midi software and microtonal music
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Have you ever wondered why we use the tuning that we do?
Have you ever wondered what other tunings there are?
Have you ever wondered what effect other tunings would have on your music?
Alt-tuner is a DAW plug-in that retunes almost every midi keyboard or softsynth. It runs on PCs, macs and Linux/Wine machines. Click here to buy it.
Alt-tuner combines ease of use with powerful capabilities:
Recreate historical tunings like pythagorean, meantone and well-temperaments.
Stretch your piano tuning -- create your own Railsback curves.
Explore ethnic tunings like Turkish, Arabic, Persian, Indian and Indonesian.
Investigate experimental tunings like 22 notes to the octave.
Or just use the adaptive just intonation feature to make "normal" music sound smoother!
You don't need to know tuning theory to get started. Well-chosen defaults get you playing right away. Alt-tuner is novice-friendly and encourages "stumbling onto" new tunings. Alt-tuner uses a graphical point-and-click interface, making it very easy to explore. You're moving sliders and clicking on things, not typing in commands and numbers. Alt-tuner is to other tuning software like Windows is to MS-DOS. However as you explore alt-tuner, many advanced mathematical concepts are demonstrated in a way that can be immediately seen and heard. The manual even includes a 120-page primer on tuning theory (read the outline here). Alt-tuner is so easy to use that it doubles as an educational tool!
You control alt-tuner not only with mouse clicks but also with foot pedals, keyswitches, knobs, sliders, or almost anymidi message your equipment can send. This lets you retune as you play, allowing for extreme modulations, adaptive tuning, multiple EDOs in one piece, etc. You can program your pedals and keyswitches so that you can switch to an entirely different tuning instantly with a single foot press, allowing you to concentrate on the playing, not the tuning process. You can even retune notes you've already played via the retroactive retuning window.
Alt-tuner gives immediate visual feedback on your tuning with an interval display and with lattice, graph and table views (see the screenshots gallery). For non-octave and/or non-12 tunings, you have full control over the keyboard layout, with automatic naming of every key by letter & accidental (e.g. F#) and of every interval by quality & degree (e.g. minor 3rd). You can even create your own symbols for both note names and accidentals.
Because alt-tuner is a DAW plug-in, it's completely integrated with the recording process. You can fully control tuning changes over the course of your recording using either embedded midi or envelope automation. No composition is too complex to record.
Alt-tuner can retune multiple synths at once, with each player retuning their own synth, or one player retuning everyone. Start a band!
Guitarists, bassists and violinists: While alt-tuner can't retune your instrument directly, you can use JamOrigin's software to convert your analog audio to midi, alt-tuner can tune this midi, and the tuned midi can play a synth or a sampler.
Soundfont users: SF2 format soundfonts can be easily retuned using either of Xen-Arts's free soundfont players, XenFont or One-SF2.
Modular synth users: Mutable Instruments' Yarns midi-to-CV converter works with alt-tuner in either pitch bend mode or sysex88 mode, allowing real-time microtuning of CV synths (untested, but the Mutable Instruments people say it should work). Another possibility is using Native Instruments' Reaktor, which is confirmed to work with alt-tuner, and which can function as a midi-to-CV converter. Reaktor can send CV out your laptop's ADAT audio port to Expert Sleepers' ES-3 interface, which can convert the digital CV to analog CV. A third possibility is Sequentix's Cirklon sequencer, which has 8 tuning tables that respond to alt-tuner's sysex82 mode.
traditional 5-limit just intonation
7-limit just intonation, 11-limit just intonation, etc.
historical temperaments like meantone and well temperament
alternative pitch standards like A-432hz, A-435hz, etc.
stretched piano tunings -- create your own Railsback curves
tempering of any comma or group of commas
adaptive just intonation (just chords, but tempered modulating intervals)
adaptive tuning (tempered chords, and differently-tempered modulating intervals)
EDOs (equal division of an octave) like 5-EDO, 19-EDO, 22-EDO, etc.
bending of individual notes while playing via pitchbend wheel or aftertouch
fine tuning of individual notes via pitchbend wheel or mouse clicks
stretched/compressed tunings (all intervals are widened or narrowed proportionally)
remapped tunings (in which the keys run out of order)
non-octave tunings (tunings that repeat at intervals other than an octave)
non-12 tunings (tunings that repeat after more or less than 12 keys)
non-octave AND non-12 tunings like Bohlen-Pierce (tempered or just)
About 7-limit: This is an extended form of just intonation that includes more intervals and more possibilities. A somewhat simplified explanation: Traditional 5-limit just intonation has as its basic chord the triad, built out of thirds, fourths, fifths and sixths. 7-limit just intonation has as its basic chord the tetrad, using the minor 7th and the tritone as well. The dominant 7th chord, the minor 6th chord and the half-diminished chord all become highly consonant and tension-free. Because these new chords and intervals are in tune with the harmonic series, they sound unusual but weirdly natural, to my ears anyway. 11-limit just intonation adds neutral intervals as well, an even more distinctive sound.
About adaptive just intonation: On a fixed-pitch instrument like a piano, it's a mathematical impossibility to get all the intervals in tune. That's why keyboards use equal temperament, well temperament or meantone, because just intonation causes "wolf" intervals in even a simple diatonic or pentatonic scale. Classical string quartets, barbershop singers, etc. solve this problem by imperceptibly shifting each note's pitch to get each chord in tune (or only imperceptibly off). Alt-tuner applies this same technique of adaptive intonation to keyboards in real time as you play. No other software on the market can make this claim. Furthermore, alt-tuner does this not only with 5-limit but also with 7-limit and higher just intonation.
alt-tuner manual and tuning theory primer (pdf, the primer is a work in progress, last updated 6/23/14)
alt-tuner screenshots (jpegs from the manual, plus a few gifs)
alt-tuner demo videos and mp3s (web page with embedded youtube videos and soundcloud mp3s)
alt-tester (text file, "Save as..." to your computer, free utility to test your midi setup's "tune-ability", requires Reaper or ReaJS)
tester.RPP (Reaper project file for use with alt-tester, "Save as..." to your computer, requires Reaper)
alt-tester manual (2 page pdf file)
alt-tester ReWire wrapper (OS X).RPP (Reaper project file for use with alt-tester, "Save as..." to your computer, requires Reaper)
ReWire wrapper (Windows & loopMIDI).RPP (Reaper project file
for use with alt-tester, "Save as..." to your computer,
requires Reaper and loopMIDI)
keyswitchRetuner.nkp (Kontakt script, "Save as..." to your computer, for use with alt-tester and alt-tuner)
rechanneler (text file, "Save as..." to your computer, free utility to control midi channels, requires Reaper or ReaJS)
midi_template (text file, "Save as..." to your computer, template to create your own midi effects, requires Reaper or ReaJS)
How it works: Alt-tuner is a midi-only effect. It alters your midi before it reaches your synth and is converted to audio. Because alt-tuner is midi-only, it doesn't limit your choice of sounds; it simply adds the ability to control your tuning as well. Depending on the midi output mode chosen, alt-tuner adds either pitch bends or sysex messages or keyswitches. It may also transpose notes or redirect them to different midi channels.
Alt-tuner is a Jesusonic plug-in that runs inside Reaper (or ReaJS, see below), a great free-to-try cheap-to-buy DAW. Reaper is easy to install, uses only 42M of disk space, and isn't copy-protected. Reaper is only $60, and the free demo version is completely uncrippled. You can use Reaper alongside your preferred DAW via ReWire or a virtual midi cable, both of which are free. Think of Reaper as a "wrapper" for alt-tuner. OS X users already have a virtual midi cable, IAC. For Windows users I recommend loopMIDI: www.tobias-erichsen.de/software/loopmidi.html. GarageBand users: see chapter 6.10 in the manual for a disclaimer.
Alternatively, PC and Linux/Wine users can run alt-tuner inside ReaJS, a free Jesusonic-to-VST wrapper. ReaJS is part of ReaPlugs, which can be downloaded here: www.reaper.fm/reaplugs/. (Use the latest version, 2.36. Avoid the 32-bit 2.2 version, the graphics are nonfunctional.) If your DAW doesn't load VSTs (like ProTools), you may be able to run ReaJS inside an additional VST-to-your-format wrapper. If you don't want to use an additional wrapper, or if your DAW supports neither multi-channel midi nor sysex (like Ableton Live), or if you don't even have a DAW, you can run Alt-tuner/ReaJS inside a free standalone VST host. For Windows, I recommend Cantabile Lite. By itself, it will suffice for playing live, but not for recording or editing. For that, either use loopMIDI to connect Cantabile Lite to your DAW, or buy the full version of Cantabile.
Alt-tuner runs on any system Reaper runs on: Windows 2000 or later, OSX 10.4 or later, Linux/Wine, and even Windows 98/ME (limited). ReaPlugs runs on all of these systems except OS X. Linux users: see How_to_run_Reaper_in_Wine_on_Linux for a performance disclaimer. Alt-tuner on Linux is untested, but because midi is so much more efficient than audio, this disclaimer probably won't apply to alt-tuner.
Alt-tuner can retune ANY keyboard or softsynth, with only three exceptions: 1) Keyboards with limited timbrality, like most Nord keyboards, can only be played monophonically. Before you buy alt-tuner for use with a specific hardware synth, read chapter 6.10 in the manual and check the specifications section of your synth's manual for its timbrality. (This is not an issue with softsynths.) 2) A few softsynths and keyboards can't be retuned because they don't respond to pitch bend messages. Examples are the Genesis CM softsynth, and some keyboards that lack a pitch bend wheel, like the Technics PX-111 and PX-201. 3) Some low-end keyboards like the Yamaha PSR-282 can't be retuned because they don't let you turn off local control. But even if your keyboard isn't retunable, you can still use it as a midi controller for a softsynth.
You can test the "tune-ability" of your midi setup (hardsynths, softsynths, DAWs, virtual midi cables, ReaJS, VST hosts, etc.) with the free download alt-tester. See chapters 6.1 & 6.10 in the manual for instructions. If your setup works with alt-tester, it'll almost certainly work with alt-tuner. See also the alt-tuner users forum. Forum registration is limited to alt-tuner owners, to avoid spambots. For pre-purchase assistance with alt-tester or Reaper, please e-mail me directly. See below for my e-address.
Alt-tuner pricing is two-tiered, like Reaper pricing. Full commercial license: USD $150. Discounted license: USD $99. You qualify for the discounted price if any of the following is true:
You are an individual, using alt-tuner only for personal use.
You are an individual or business, using alt-tuner for commercial use, and the yearly gross revenue does not exceed USD $20,000.
You are an educational or non-profit organization.
Alt-tuner has a 30-day money-back guarantee. After purchasing, e-mail me at and I'll send you the alt-tuner files in my reply. The files you get will run on Windows or OS X or Linux/Wine. One license allows one person to use alt-tuner on several computers, or several people to use alt-tuner on one computer. For multiple people on multiple computers, please buy multiple licenses by increasing the quantity on the paypal page. Site licenses are also available.
Before purchasing, please read the alt-tuner EULA (End User License Agreement, one-page text file)
No paypal account required. If you don't want to use paypal, e-mail me for other options.
Paypal now offers interest-free financing for 6 months via the Bill Me Later option (US customers only).
For help with paypal purchasing, see screenshots here, here and here.
Alt-tuner can retune midi two ways, via pitch bends or via sysex. All synths (except hardsynths with insufficient timbrality) can be retuned with pitch bends; sysex retuning merely provides another option. Sysex retuning has the advantage of less set-up and more polyphony, but may limit the size of the octave, the number of keys per octave, etc. Alt-tuner currently uses either MTS Universal Sysex #82 (real-time single-note tuning change) or Sysex #88 (non-real-time scale/octave dump). Most synths don't respond to any sysexes and must be retuned via pitch bends. Some synths can be retuned via sysex #82 or sysex #88. Some synths don't respond to either sysex but can be retuned by a custom sysex written especially for that specific synth. Such custom sysexes are add-ons to alt-tuner, sold separately. If your synth lets you fine-tune each key individually, it probably can be retuned by sysex. Contact Kite for information on your specific synth.
Testimonials from alt-tuner users:
"Today I am using Altuner to auto-play midifiles like Bach and Mozart in Reaper's "Media Explorer" while changing Altuner's slider to 12-tone subsets of different edo's. Way cool! Well worth the money!" (link)
"I am studying alt-tuner manual slowly and with the dictionary help, for me is a big obstacle the english and is a work of art, you are very clever, artist & a genius!!! Thanks people as you the dreams are possible become reality" (link)
"Perhaps the best pitch-related software out there... really excellent overall!" (link)