eli5 how do we know our standard for musical notes has stayed the same before recording existed couldn’t notes have changed without anyone even realizing

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eli5 how do we know our standard for musical notes has stayed the same before recording existed couldn’t notes have changed without anyone even realizing

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We know they’ve changed. As a matter of fact it wasn’t even consistent in Western music until it was agreed that everyone should use 440 Hz for A.

Before this, many followed the French standard at 435 Hz

It was formalized as a standard ISO 16 in 1975

It still varies depending on what you’re doing.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A440_(pitch_standard)

The way notes compare to each other is fixed in the system. An octave up means double the frequency and the octave itself is divided equally, otherwise the music doesn’t work and doesn’t sound right.

What isn’t fixed is the starting point that can be chosen arbitrarily. It is in fact still not 100% standardized today also one standard of A = 440Hz is the standard that everyone has agreed upon and uses unless otherwise notified.

We could measure the frequency of notes for some time before we could record sound and we have writings and letters of people arguing what the right frequency should be.

Before we had a way to measure frequency we at least had tuning forks. Some of those are still around and we can measure them today to figure out what frequency they would have tuned to.

We also have a number of old instruments still around that more or less are expected to have staid tuned the way they were.

In general things up until comparatively recently were a bit of a confused mess, with everyone using their own pitch.

We don’t know what people writing classic piece of music would have thought an A sounded like, but even in their days the people playing the music didn’t know either and it still sounded right to everyone.