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Wolf  

Guy Oldham and Mark Lindley

The name given to two undesirable and unpleasant sound effects which may occur in musical performance, one having to do with temperament and tuning, the other with a structural peculiarity in an instrument that sometimes gives rise to intonation difficulties.

On keyboard instruments with tuning systems that do not provide a note intended for use as A♭, playing G♯ instead, with E♭ in the same chord, produces an unpleasant effect, supposed to resemble the howling of a wolf. In Pythagorean intonation the wolf 5th is smaller than pure by 23½ cents, a quantity known as the Pythagorean comma. But the wolf 5th in any regular mean-tone temperament (where the ‘good’ 5ths are tempered two or three times as much as in equal temperament) is considerably larger than pure (see Mean-tone). The tuner who follows a scheme containing a wolf 5th might choose some other location for it than G♯–E♭. C♯–A♭ was occasionally used in the 15th century and D♯–B♭ in the 17th for mean-tone temperament; B–F♯ was favoured, or rather disfavoured, by many 15th-century practitioners of ...