the ancient Greeks for tuning purposes and for measuring the scale arithmetically. The monochord, as it travelled westwards during the middle ages, consisted of a long board, or narrow rectangular box, over which was stretched the single string; along the edge of the sound-board was drawn a line divided according to simple mathematical ratios to show all the intervals of the scale. A movable bridge was so contrived as to slide along over the string and stop it at will at any of the points marked. The vibrating length of string, being thus determined as on the guitar, lute, violin, &c., yielded a note of absolutely correct pitch on being twanged by fingers or plectrum. In order the better to seize the relation of various intervals, a second string tuned to the same note, but out of reach of the bridge, was sometimes added to give the fundamental. (K. S.)


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