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The question of how microtonality is perceived and why is a hotly debated one. There seems to be, in general, but not in all cases, shared intervals around the world, like the 5th. However non-western cultures use, in general, microtonal tunings. 12 equal notes to an octave is a relatively recent invention in the west. 300 years ago it was common for what would be now called a microtonal tuning to be in common, everyday use. As best as can be determined the push for 12 equal was all about changing keys in a single piece of music. If you take the tuning of the middle ages, Pythagorean, you find you can’t play in any key despite having 12 notes because the intervals between the notes are not equally spaced. As a result when you take a pure chord and move it up or down the octave with the same distance between the notes it could become something hideous. 12 Equal solves that problem at the expense of detuning all notes, some more than others.
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