Document Type



Available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike 4.0 International Licence



Publication Details

Successfully presented to the Technological University Dublin in partial fufilment of the requirements of the MMus (Performance) , 2009


This dissertation provides a critical examination of the use of microtonality as an expressive tool for the improvising saxophonist and offers a new method for quarter-tone production drawing on cultural references from European art music, Arabic Maqam and Contemporary Jazz. The thesis is underpinned by an historical, musicological analysis of tuning systems and theory necessary for the performer of microtonal music. The dissertation is presented in three chapters. In Chapter One, a discussion of tuning theory and a history of temperament systems contextualises the current uses of equal temperament and extensions of it including the quarter-tone tempered system. Chapter Two introduces the breadth and influence of microtonal music from European art music, regional folk music and contemporary jazz while specifically analysing two exemplary case studies – the Arabic Maqam system and the music of the contemporary jazz saxophonist, Hayden Chisholm. Chapter Three presents the development of a new method, discussing microtonality as an expressive device for the contemporary saxophonist. This method demonstrates the use of the saxophone in microtonal music, looking at quarter-tone technical issues and the use of quarter tones in improvisation and composition within a jazz context. First, this research proves and demonstrates how the saxophone as an instrument of non-fixed intonation and therefore not confined to a fixed or single temperament system may, through a systemised method to mastering production of microtonal notes, be vastly increased in its expressive and melodic potential. Second, it demonstrates how an understanding of the history and nuance of tuning systems and alternative temperaments provides the required knowledge for effective communication and notation of the duality of contemporary intuitive, improvising performance / composition. Third, it establishes that cross-cultural studies most effectively provide the systematic, underpinning knowledge required to support the contemporary performer, drawing on ancient traditions of microtonality alongside recent innovations in contemporary music. Finally, the dissertation demonstrates that quarter-tone production is a proven viable addition to the contemporary saxophonist’s toolkit, and that it has far reaching implications for the saxophonist leading him/her to a position of greater expressive potential.