Pitch
The Nature of Music for the Performing Musician

Pitch

The frequency of a sound wave in air is the average rate of vibration of the sound, which is normally expressed in cycles per second. The frequency of a sound results in the perception of a pitch. Depending on the kind of vibration which occurs, the corresponding pitch may be perceived as a musical tone, which has a definite pitch, a noise, which has no definite pitch, or an indefinite pitch, which contains a combination of musical tones and noise.

A pitch interval is the 'melodic' (sequential) or 'harmonic' (vertical) relationship which is formed between two tones. In music, different pitch intervals express degrees of psychological tension known as consonance and dissonance. In western musical scales, close pitch intervals such as the major and minor 2nd and their close relatives, the major and minor 7ths and 9ths, create the perception of tension or dissonance. Whereas wider intervals such as fifths, fourths, and octaves are perceived as expressing less tension, creating the impression of consonance or repose.

Pitch registration refers to the different regions or tonal registers of an instrument. Most instruments have a high, middle, and low register, each of which produces a slightly different quality of sound. The use of different pitch registers creates tonal variation within the instrument and provides a broad context in which musical ideas may be expressed.

Overall, variations in pitch are perceived in relation to the x and y dimensions of space. A change in pitch is perceived by the listener as a change in the upward or downward direction in space, usually in relation to the position of the previous sound. When a high sound is followed by a low sound, the low sound is perceived as being positioned at a lower point in space than the high sound. Small pitch intervals, including microtones, create the impression of closeness or narrowness of a spatial domain. Wide pitch intervals give the impression of an open, more expansive spatial dimension.

In addition, differences in pitch are perceived in relation to the size or stature of an object or event. High sounds create the impression of an object or event which is small in size or scale, while low sounds give the impression of a large-scale object or event.

The reason that a low-pitched instrument often creates the impression of a large spatial domain, or of 'heaviness', is because of the deep sounds that the instrument makes due to its comparatively large dimensions. The greater the dimensions of an instrument, the deeper the pitch. In addition, the use of wide pitch intervals on a large instrument creates the perception of increased scale and stature. In contrast, high-pitched instruments create the perception of a smaller domain, or of 'lightness' and flexibility, due to the lesser dimensions of the instrument as well as the smaller pitch intervals normally associated with its use.

Ascending and descending sound patterns refer to the continual rising or falling of pitches. Sounds which are produced in ascending or descending order are perceived in relation to rising and falling events which occur in space.

The exercises in Study #1 explore high and low pitch registers, while the exercises in Study #2 are concerned with small and large pitch intervals. In Study #2, some of the exercises involve microtonal pitch relations. Music which is based on microtonal intervals has only begun to be practiced by musicians of the western world in this century. The study of microtonal music requires attention to tiny, subtle modulations of pitch. Study #3 combines different pitch registers with pitch intervals. The remaining Studies, #4 and #5, explore ascending and descending sound patterns within different registers of the instrument. In these last studies, the performer must visualize specific images, translating the images into sounds by focusing on the image in one's mind, not on the sound itself.

Whenever possible, an exercise should be realized using 'melodic' and 'harmonic' sequences, separately at first, then in various combinations.