Simply put, pitch is how high or how low a sound is. When looking at a soundwave, pitch is determined by the frequency of the wave. A slower wave cycle would create a lower-pitched sound, while a higher frequency would create a high-pitched sound. For those of us who have no use for images of soundwaves, a pitch can also be represented through musical notation, otherwise known as sheet music.
Sheet music exists as a visual representation of how music should sound. Each symbol on the page tells key information in regards to how the music should sound and how it should be played. Let’s take a look at the basic anatomy of sheet music.
As you can see, sheet music can have a lot going on. I’ve gone ahead and highlighted the elements we will be focusing on today. In the red, you’ll see the clefs. In the light blue you’ll see the key signature. The yellow highlights the notes with the green highlights noting leger lines. The dark blue features the staff lines in which serves as the base for all of the notation.
The most common clefs are featured here, the treble or G clef (the backward S-looking thing on the top bar) and the bass or F clef (the backward C with the two dots on the bottom bar). There are a few other clefs but that may be the topic of a future post.
The treble clef is actually a stylized G, remember it is also known as the G clef. The loop near the bottom of the symbol curls around the second staff line to mark the line as G4 or the G above middle C. There will be more on staff lines and notes later. The bass clef or F clef is written to indicate lower notes with the two dots surrounding F3, or the F below middle C.
Staff Lines and the Notes
The staff lines serve as the base on which the notation rests. Consisting in sets of five lines, notes are written to establish not only the pitch of the music but also, its duration and rhythm.
As seen in the images above, the notes of the treble clef starts just below the first open space under the staff lines and continue to follow up the lines alternating between open and lined spaces.
The movement from a line to an open space, or from an open space to a line is called a step. The notes begin with C and continue up to A. The bass clef is similar, but starts at E and continues up to C. Each note is a different pitch and a combination of pitches creates a melody.
It is important to mention that the notes shown in the images above can be played in varying octaves. Therefore, a single note does not necessarily equate to any single specific pitch. “In Western Music, a note refers to one of 12 named tones that all music is made from – the notes of the chromatic scale.” (Chase)
Now that we understand what notes are, let’s talk about key signatures. The sharps (the hashtag-looking things) and flats (the smooshed b looking symbol) next to the clef reveals the key of the music piece and that every instance of that note is to be played a half step above (sharp) or below (flat) throughout the piece.
The appearance or absence of sharps and flats, also called accidentals, can vastly affect the tone and mood of the piece. C Major, for example, is a bright and bold piece but holds no accidentals. In contrast, C Major’s relative minor key, A Minor has three flats creating a somber sound.
This brings us back to the reason why we started this musical exploration. How is the affect of a piece of music affected by musical elements, in this case, pitch?
As I previously mentioned, changing the key signature can change a piece from a happy tune to a sorrowful melody. The notes we use in music create tunes that will either uplift or sadden us. If a piece is composed primarily in high-pitched notes, how do you think that would make you feel? What if the piece was written in lower-pitched notes? Would you feel any differently? Or what if the music suddenly switched from low to high, what reaction would you then have?
Think about your favorite song. Are there high pitches or low pitches? What feeling do you get when you listen to it and how do you think you would feel if the pitches were changed? Let me know in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you!
References Chase, Samuel. What is Pitch in Music? | Hello Music Theory. n.d. https://hellomusictheory.com/learn/pitch/.
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