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temperament, in music, the altering of certain intervals from their acoustically correct values to provide a system of tuning whereby music can move from key to key without unacceptably impure sonorities. It is particularly necessary for keyboard instruments, the pitches of which cannot be varied in performance. Many systems have been devised, going back to the late 15th cent. “Just Intonation” refers to systems in which some fifths are tuned unacceptably small so that others may be pure. “Temperament” refers to systems that distribute the impurities throughout the tuning. Of these, “Equal Temperament” divides the octave into 12 equal half-steps, leaving all intervals except the octave slightly impure. (see tuning systems).


See S. Isacoff, Temperament: The Idea That Solved Music's Greatest Riddle (2001).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



in music, an adjustment in the tuning of intervals between steps in a musical scale. Temperament essentially consists of small changes in the values of intervals, mainly fifths, in comparison with the intervals’ acoustically exact value in a harmonic series. The changes result in a system that allows the use of all tonalities and chords of the most diverse structure without violation of the aesthetic norms of perception and without complication of the construction of instruments having fixed pitch, such as the organ, stringed keyboard instruments, and the harp.

The need for temperament arose in the 16th through 18th centuries with the appearance of new musical forms and genres and with the development of new means of musical expression. In the Pythagorean system and just intonation used prior to this time, there were small differences in pitch between enharmonic tones, for example, the sounds B sharp and C or D sharp and E flat; this hindered the development of the modal and harmonic systems. It was necessary either to design instruments with tens of keys in each octave or to refrain from transitions to other tonalities. In the first unequal temperaments, musicians tried to retain the value of the major third just as it was in just intonation.

In the 12-tone, equal temperament scale, all perfect fifths are reduced to one-twelfth of the Pythagorean comma. This produces a system in which the octave is divided into 12 equal semitones and all intervals of the same name are identical in value. The psychophysical basis for using such a system is the zonal nature of human pitch perception. Attempts to overcome the into-national deficiencies of the 12-tone temperament by creating a system with 24, 36, 48, 53 and larger quantities of tempered tones in the octave have not been successful. The 12-tone temperament remains the optimum solution.


Sherman, N. Formirovanie ravnomerno-temperirovannogo stroia. Moscow, 1964.




a person’s distinctive makeup as constituted by the dynamic features of his mental activity—namely, the pace, rhythm, and intensity of individual mental processes and states.

The three main components of temperament are an individual’s general activity, his motor activity, and his emotional makeup. An individual’s general mental activity is reflected in the dynamic features of his personality—in its striving toward self-expression and toward an effective mastery and transformation of external reality. Such activity may range from a state of sluggishness or inertness to extreme energy and drive. The motor component of temperament is significant as a means of actualization for the inner dynamics of mental states. The dynamic qualities of motor activity include such attributes of muscular movement as speed, force, sharpness, rhythm, and range; some of these qualities are applicable to speech activity as well. The third component of temperament, emotivity, distinctively reflects the origin, flow, and cessation of various feelings, affects, and moods. The basic emotive states are impressionability, impulsiveness, and emotional lability. Impressionability represents the degree of a subject’s affective susceptibility; impulsiveness, the speed with which an emotion stimulates behavior and action; and emotional lability, the speed with which a given emotional state is extinguished or is replaced by a different one.

Historical theories of temperament may be divided into three basic points of view with respect to the factors that condition temperament as manifested in behavior. The oldest are the humoral theories, which associate temperament with the properties of one or another of an organism’s fluid media. For example, Hippocrates linked temperament to the proportional relation of four fluids circulating in the human organism: blood, bile, black bile, and mucus (lymph or phlegm). These fluids were thought to be predominant in the organism, and consequently the basic types of temperament—sanguine, choleric, melancholic, and phlegmatic —were named after them.

In modern times, the psychological characteristics of the basic types of temperament were categorized by I. Kant in his Anthropology (1789): the sanguine temperament, in Kant’s scheme, is distinguished by a quick change of emotions with little emotional intensity and power; the choleric temperament, by fervor, irascibility, and impetuous behavior; the melancholic temperament, by intense and prolonged emotional experiences; and the phlegmatic temperament, by sluggishness, tranquilness, and lack of force in the outward expression of feelings. Kant’s interpretation, however, confused the traits of temperament and character. The distinctive properties of blood were regarded by Kant as the organic basis of temperament.

Akin to the humoral theories of temperament is P. F. Lesgaft’s idea that, in the final analysis, manifestations of temperament are based on characteristics of the circulatory system.

An attempt to develop a morphological theory of temperament was made by the German psychopathologist E. Kretschmer (1888–1964), who defined temperament according to the body’s basic constitutional types. For example, according to Kretschmer, the asthenic type, which is distinguished by a long and narrow chest, long extremities, an elongated face, and a weak musculature, corresponds to a schizoid, or schizothymic, temperament. The principal characteristics of this type on a “psychoesthetic” scale range from extreme vulnerability, affectivity, and irritability to insensitive coldness and blind, “wooden” indifference. Schizoids are characterized by reticence, escape into an inner world, reactions that do not correspond to external stimuli, and spasmodic impetuosity alternating with constrained behavior. The pyknic type, characterized by a broad chest, a stocky figure, a round head, and a protruding abdomen, corresponds, according to Kretschmer, to a cycloid, or cyclothymic, temperament. This type has characteristics ranging over a diathetic scale—from the constantly heightened, gay mood of manic subjects to the constantly subdued, sad, and dismal state of depressed individuals. Cycloids characteristically react to stimuli in appropriate ways, displaying openness, ability to integrate with the environment, naturalness, gentleness, and ease of movement. Kretschmer exaggerated the role of constitutional features as factors in the development of personality.

The American psychologist W. Sheldon singled out three basic types of somatic build, or somatotypes: endomorphic, mesomorphic, and ectomorphic. The endomorph is characterized by softness and roundedness in external appearance and by poorly developed bone and muscle systems; this type corresponds to the viscerotonic temperament with its love of comfort, sensual drives, slackness, and slow reactions. The mesomorph is distinguished by a rigid and angular appearance, by predominance of the bone and muscle systems, by athleticism, and by strength; this type is associated with the somatotonic temperament with its love of adventure, inclination toward risk, eagerness for muscular action, activism, courage, and aggressiveness. The ectomorph is typically graceful and frail in physical appearance and lacks a pronounced musculature. This somatotype corresponds to the cerebrotonic temperament, characterized by poor sociability, inhibition, a tendency toward isolation and solitude, and a heightened reactivity. Like Kretschmer, Sheldon propounded the principle of somatic predetermination of the most diverse personality features, including features that are wholly determined by education and by the social environment.

The chief deficiency of the humoral and morphological theories is that they accept as the first cause of the manifestations of temperament in behavior those systems of the organism that lack the essential qualities to fill that role.

I. P. Pavlov was the first to establish on a theoretical and experimental basis the leading role of the central nervous system in the dynamic features of behavior. For Pavlov, the nervous system had three basic properties: force, balance, and mobility of the excitatory and inhibiting processes. From all the possible combinations of these properties, Pavlov singled out four combinations corresponding to four types of higher nervous activity, whose behavioral manifestations were directly linked by Pavlov to the classical categories of temperament. In the Pavlovian classification, there is a strong, balanced, and excitable type of nervous system corresponding to the sanguine temperament; a strong, balanced, and unexcitable type corresponding to the phlegmatic temperament; a strong, unbalanced type corresponding to the choleric temperament; and a weak type corresponding to the melancholic temperament. In evaluating this typology, one must bear in mind that it was based on the higher nervous activity of animals and cannot be directly applied to man without substantial reservations.

Soviet psychologists such as B. M. Teplov, V. D. Nebylitsyn, and V. S. Merlin have noted that Pavlov’s works on temperament are chiefly significant for clarifying the role of properties of the nervous system that are the primary and most fundamental parameters of an individual’s psychophysiological makeup. At the present stage of scientific development it is not yet possible to determine the number of basic types of the nervous system or the number of typical temperaments. As research indicates, the nervous system’s properties, taken as a neurophysiological measure of temperament, are much more complex in their very structure than had previously appeared, and the number of basic combinations of these properties is evidently much greater than Pavlov had supposed.


Kretschmer, E. Stroenie tela i kharakter, 2nd ed. Moscow-Leningrad, 1930. (Translated from German.)
Levitov, N. D. Voprosy psikhologii kharaktera, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1956.
Leites, N. S. “Opyt psikhologicheskoi kharakteristiki temperamentov.” In the collection Tipologicheskie osobennosti vysshei nervnoi deiatel’nosti cheloveka [vol. 1]. Moscow, 1956.
Kovalev, A. G., and V. N. Miasishchev. Psikhicheskie osobennosti cheloveka, vol. 1. Leningrad, 1957.
Teplov, B. M. Problemy individual’nykh razlichii. Moscow, 1961.
Merlin, V. S. Ocherk teorii temperamento, 2nd ed. Perm’, 1973.
Nebylitsyn, V. D. Osnovnye svoistva nervnoi sistemy cheloveka. Moscow, 1966.
Anan’ev, B. G. Chelovek kak predmet poznaniia. Leningrad, 1969.
Klages, L. Die Grundlagen der Charakterkunde. Leipzig, 1928.
Sheldon, W. H. The Varieties of Temperament. New York-London, 1942.
Guilford, J. P., and W. S. Zimmerman. Fourteen Dimensions of Temperament. [Washington] 1956.
Cattell, R. B. Personality and Motivation Structure and Measurement. New York [1957].
Diamond, S. Personality and Temperament. New York, 1967.
Bourdel, L. Les Tempéraments psychobiologiques. Paris, 1961.
Strelau, J. Temperament i typ ukladu nerwowego. Warsaw, 1969.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


The adjustment of the pitch of the notes of a keyboard instrument so that the diatonic scale in all keys approximates just tuning; this permits modulation to any key.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


1. the characteristic way an individual behaves, esp towards other people
a. an adjustment made to the frequency differences between notes on a keyboard instrument to allow modulation to other keys
b. any of several systems of such adjustment, such as just temperament, a system not practically possible on keyboard instruments (see just intonation), mean-tone temperament, a system giving an approximation to natural tuning, and equal temperament, the system commonly used in keyboard instruments, giving a scale based on an octave divided into twelve exactly equal semitones
3. Obsolete the characteristic way an individual behaves, viewed as the result of the influence of the four humours (blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile)
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005