Music Pitch

Music pitch means how high or how low a musical note is.

Music Pitch

On a piano keyboard you can play high pitches to the right, and low pitches to the left.

Women’s voices are generally higher pitched than men's voices, and for example a flute has a higher pitch than a double bass.

A melody is made of high and low pitches.

If you listen to a melody, you can practice to follow with your hand to show how it moves, the melodic contour; up for higher pitches and down for lower.

For example, “Twinkle, twinkle little star” could look something like this with hand movements showing how the melody moves with higher and lower pitch:

Musical Pitch

Music Staff

When we write music pitch with music note symbols, we need a music staff:

Staff lines

A musical staff has five lines and four spaces. Notes are then written on the lines and in the spaces to show how the pitch moves.

The same melodic contour from “Twinkle” above could actually be written on the staff, but, as you know, we use music notes instead to show more exactly the pitches of the melody and how it moves, up and down:

Music Pitch Twinkle Little Star

Music Clefs

We also need music clefs, symbols to show if the music pitch of the melody is in a higher range, or a lower. The two most common clefs are the Treble and the Bass clefs. (Treble means high pitch, and bass means low pitch.)

Where are the high pitched notes written in a stave?

The high pitched notes are written on a treble staff, a staff with a G clef. The higher the pitch, the higher the note. However, when it goes higher than the staff lines, we need to use ledger lines. Ledger lines are the small lines (like in middle- C) that help the notes climb either higher or lower than the staff lines allow.

The Treble Clef

A Treble clef, or a G clef, is used for higher (Treble) pitched notes.

This staff is called a “Treble staff”" and the clef also show the exact location of where the note treble G is:

G Clef

The Bass Clef

A Bass clef, or an F clef, is used for lower (bass) pitched notes.

This is called a “Bass staff”. The clef also shows where the bass F note is:

F Clef

If the music pitch continues "outside" the staff, either above or below, we use ledger lines. But it becomes harder to read when there are too many ledger lines!

So, then we can use the symbol 8va. Above the staff (8va)it means to play an octave higher and below (8vb) an octave lower. Two octaves higher or lower are marked in the same way with 15ma and 15mb. Like this:

High and low music pitches

Written Pitch = Notes

Pitches are named after the first seven letters of the alphabet:

A B C D E F G

This pattern is repeated over and over, for a higher pitch, or backwards for a lower and lower pitch.

Another way of naming the different pitches is by using syllable names:

Do Re Mi Fa Sol La Si(Ti)

Here are the basic 7 notes on a treble staff:

                                   C     D      E     F     G      A       B     (C)                                                                  Do   Re     Mi    Fa   Sol   La     Si/Ti  (Do)

Musical pitches can be altered a half step higher or lower with the help of accidentals, or sharps (#) and flats (b).

On a piano keyboard you can see the raised or lowered pitches as the black keys.

Piano Keys Layout

All in all there are 12 different "pitch classes" (7 white keys and 5 black) in the western music tradition. Each pitch is a semitone apart, and this pattern is  repeated higher and lower.The easiest way to see this is on a piano keyboard. Here you can see how the notes are repeated again and again:

Music Pitch

High Pitched Notes














Low Pitched Notes

Here you can see all the 12 different pitches (in Western music theory) organized in a circle of semitones.

Clockwise the pitch gets higher by semitones, or half steps, and counter-wise it gets lower.

The star inside indicates the special relationship that different notes have with each other.(It shows the relationship between the first note of a scale (Tonic), the fourth (Sub-dominant) and the fifth (Dominant).

Music Pitch

Concert Pitch

When tuning an instrument, the pitch is adjusted so that it sounds “right”.

Concert Pitch

The music pitch depends on how fast or slow a something vibrates.

By changing the amount of vibrations (or sound wave cycles) per second, called Hertz (Hz), the pitch will change.

To put it simpler; by stretching for example a string, the sound (when you pluck it) gets higher (smaller, faster vibrations), and when loosening it the sound gets lower (larger, slower vibrations).

“Concert pitch” is the commonly agreed tuning of the note A as vibrating exactly 440 sound wave cycles per second (440 Hz).

A cool tool for tuning, or just reference, is the tuning fork. Here are online tuning forks to hear how concert pitch A should sound: Online Tuning Fork

Listening to Pitch: Ear Training

Ear training

How are your ears? Do you have great listening skills?

Practicing to hear the difference between different pitches is part of developing a good musical ear.  Read more about Ear Training here.

Here is an example of what is possible with brilliant ear training from an early age:




Comments

Have your say about what you just read! Leave me a comment in the box below.

Return from Music Pitch to Musical Notation

Go to Homepage