You will sometimes hear people confuse pitch with a note, but they are not the same thing. It can be confusing because a note is a pitch. So, let’s start by defining what a note is, and then we can answer, “What is pitch in music?”
What Is A Note?
A note is a pitch to which we have assigned a frequency and a name. A note is a property of music. A pitch is a property of sound. And whilst music is sound, they are very different.
For example, if you clap your hands, the sound has a pitch. But you wouldn’t call it a note. Any sound can have a pitch, but a note is musical.
So, What Is Pitch In Music?
The word pitch in music describes how low or high a sound is. It refers to how a specific note sounds to our ear. Whether it is high or low. When you play a note on any musical instrument, it creates a vibration. And when we hear them at consistent frequencies, they become notes or tones.
How Does That Happen?
As I just said, when you play a note, it creates a vibration. The air molecules of that vibration travel back and forth, creating a sound wave or a wave of pressure. That will travel until it is collected by the listener’s ear.
What Is The Frequency?
As the sound wave travels to the ear, it can be measured in the number of waves there are per second. That is called frequency. How quickly the cycle of the wave travels is one of the principal properties of the sound wave.
Why Is This Important?
We need to talk about frequency because it is related to pitch. It can also be described like this:
- High pitch equals a higher frequency.
- Low pitch equals a low frequency.
The oscillations, or moving forward and backward of the sound wave, are described by frequency. Therefore, the pitch is quantified by frequency. Fast oscillations mean there will be a higher pitch. A lower pitch is created by slower oscillations.
Therefore, the pitch can be said to be how the ear understands frequency. And in terms of music, it gives us the information to judge higher from lower.
It Is Fundamental To All Music
You can look at melody or harmony, chords, and scales. Everything starts with a pitch. And in basic terms, the pitch is simply the frequency of a note. This can be demonstrated when looking at sheet music. Let’s look at an example:
That is the ascending scale of C. This is a visual representation of higher and lower pitches. The higher pitches, or because we have given them names, the notes, are higher on the stave lines. The higher the pitch, the faster the frequency. The reverse applies; the lower the pitch, the slower the frequency.
How Do We Measure Pitch?
We measure pitch by the number of times that the sound wave repeats in one second. We then show that figure in Hertz, or Hz, if we abbreviate it. This number is then shown in Hertz (Hz for short). Hertz was named after the German physicist Heinrich Hertz.
The human ear, in the majority of cases, can only hear pitches between 20Hz and 20,000Hz. Most of what we listen to is usually between 50Hz and 8,000Hz.
To give an example, the note of G is 392.00Hz. The sound wave is repeated 392 times per second. But which G, you ask? I’ll come back to that.
So What Is a Note?
Going back to our initial definitions of note and pitch. A note is a pitch that has a specific frequency and has been given a specific name. As we just saw, the frequency of a given note is 392.00Hz. It is given the name G.
Therefore, notes refer to specific pitches. In Western music, there are twelve tones with names. These make up the chromatic scale.
They are based around the first seven letters of the alphabet in English, A, B, C, D, E, F, and G. Those are the basic seven notes. There are a further five to be added, called sharps or flats.
A graphic interpretation using a keyboard or piano might be the best way to describe it. The white keys are assigned those first seven letters.
The White Keys
The pitch we call the note of C produces a frequency or sound. The pitch we call D next to it, ascending, produces a higher frequency. The descending note next to the C, or B, produces a lower frequency of sound.
The Black Keys
Sitting in between the white keys, they produce different frequencies. The black key to the right of any white key will give you a higher frequency than the white note. Likewise, the black key to the left of any white key will give you a lower frequency.
The black keys are named in sharps or flats. There are five of them, which give you the twelve notes of the chromatic scale when added to the original seven. Twelve notes, twelve pitches. Commencing at C these are called, C – C#/Db – D – D/Eb – E – F – F#/Gb – G – G#/Ab – A – A#/Bb and B.
The Different Octaves
Let’s go back to the fact that there are more than one of every note; there are octaves. The note of C, to use an example, can have any one of eight pitches. So, there is more than one possible pitch for the note of C. This applies obviously to all the notes.
Staying with C, the eight possible pitches from low to high are at frequencies 32.70Hz, 65.41Hz, 130.81Hz, 261.63Hz, 523.25Hz, 1046.50Hz, 2093.00Hz, and finally 4186.01Hz.
Are There Any Mathematicians Amongst Us?
If so, and you are seeing them for the first time, do you notice something about those frequencies? Notes are related mathematically.
You will see that using the C example; the lowest pitch had a frequency of 32.70Hz. The next possible pitch was 65.41Hz or doubled up. The next 130.81Hz, double again. And so it goes up to the eighth.
The same applies to all the notes. An A has a frequency of 440Hz. To go up an octave double the frequency to 880Hz.
Now it isn’t necessary to memorize these frequencies, but it helps us to appreciate what is going on in music. When we play a chord, it sounds nice with its harmonies because the pitches involved all have a mathematical relationship. You may never look at music the same again.
Music Theory can be daunting at times. But once you begin to get to grips with it, there is an order to things. That can only help you as a musician or as a songwriter. For additional information about pitch in music and music theory, these can be a big help:
- Music Theory and Composition: A Practical Approach
- Music Theory Essentials
- or Music Theory: From Beginner to Expert
Interested in Learning More About Music Theory?
Our experts can help with that. Take a look at our handy articles on A Complete Guide To Major Scales, A Guide To The Chromatic Scale, A Quick Guide To Species Counterpoint, The Minor Scales, Diatonic Scales, The Scale Degree Names Explained, and Relative vs Parallel Minor for more useful musical information.
And an instrument upgrade could make things easier. Check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Alto Saxophones, the Best Tenor Saxophones, the Best Cremona Violins, the Best Electric Cellos, the Best Flute, the Best Digital Pianos for Under $500, and the Best 88-Key Keyboards you can buy in 2021.
What Is Pitch In Music – Final Thoughts
That was a necessary journey to help you understand the importance of pitch and where it comes from. Much of it was quite technical. But that needs to be included in the discussion because it helps with understanding the concept. But in its most basic form, the pitch is a term that refers to whether a note is high or low.
So, until next time, let your music play.