Pitch (music)

Pitch is a perceptual property of sounds that allows their ordering on a frequency-related scale,[1] or more commonly, pitch is the quality that makes it possible to judge sounds as "higher" and "lower" in the sense associated with musical melodies.[2] Pitch can be determined only in sounds that have a frequency that is clear and stable enough to distinguish from noise.[3] Pitch is a major auditory attribute of musical tones, along with duration, loudness, and timbre.[4]

Pitch may be quantified as a frequency, but pitch is not a purely objective physical property; it is a subjective psychoacoustical attribute of sound. Historically, the study of pitch and pitch perception has been a central problem in psychoacoustics, and has been instrumental in forming and testing theories of sound representation, processing, and perception in the auditory system.[5]

Bach - Taylor 1873
In musical notation, the different vertical positions of notes indicate different pitches. Play top  & Play bottom 

Perception of pitch

Pitch and frequency

Pitch is an auditory sensation in which a listener assigns musical tones to relative positions on a musical scale based primarily on their perception of the frequency of vibration.[6] Pitch is closely related to frequency, but the two are not equivalent. Frequency is an objective, scientific attribute that can be measured. Pitch is each person's subjective perception of a sound wave, which cannot be directly measured. However, this does not necessarily mean that most people won't agree on which notes are higher and lower.

The oscillations of sound waves can often be characterized in terms of frequency. Pitches are usually associated with, and thus quantified as, frequencies (in cycles per second, or hertz), by comparing the sounds being assessed against sounds with pure tones (ones with periodic, sinusoidal waveforms). Complex and aperiodic sound waves can often be assigned a pitch by this method.[7][8][9]

According to the American National Standards Institute, pitch is the auditory attribute of sound according to which sounds can be ordered on a scale from low to high. Since pitch is such a close proxy for frequency, it is almost entirely determined by how quickly the sound wave is making the air vibrate and has almost nothing to do with the intensity, or amplitude, of the wave. That is, "high" pitch means very rapid oscillation, and "low" pitch corresponds to slower oscillation. Despite that, the idiom relating vertical height to sound pitch is shared by most languages.[10] At least in English, it is just one of many deep conceptual metaphors that involve up/down. The exact etymological history of the musical sense of high and low pitch is still unclear. There is evidence that humans do actually perceive that the source of a sound is slightly higher or lower in vertical space when the sound frequency is increased or reduced.[10]

In most cases, the pitch of complex sounds such as speech and musical notes corresponds very nearly to the repetition rate of periodic or nearly-periodic sounds, or to the reciprocal of the time interval between repeating similar events in the sound waveform.[8][9]

The pitch of complex tones can be ambiguous, meaning that two or more different pitches can be perceived, depending upon the observer.[5] When the actual fundamental frequency can be precisely determined through physical measurement, it may differ from the perceived pitch because of overtones, also known as upper partials, harmonic or otherwise. A complex tone composed of two sine waves of 1000 and 1200 Hz may sometimes be heard as up to three pitches: two spectral pitches at 1000 and 1200 Hz, derived from the physical frequencies of the pure tones, and the combination tone at 200 Hz, corresponding to the repetition rate of the waveform. In a situation like this, the percept at 200 Hz is commonly referred to as the missing fundamental, which is often the greatest common divisor of the frequencies present.[11]

Pitch depends to a lesser degree on the sound pressure level (loudness, volume) of the tone, especially at frequencies below 1,000 Hz and above 2,000 Hz. The pitch of lower tones gets lower as sound pressure increases. For instance, a tone of 200 Hz that is very loud seems one semitone lower in pitch than if it is just barely audible. Above 2,000 Hz, the pitch gets higher as the sound gets louder.[12] These results were obtained in the pioneering works by S.Stevens [13] and W.Snow [14]. Later investigations, i.e. by A.Cohen, had shown that in most cases the apparent pitch shifts were not significantly different from pitch‐matching errors. When averaged, the remaining shifts followed the directions of Stevens' curves but were small (2% or less by frequency, i.e. not more than a semitone)[15]

Theories of pitch perception

Theories of pitch perception try to explain how the physical sound and specific physiology of the auditory system work together to yield the experience of pitch. In general, pitch perception theories can be divided into place coding and temporal coding. Place theory holds that the perception of pitch is determined by the place of maximum excitation on the basilar membrane.

A place code, taking advantage of the tonotopy in the auditory system, must be in effect for the perception of high frequencies, since neurons have an upper limit on how fast they can phase-lock their action potentials.[6] However, a purely place-based theory cannot account for the accuracy of pitch perception in the low and middle frequency ranges.

Temporal theories offer an alternative that appeals to the temporal structure of action potentials, mostly the phase-locking and mode-locking of action potentials to frequencies in a stimulus. The precise way this temporal structure helps code for pitch at higher levels is still debated, but the processing seems to be based on an autocorrelation of action potentials in the auditory nerve.[16] However, it has long been noted that a neural mechanism that may accomplish a delay—a necessary operation of a true autocorrelation—has not been found.[6] At least one model shows that a temporal delay is unnecessary to produce an autocorrelation model of pitch perception, appealing to phase shifts between cochlear filters;[17] however, earlier work has shown that certain sounds with a prominent peak in their autocorrelation function do not elicit a corresponding pitch percept,[18][19] and that certain sounds without a peak in their autocorrelation function nevertheless elicit a pitch.[20][21] To be a more complete model, autocorrelation must therefore apply to signals that represent the output of the cochlea, as via auditory-nerve interspike-interval histograms.[19] Some theories of pitch perception hold that pitch has inherent octave ambiguities, and therefore is best decomposed into a pitch chroma, a periodic value around the octave, like the note names in western music—and a pitch height, which may be ambiguous, that indicates the octave the pitch is in.[5]

Just-noticeable difference

The just-noticeable difference (jnd) (the threshold at which a change is perceived) depends on the tone's frequency content. Below 500 Hz, the jnd is about 3 Hz for sine waves, and 1 Hz for complex tones; above 1000 Hz, the jnd for sine waves is about 0.6% (about 10 cents).[22] The jnd is typically tested by playing two tones in quick succession with the listener asked if there was a difference in their pitches.[12] The jnd becomes smaller if the two tones are played simultaneously as the listener is then able to discern beat frequencies. The total number of perceptible pitch steps in the range of human hearing is about 1,400; the total number of notes in the equal-tempered scale, from 16 to 16,000 Hz, is 120.[12]

Aural illusions

The relative perception of pitch can be fooled, resulting in aural illusions. There are several of these, such as the tritone paradox, but most notably the Shepard scale, where a continuous or discrete sequence of specially formed tones can be made to sound as if the sequence continues ascending or descending forever.

Definite and indefinite pitch

Not all musical instruments make notes with a clear pitch. The unpitched percussion instrument (a class of percussion instrument) does not produce particular pitches. A sound or note of definite pitch is one where a listener can possibly (or relatively easily) discern the pitch. Sounds with definite pitch have harmonic frequency spectra or close to harmonic spectra.[12]

A sound generated on any instrument produces many modes of vibration that occur simultaneously. A listener hears numerous frequencies at once. The vibration with the lowest frequency is called the fundamental frequency; the other frequencies are overtones.[23] Harmonics are an important class of overtones with frequencies that are integer multiples of the fundamental. Whether or not the higher frequencies are integer multiples, they are collectively called the partials, referring to the different parts that make up the total spectrum.

A sound or note of indefinite pitch is one that a listener finds impossible or relatively difficult to identify as to pitch. Sounds with indefinite pitch do not have harmonic spectra or have altered harmonic spectra—a characteristic known as inharmonicity.

It is still possible for two sounds of indefinite pitch to clearly be higher or lower than one another. For instance, a snare drum sounds higher pitched than a bass drum though both have indefinite pitch, because its sound contains higher frequencies. In other words, it is possible and often easy to roughly discern the relative pitches of two sounds of indefinite pitch, but sounds of indefinite pitch do not neatly correspond to any specific pitch. A special type of pitch often occurs in free nature when sound reaches the ear of an observer directly from the source, and also after reflecting off a sound-reflecting surface. This phenomenon is called repetition pitch, because the addition of a true repetition of the original sound to itself is the basic prerequisite.

Pitch standards and standard pitch

A pitch standard (also concert pitch) is the conventional pitch reference a group of musical instruments are tuned to for a performance. Concert pitch may vary from ensemble to ensemble, and has varied widely over musical history.

Standard pitch is a more widely accepted convention. The A above middle C is usually set at 440 Hz (often written as "A = 440 Hz" or sometimes "A440"), although other frequencies, such as 442 Hz, are also often used as variants. Another standard pitch, the so-called Baroque pitch, has been set in the 20th century as A = 415 Hz—approximately an equal-tempered semitone lower than A440 to facilitate transposition.

Transposing instruments have their origin in the variety of pitch standards. In modern times, they conventionally have their parts transposed into different keys from voices and other instruments (and even from each other). As a result, musicians need a way to refer to a particular pitch in an unambiguous manner when talking to each other.

For example, the most common type of clarinet or trumpet, when playing a note written in their part as C, sounds a pitch that is called B on a non-transposing instrument like a violin (which indicates that at one time these wind instruments played at a standard pitch a tone lower than violin pitch). To refer to that pitch unambiguously, a musician calls it concert B, meaning, "...the pitch that someone playing a non-transposing instrument like a violin calls B."

Labeling pitches

Music frequency diatonic scale-3
Note frequencies, four-octave C major diatonic scale, starting with C1.

Pitches are labeled using:

For example, one might refer to the A above middle C as a′, A4, or 440 Hz. In standard Western equal temperament, the notion of pitch is insensitive to "spelling": the description "G4 double sharp" refers to the same pitch as A4; in other temperaments, these may be distinct pitches. Human perception of musical intervals is approximately logarithmic with respect to fundamental frequency: the perceived interval between the pitches "A220" and "A440" is the same as the perceived interval between the pitches A440 and A880. Motivated by this logarithmic perception, music theorists sometimes represent pitches using a numerical scale based on the logarithm of fundamental frequency. For example, one can adopt the widely used MIDI standard to map fundamental frequency, f, to a real number, p, as follows

This creates a linear pitch space in which octaves have size 12, semitones (the distance between adjacent keys on the piano keyboard) have size 1, and A440 is assigned the number 69. (See Frequencies of notes.) Distance in this space corresponds to musical intervals as understood by musicians. An equal-tempered semitone is subdivided into 100 cents. The system is flexible enough to include "microtones" not found on standard piano keyboards. For example, the pitch halfway between C (60) and C (61) can be labeled 60.5.

The following table shows frequencies in Hz for notes in various octaves, named according to the "German method" of octave nomenclature:

Note Contra Great Small One-lined Two-lined Three-lined Four-lined
B/C 32.70 65.41 130.81 261.63 523.25 1046.50 2093.00
C/D 34.65 69.30 138.59 277.18 554.37 1108.73 2217.46
D 36.71 73.42 146.83 293.66 587.33 1174.66 2349.32
D/E 38.89 77.78 155.56 311.13 622.25 1244.51 2489.02
E/F 41.20 82.41 164.81 329.63 659.26 1318.51 2637.02
E/F 43.65 87.31 174.61 349.23 698.46 1396.91 2793.83
F/G 46.25 92.50 185.00 369.99 739.99 1479.98 2959.96
G 49.00 98.00 196.00 392.00 783.99 1567.99 3135.96
G/A 51.91 103.83 207.65 415.30 830.61 1661.22 3322.44
A 55.00 110.00 220.00 440.00 880.00 1760.00 3520.00
A/B 58.27 116.54 233.08 466.16 932.33 1864.66 3729.31
B/C 61.74 123.47 246.94 493.88 987.77 1975.53 3951.07


The relative pitches of individual notes in a scale may be determined by one of a number of tuning systems. In the west, the twelve-note chromatic scale is the most common method of organization, with equal temperament now the most widely used method of tuning that scale. In it, the pitch ratio between any two successive notes of the scale is exactly the twelfth root of two (or about 1.05946). In well-tempered systems (as used in the time of Johann Sebastian Bach, for example), different methods of musical tuning were used. Almost all of these systems have one interval in common, the octave, where the pitch of one note is double the frequency of another. For example, if the A above middle C is 440 Hz, the A an octave above that is 880 Hz.

Other musical meanings of pitch

In atonal, twelve tone, or musical set theory a "pitch" is a specific frequency while a pitch class is all the octaves of a frequency. In many analytic discussions of atonal and post-tonal music, pitches are named with integers because of octave and enharmonic equivalency (for example, in a serial system, C and D are considered the same pitch, while C4 and C5 are functionally the same, one octave apart).

Discrete pitches, rather than continuously variable pitches, are virtually universal, with exceptions including "tumbling strains"[26] and "indeterminate-pitch chants".[27] Gliding pitches are used in most cultures, but are related to the discrete pitches they reference or embellish.[28]

See also


  1. ^ Anssi Klapuri, "Introduction to Music Transcription", in Signal Processing Methods for Music Transcription, edited by Anssi Klapuri and Manuel Davy, 1–20 (New York: Springer, 2006): p. 8. ISBN 978-0-387-30667-4.
  2. ^ Plack, Christopher J.; Andrew J. Oxenham; Richard R. Fay, eds. (2005). Pitch: Neural Coding and Perception. New York: Springer. ISBN 978-0-387-23472-4. For the purposes of this book we decided to take a conservative approach, and to focus on the relationship between pitch and musical melodies. Following the earlier ASA definition, we define pitch as 'that attribute of sensation whose variation is associated with musical melodies.' Although some might find this too restrictive, an advantage of this definition is that it provides a clear procedure for testing whether or not a stimulus evokes a pitch, and a clear limitation on the range of stimuli that we need to consider in our discussions.
  3. ^ Harold S. Powers, "Melody", The Harvard Dictionary of Music, fourth edition, edited by Don Michael Randel, 499–502 (Cambridge: Belknap Press for Harvard University Press, 2003) ISBN 978-0-674-01163-2. "Melody: In the most general case, a coherent succession of pitches. Here pitch means a stretch of sound whose frequency is clear and stable enough to be heard as not noise; succession means that several pitches occur; and coherent means that the succession of pitches is accepted as belonging together" (p. 499).
  4. ^ Roy D. Patterson; Etienne Gaudrain & Thomas C. Walters (2010). "The Perception of Family and Register in Musical Tones". In Mari Riess Jones; Richard R. Fay & Arthur N. Popper. Music Perception. Springer. pp. 37–38. ISBN 978-1-4419-6113-6.
  5. ^ a b c Hartmann, William Morris (1997). Signals, Sound, and Sensation. Springer. pp. 145, 284, 287. ISBN 978-1-56396-283-7.
  6. ^ a b c Plack, Christopher J.; Andrew J. Oxenham; Richard R. Fay, eds. (2005). Pitch: Neural Coding and Perception. Springer. ISBN 978-0-387-23472-4.
  7. ^ Robert A. Dobie & Susan B. Van Hemel (2005). Hearing Loss: Determining Eligibility for Social Security Benefits. National Academies Press. pp. 50–51. ISBN 978-0-309-09296-8.
  8. ^ a b E. Bruce Goldstein (2001). Blackwell Handbook of Perception (4th ed.). Wiley-Blackwell. p. 381. ISBN 978-0-631-20683-5.
  9. ^ a b Richard Lyon & Shihab Shamma (1996). "Auditory Representation of Timbre and Pitch". In Harold L. Hawkins & Teresa A. McMullen. Auditory Computation. Springer. pp. 221–23. ISBN 978-0-387-97843-7.
  10. ^ a b Carroll C. Pratt, "The Spatial Character of High and Low Tones", Journal of Experimental Psychology 13 (1930): 278–85.
  11. ^ Schwartz, David A.; Dale Purves (May 2004). "Pitch Is Determined by Naturally Occurring Periodic Sounds". Hearing Research. 194 (1–2): 31–46. doi:10.1016/j.heares.2004.01.019. PMID 15276674.
  12. ^ a b c d Olson, Harry F. (1967). Music, Physics and Engineering. Dover Publications. pp. 171, 248–251. ISBN 978-0-486-21769-7.
  13. ^ Stevens S. S. The relation of pitch to intensity//J. Acoust. Soc. Amer. 1935. Vol. 6. P. 150-154.
  14. ^ Snow W. B. (1936) Change of Pitch with Loudness at Low Frequencies. J. Acoust. Soc. Am/ 8:14-19.
  15. ^ Cohen, A. (1961). Further investigation of the effects of intensity upon the pitch of pure tones. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 33, 1363-1376. https://dx.doi.org/10.1121/1.1908441
  16. ^ Cariani, P.A.; Delgutte, B. (September 1996). "Neural Correlates of the Pitch of Complex Tones. I. Pitch and Pitch Salience" (PDF). Journal of Neurophysiology. 76 (3): 1698–1716. doi:10.1152/jn.1996.76.3.1698. PMID 8890286. Retrieved 13 November 2012.
  17. ^ Cheveigné, A. de; Pressnitzer, D. (June 2006). "The Case of the Missing Delay Lines: Synthetic Delays Obtained by Cross-channel Phase Interaction" (PDF). Journal of the Acoustical Society of America. 119 (6): 3908–3918. Bibcode:2006ASAJ..119.3908D. doi:10.1121/1.2195291. PMID 16838534. Retrieved 13 November 2012.
  18. ^ Kaernbach, C.; Demany, L. (October 1998). "Psychophysical Evidence Against the Autocorrelation Theory of Auditory Temporal Processing". Journal of the Acoustical Society of America. 104 (4): 2298–2306. Bibcode:1998ASAJ..104.2298K. doi:10.1121/1.423742. PMID 10491694.
  19. ^ a b Pressnitzer, D.; Cheveigné, A. de; Winter, I.M. (January 2002). "Perceptual Pitch Shift for Sounds with Similar Waveform Autocorrelation". Acoustics Research Letters Online. 3 (1): 1–6. doi:10.1121/1.1416671.
  20. ^ Burns, E.M.; Viemeister, N. F. (October 1976). "Nonspectral Pitch". Journal of the Acoustical Society of America. 60 (4): 863–69. Bibcode:1976ASAJ...60..863B. doi:10.1121/1.381166.
  21. ^ Fitzgerald, M. B.; Wright, B. (December 2005). "A Perceptual Learning Investigation of the Pitch Elicited by Amplitude-Modulated Noise". Journal of the Acoustical Society of America. 118 (6): 3794–3803. Bibcode:2005ASAJ..118.3794F. doi:10.1121/1.2074687. PMID 16419824.
  22. ^ Birger Kollmeier; Thomas Brand & B. Meyer (2008). "Perception of Speech and Sound". In Jacob Benesty; M. Mohan Sondhi & Yiteng Huang. Springer Handbook of Speech Processing. Springer. p. 65. ISBN 978-3-540-49125-5.
  23. ^ Levitin, Daniel (2007). This Is Your Brain on Music. New York: Penguin Group. p. 40. ISBN 978-0-452-28852-2. The one with the slowest vibration rate—the one lowest in pitch—is referred to as the fundamental frequency, and the others are collectively called overtones.
  24. ^ The Concise Grove Dictionary of Music: Hermann von Helmholtz, Oxford University Press (1994), Answers.com. Retrieved 3 August 2007.
  25. ^ Helmholtz, Hermann (1885). On the Sensations of Tone (English Translation). p. 15. ISBN 9781602066397.
  26. ^ Sachs, C. and Kunst, J. (1962). In The Wellsprings of Music, edited by J. Kunst. The Hague: Marinus Nijhoff. Cited in Burns (1999).
  27. ^ Malm, W.P. (1967). Music Cultures of the Pacific, the Near East, and Asia. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall. Cited in Burns (1999).
  28. ^ Burns, Edward M. (1999). "Intervals, Scales, and Tuning", The Psychology of Music, second edition. Deutsch, Diana, ed. San Diego: Academic Press. ISBN 0-12-213564-4.

Further reading

  • Moore, B.C. & Glasberg, B.R. (1986) "Thresholds for Hearing Mistuned Partials as Separate Tones in Harmonic Complexes". Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 80, 479–83.
  • Parncutt, R. (1989). Harmony: A Psychoacoustical Approach. Berlin: Springer-Verlag, 1989.
  • Schneider, P.; Sluming, V.; Roberts, N.; Scherg, M.; Goebel, R.; Specht, H.-J.; Dosch, H.G.; Bleeck, S.; Stippich, C.; Rupp, A. (2005). "Structural and Functional Asymmetry of Lateral Heschl's Gyrus Reflects Pitch Perception Preference". Nat. Neurosci. 8, 1241–47.
  • Terhardt, E., Stoll, G. and Seewann, M. (1982). "Algorithm for Extraction of Pitch and Pitch Salience from Complex Tonal Signals". Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 71, 679–88.

The musical term alto, meaning "high" in Italian (Latin: altus), refers to the second highest part of a contrapuntal musical texture and is also applied to its associated vocal range, especially in choral music. It is also the root word of contralto, the lowest standard female voice type. When designating instruments, "alto" likewise can refer either to the corresponding vocal range (alto flute and alto trombone) or to musical role (alto recorder and alto clarinet). The term "alto" is also used to designate a specific kind of musical clef; see alto clef.


A bass-baritone is a high-lying bass or low-lying "classical" baritone voice type which shares certain qualities with the true baritone voice. The term arose in the late 19th century to describe the particular type of voice required to sing three Wagnerian roles: the Dutchman in Der fliegende Holländer, Wotan/Der Wanderer in the Ring Cycle and Hans Sachs in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. Wagner labelled these roles as Hoher Bass ("high bass")—see fach for more details.The bass-baritone voice is distinguished by two attributes. First, it must be capable of singing comfortably in a baritonal tessitura. Secondly, however, it needs to have the ripely resonant lower range typically associated with the bass voice. For example, the role of Wotan in Die Walküre covers the range from F2 (the F at the bottom of the bass clef) to F♯4 (the F♯ above middle C), but only infrequently descends beyond C3 (the C below middle C). Bass-baritones are typically divided into two separate categories: lyric bass-baritone and dramatic bass-baritone.Bass-baritones should not be confused with their vocal cousin—the so-called Verdi baritone. This type of Italianate baritone voice has a brighter tone colour and sings at a slightly higher tessitura than that possessed by the bass-baritone. In addition to the operas of Giuseppe Verdi, its natural home is to be found in operatic music composed after about 1830 by the likes of Donizetti, Ponchielli, Massenet, Puccini and the verismo composers.

The term bass-baritone is roughly synonymous with the Italian vocal classification basso cantante; for example, in the Verdian repertoire, Philip II in Don Carlos is often taken by a bass-baritone, while Ferrando in Il trovatore is sung by a true bass—though the two roles' ranges are very similar. In Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande the lower baritone role of Golaud is a bass-baritone, sitting between Pelleas (high baritone) and Arkel (bass). (See under fach for more information.) Much of the oratorio repertoire, from Handel's Messiah to Mendelssohn's Elijah, is best suited to a bass-baritone with the ability to combine a rich, dark tone with a smooth, high-lying cantabile line. Some of the classical Mozart baritone roles such as Don Giovanni, Figaro and Gugliemo—composed before the term "baritone" gained currency—are occasionally played by a bass-baritone.Gilbert and Sullivan's Savoy operas usually featured a comic bass-baritone character, created to make use of D'Oyly Carte company member Richard Temple.

In short: the bass-baritone is a voice that has the resonant low notes of the typical bass allied with the ability to sing in a baritonal tessitura. Colloquially, it refers to a voice with a range and tone somewhere between a bass and a baritone.

The bass-baritone's required range can vary tremendously based on the role, with some less demanding than others. Many bass-baritones have ventured into the baritone repertoire, including (among others) Leopold Demuth, George Baklanov, Rudolf Bockelmann, George London, James Morris and Bryn Terfel.

Bass (voice type)

A bass ( BAYSS) is a type of classical male singing voice and has the lowest vocal range of all voice types. According to The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, a bass is typically classified as having a vocal range extending from around the second E below middle C to the E above middle C (i.e., E2–E4). Its tessitura, or comfortable range, is normally defined by the outermost lines of the bass clef. Categories of bass voices vary according to national style and classification system. Italians favour subdividing basses into the basso cantante (singing bass), basso buffo ("funny" bass), or the dramatic basso profondo (low bass). The American system identifies the bass-baritone, comic bass, lyric bass, and dramatic bass. The German fach system offers further distinctions: Spielbass (Bassbuffo), Schwerer Spielbass (Schwerer Bassbuffo), Charakterbass (Bassbariton), and Seriöser Bass. These classification systems can overlap. Rare is the performer who embodies a single fach without also touching repertoire from another category.


A contralto (Italian pronunciation: [konˈtralto]) is a type of classical female singing voice whose vocal range is the lowest female voice type.The contralto's vocal range is fairly rare; similar to the mezzo-soprano, and almost identical to that of a countertenor, typically between the F below middle C (F3 in scientific pitch notation) to the second F above middle C (F5), although, at the extremes, some voices can reach the D below middle C (D3) or the second B♭ above middle C (B♭5). The contralto voice type is generally divided into the coloratura, lyric, and dramatic contralto.

Flat (music)

In music, flat or bemolle (Italian: "soft B") means "lower in pitch". Flat is the opposite of sharp, which is a raising of pitch. In musical notation, flat means "lower in pitch by one semitone (half step)", notated using the symbol ♭ which is derived from a stylised lowercase "b".

For instance, the music below has a key signature with three flats (indicating either E♭ major or C minor) and the note, D♭, has a flat accidental.

The Unicode character ♭ (U+266D) can be found in the block Miscellaneous Symbols; its HTML entity is ♭.

Under twelve-tone equal temperament, C♭ for instance is the same as (or enharmonically equivalent to) B♮, and G♭ is equivalent to F♯. In any other tuning system, such enharmonic equivalences in general do not exist. To allow extended just intonation, composer Ben Johnston uses a sharp as an accidental to indicate a note is raised 70.6 cents (ratio 25:24), and a flat to indicate a note is lowered 70.6 cents.In intonation, flat can also mean "slightly lower in pitch" (by some unspecified amount). If two simultaneous notes are slightly out-of-tune, the lower-pitched one (assuming the higher one is properly pitched) is "flat" with respect to the other. Furthermore, the verb flatten means to lower the pitch of a note, typically by a small musical interval.

Helmholtz pitch notation

Helmholtz pitch notation is a system for naming musical notes of the Western chromatic scale. Developed by the German scientist Hermann von Helmholtz, it uses a combination of upper and lower case letters (A to G), and the sub- and super-prime symbols ( ͵  ′ ) to describe each individual note of the scale. It is one of two formal systems for naming notes in a particular octave, the other being scientific pitch notation.


A mezzo-soprano or mezzo (English: , ; Italian: [ˈmɛddzo soˈpraːno] meaning "half soprano") is a type of classical female singing voice whose vocal range lies between the soprano and the contralto voice types. The mezzo-soprano's vocal range usually extends from the A below middle C to the A two octaves above (i.e. A3–A5 in scientific pitch notation, where middle C = C4; 220–880 Hz). In the lower and upper extremes, some mezzo-sopranos may extend down to the F below middle C (F3, 175 Hz) and as high as "high C" (C6, 1047 Hz).

The mezzo-soprano voice type is generally divided into the coloratura, lyric, and dramatic mezzo-soprano.

Musical tone

Traditionally in Western music, a musical tone is a steady periodic sound. A musical tone is characterized by its duration, pitch, intensity (or loudness), and timbre (or quality). The notes used in music can be more complex than musical tones, as they may include aperiodic aspects, such as attack transients, vibrato, and envelope modulation.

A simple tone, or pure tone, has a sinusoidal waveform. A complex tone is a combination of two or more pure tones that have a periodic pattern of repetition, unless specified otherwise.

The Fourier theorem states that any periodic waveform can be approximated as closely as desired as the sum of a series of sine waves with frequencies in a harmonic series and at specific phase relationships to each other. The common denominator frequency, which is also often the lowest of these frequencies is the fundamental frequency, and is also the inverse of the period of the waveform. The fundamental frequency determines the pitch of the tone, which is perceived by the human hearing. In music, notes are assigned to tones with different fundamental frequencies, in order to describe the pitch of played tones.

Natural (music)

In music theory, a natural is an accidental which cancels previous accidentals and represents the unaltered pitch of a note.A note is natural when it is neither flat (♭) nor sharp (♯) (nor double-flat nor double-sharp ). Natural notes are the notes A, B, C, D, E, F, and G represented by the white keys on the keyboard of a piano or organ. On a modern concert harp, the middle position of the seven pedals that alter the tuning of the strings gives the natural pitch for each string.

The scale of C major is sometimes regarded as the central, natural or basic major scale because all of its notes are natural notes, whereas every other major scale has at least one sharp or flat in it.

The notes F♭, C♭, E♯, B♯, and most notes inflected by double-flats and double-sharps correspond in pitch with natural notes; however, they are not regarded as natural notes but rather as enharmonic equivalents of them and are just as much chromatically inflected notes as most sharped and flatted notes that are represented by black notes on a keyboard.

Range (music)

In music, the range, or chromatic range, of a musical instrument is the distance from the lowest to the highest pitch it can play. For a singing voice, the equivalent is vocal range. The range of a musical part is the distance between its lowest and highest note.

Register (music)

In music, a register is the "height" or range of a note, set of pitches or pitch classes, melody, part, instrument, or group of instruments. A higher register indicates higher pitch.

Example 1: Violins are in a higher register than cellos.In woodwind and brass instruments, the word register usually distinguishes pitch ranges produced using different normal modes of the air column, with higher registers produced by overblowing. Often the timbres of different woodwind instrument registers tend to be markedly different.

Example 2: The Western concert flute plays approximately three and a half octaves and generally has three complete registers and one partial register. The musical note C4 (corresponding to middle C on the piano) would be in that instrument's first register, whereas C5 (one octave higher) would be in its second register.However, on the clarinet the notes from (written) G4 or A4 to B♭4 sometimes are regarded as a separate "throat register", even though both they and the notes from F♯4 down are produced using the instrument's lowest normal mode; the timbre of the throat notes differs, and the throat register's fingerings also are distinctive, using special keys and not the standard tone holes used for other notes.

The register in which an instrument plays, or in which a part is written, affects the quality of sound or timbre. Register is also used structurally in musical form, with the climax of a piece usually being in the highest register of that piece. Often, serial and other pieces will use fixed register, allowing a pitch class to be expressed through only one pitch.

Relative pitch

Relative pitch is the ability of a person to identify or re-create a given musical note by comparing it to a reference note and identifying the interval between those two notes. Relative pitch implies some or all of the following abilities:

Determine the distance of a musical note from a set point of reference, e.g. "three octaves above middle C"

Identify the intervals between given tones, regardless of their relation to concert pitch (A = 440 Hz)

the skill used by singers to correctly sing a melody, following musical notation, by pitching each note in the melody according to its distance from the previous note. Alternatively, the same skill which allows someone to hear a melody for the first time and name the notes relative to some known reference pitch.This last definition, which applies not only to singers but also to players of instruments who rely on their own skill to determine the precise pitch of the notes played (wind instruments, fretless string instruments like violin or viola, etc.), is an essential skill for musicians in order to play successfully with others. As an example, think of the different concert pitches used by orchestras playing music from different styles (a baroque orchestra using period instruments might decide to use a higher-tuned pitch).

Unlike absolute pitch (sometimes called "perfect pitch"), relative pitch is quite common among musicians, especially musicians who are used to "playing by ear", and a precise relative pitch is a constant characteristic among good musicians. Unlike perfect pitch, relative pitch can be developed through ear training. Computer-aided ear training is becoming a popular tool for musicians and music students, and various software is available for improving relative pitch.Some music teachers teach their students relative pitch by having them associate each possible interval with the first two notes of a popular song. (See ear training.) Another method of developing relative pitch is playing melodies by ear on a musical instrument, especially one which, unlike a piano or other fingered instrument, requires a specific manual adjustment for each particular tone. Indian musicians learn relative pitch by singing intervals over a drone, which is also described by W. A. Mathieu using Western just intonation terminology. Many Western ear training classes use solfège to teach students relative pitch, while others use numerical sight-singing.

Compound intervals (intervals greater than an octave) can be more difficult to detect than simple intervals (intervals less than an octave).Interval recognition is used to identify chords, and can be applied to accurately tune an instrument with respect to a given reference tone, even if the tone is not in concert pitch.

Scientific pitch notation

Scientific pitch notation (or SPN, also known as American standard pitch notation (ASPN) and international pitch notation (IPN)) is a method of specifying musical pitch by combining a musical note name (with accidental if needed) and a number identifying the pitch's octave.

Although scientific pitch notation was originally designed as a companion to scientific pitch (see below), the two are not synonymous. Scientific pitch is a pitch standard—a system that defines the specific frequencies of particular pitches (see below). Scientific pitch notation concerns only how pitch names are notated, that is, how they are designated in printed and written text, and does not inherently specify actual frequencies. Thus, the use of scientific pitch notation to distinguish octaves does not depend on the pitch standard used.

Sharp (music)

In music, sharp, dièse (from French), or diesis (from Greek) means higher in pitch. More specifically, in musical notation, sharp means "higher in pitch by one semitone (half step)". Sharp is the opposite of flat, which is a lowering of pitch.

There is an associated sharp symbol which resembles "#", ♯, which may be found in key signatures or as an accidental. For instance, the music below has a key signature with three sharps (indicating either A major or F♯ minor, the relative minor) and the note, A♯, has a sharp accidental.

Moreover, under twelve-tone equal temperament, B♯, for instance, sounds the same as, or is enharmonically equivalent to, C natural (C♮), and E♯ is enharmonically equivalent to F♮. In other tuning systems, such enharmonic equivalences in general do not exist. To allow extended just intonation, composer Ben Johnston uses a sharp to indicate a note is raised 70.6 cents (ratio 25:24), or a flat to indicate a note is lowered 70.6 cents.In intonation, sharp can also mean "slightly higher in pitch" (by some unspecified amount). If two simultaneous notes are slightly out-of-tune, the higher-pitched one (assuming the lower one is properly pitched) is "sharp" with respect to the other. Furthermore, the verb sharpen means to raise the pitch of a note, typically by a small musical interval.


A soprano [soˈpraːno] is a type of classical female singing voice and has the highest vocal range of all voice types. The soprano's vocal range (using scientific pitch notation) is from approximately middle C (C4) = 261 Hz to "high A" (A5) =880 Hz in choral music, or to "soprano C" (C6, two octaves above middle C) =1046 Hz or higher in operatic music. In four-part chorale style harmony, the soprano takes the highest part, which usually encompasses the melody.

The soprano voice type is generally divided into the coloratura, soubrette, lyric, spinto, and dramatic soprano.


Sub-bass sounds are the deep, low- register pitched pitches approximately below 60 Hz (C2 in scientific pitch notation) and extending downward to include the lowest frequency humans can hear, assumed at about 20 Hz (E0). In this range, human hearing is not very sensitive, so sounds in this range tend to be felt more than heard. Sound reinforcement systems and PA systems often use one or more subwoofer loudspeaker cabinets that are dedicated solely to amplifying sounds in the sub-bass range. Sounds below sub-bass are called infrasound.


In music, tessitura (Italian: [tessiˈtuːra], pl. tessiture, "texture"; English: ) is the most aesthetically acceptable and comfortable vocal range for a given singer or, less frequently, musical instrument; the range in which a given type of voice presents its best-sounding (or characteristic) timbre. This broad definition is often interpreted to refer specifically to the pitch range that most frequently occurs within a given part of a musical piece. Hence, in musical notation, tessitura is the ambitus in which that particular vocal (or less often instrumental) part lies—whether high or low, etc.

However, the tessitura of a part or voice is not decided by the extremes of their range, but rather by which share of this total range is most used. For example, throughout the entirety of Wagner's Ring, the music written for the tenor role of Siegfried ranges from C♯3 to C5, but the tessitura is described as high because the phrases are most often in the range of C4 to A4.

Furthermore, the tessitura concept addresses not merely a range of pitches but also the arrangement of those pitches. The particular melodic contour of a singer's part may also be considered to be an important aspect of his vocal tessitura. Tessitura considerations include these factors: proportion of sudden or gradual rises and falls in pitch—speed of pitch changes; the relative number of very high or low notes; whether lines and phrases of music in the piece tend to rise or fall—the muscular abilities of a singer may be more suited to one or the other direction.

The extension to the more particular "weaving" of a voice has led to a commixture of tessitura and voice type. For example, the volume (loudness) which a singer is able to maintain for dramatic effect will often influence which Fach (voice type) or tessitura he or she specializes in. For example, a lyric tenor may have the vocal range to sing Wagner or other dramatic roles, but to maintain the loudness required for dramatic intensity over the span of an opera performance could either inflict vocal damage or be beyond ability.

Transposition (music)

In music transposition refers to the process, or operation, of moving a collection of notes (pitches or pitch classes) up or down in pitch by a constant interval.

The shifting of a melody, a harmonic progression or an entire musical piece to another key, while maintaining the same tone structure, i.e. the same succession of whole tones and semitones and remaining melodic intervals.

For example, one might transpose an entire piece of music into another key. Similarly, one might transpose a tone row or an unordered collection of pitches such as a chord so that it begins on another pitch.

The transposition of a set A by n semitones is designated by Tn(A), representing the addition (mod 12) of an integer n to each of the pitch class integers of the set A. Thus the set (A) consisting of 0–1–2 transposed by 5 semitones is 5–6–7 (T5(A)) since 0 + 5 = 5, 1 + 5 = 6, and 2 + 5 = 7.

Treble (sound)

Treble refers to tones whose frequency or range is at the higher end of human hearing. In music this corresponds to "high notes". The treble clef is often used to notate such notes. Examples of treble sounds are soprano voices, flute tones, piccolos, etc., having frequencies from 2048–16384 Hz (C7–C10). Treble sound is the counterpart to bass sound.

The term "treble" derives from the Latin triplum, used in 13th century motets to indicate the third and highest range.

The treble control is used in sound reproduction to change the volume of treble notes relative to those of the middle and bass frequency ranges.

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