Ekmelic Music – An Introduction

The term ekmelic originates from Greek music theory: "ek melos" means "outside the series" – it was used to indicate pitches that were not included in the ancient Greek tone system. Today, this term is used in a similar sense: it referes to tones which lie outside the twelve semitone steps of our traditional, tempered tone system and, hence, outside our habitually conditioned listening.

Since 1970, the two professors Franz Richter Herf and Rolf Maedel were engaged in research and systematization of microtones, at the Institute for Basic Musical Research at the Mozarteum Academy Salzburg. They accordingly called the practical application of their research results "Ekmelic Music". This uses a tempered tone system with 72 steps within the octave (duoseptuagesimal system). It contains the usual steps in the equal-tempered twelve-semitone system, and additionally, a subdivision of the semitone step into six parts. This fine gradation enables to comprise all audible tone values with sufficient accuracy, as well as to lead the attuned range of audibility up to its limit.

Each single step (that is, a twelfth tone) has a distance of 1623 cents (a semitone is equvalent to 100 cents). The ear is still able to differentiate this step, since its limit to distinguish tones lies between 5 and 8 cents.

The ekmelic tone system constitutes an extension of the twelve-degrees tempered tone system with all important partial tones. It comprises the microtonal third, quarter, sixth, and twelfth tone scales, as well as many non-European tone systems (e.g. in the Arabian, Indian, and Javanese music), and the non-equidistant scales of the naturetone-music. Nearly any tone system is representable with the highest accuracy which the ear is still able to differentiate.
This rich spectrum of possible choices enables the ekmelic music to comply with the artistic intentions of composers in any imaginable fashion, and it offers novel, fascinating, but likewise strange and never heard experiences of sound to musicians and audience.

Usually, an instrumentalist or singer who is not familiar with the intonation of microtones questions his ability to actually reach the finer tone steps required in the ekmelic music. Also many conductors are still in doubt about the feasibility to control the intonation of tones which lie outside their habitually conditioned listening.
In contrast to this, it appears that when practising microtonal compositions the performers reach the required competent listening and playing of finer tone steps in a relatively short time. Already when performing a romantic opus, musicians in an orchestra intonate over 30 tones instead of the twelve tempered tones within an octave. It is merely a small step from this differentiation to finer subdivisions of the octave in microtonal tone systems.


Data and notations of all degrees in the 72-tone equal-temperament system (72-EDO, Ekmelic System). It shows the twelfth tone degree in the octave (0-71), the alteration (tone fraction), the partial tone, the approximate proportion, and the corresponding German note name in Ekmelily and ekmelib. See the table of note names in English and other languages.

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