Magic chord

The Magic Chord is a chord and installation (1984) created by La Monte Young, consisting of the pitches E, F, A, B, D, E, G, and A, in ascending order and used in works including his The Well-Tuned Piano and Chronos Kristalla (1990).[1] The latter was performed by the Kronos Quartet and features all notes of the magic chord as harmonics on open strings.[1] The quartet has been described as, "offer[ing] perhaps the ultimate challenge in performing in a just environment."[4]

Magic chord (as played in The Well-Tuned Piano).[3]

Described as, "complex and throbbing," the chord does not contain its fundamental (see root (chord)),[5] E, and is a subset of the Romantic Chord,[6] G-Dorian in eight octaves, spelled G,A,B,C,D,E,F,G.[7] "When the Magic Opening Chord is obtained by playing the Opening Chord at one end of a room while the Magic Chord is played at the other (as Young set it up for me), the feeling-changes of the stereo effect as you move back and forth[-]are dazzling."[5] The opening chord consists of E, B, C, E, F, B (ratios 4:6:7:8:9:12 Play ),[8] adding C[9] and E to the magic chord when combined as the magic opening chord (Play ).

The Well-Tuned Piano is based on a pitch lattice of perfect fifths and harmonic sevenths, tuned as follows:[10][11]

Note Note played (E) E F G A B (C) D
Note sounded relative to E (Ben Johnston notation) (E) F7++ F+ A7b+ B7b+ Bb (D7b) E7b+
Ratio (1/1) 567/512 9/8 21/16 189/128 3/2 (7/4) 63/32
(from C)
(E) E F G A B (C) D
Step Ratio   567/512 64/63 7/6 9/8 64/63 7/6 9/8

For example, G (21/16) is the harmonic seventh of the perfect fifth (7/4 * 3/2 = 21/16):

H7 49 147 441 1323 (3969)
7 21 63 189 567
1 3 9 (27) (81)


  1. Grimshaw, Jeremy (2011). Draw A Straight Line and Follow It: The Music and Mysticism of La Monte Young, p.176. ISBN 978-0-19-974020-8.
  2. Gann, Kyle (1993). "La Monte Young's The Well-Tuned Piano". Perspectives of New Music. 31 (1): 162. doi:10.2307/833045. JSTOR 833045. (subscription required)
  3. Gann (1993), p. 143.
  4. Strange, Patricia and Strange, Allen (2001). The Contemporary Violin: Extended Performance Techniques, p.160. ISBN 978-0-520-22409-4.
  5. Duckworth, William (2009). Sound and Light: La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela, p.187. ISBN 978-0-8387-5738-3.
  6. Potter, Keith (2002). Four Musical Minimalists: La Monte Young, Terry Riley, Steve Reich, Philip Glass, p.86. Cambridge. ISBN 9780521015011.
  7. Potter (2002), p.85-6.
  8. Duckworth (2009), p.168.
  9. Potter (2002), p.87.
  10. Gann, Kyle (1997). "La Monte Young's The Well-Tuned Piano", La Monte Young Web Page.
  11. Duckworth p. 166.
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