What Is The Difference Between Pitch And Frequency Of Musical Notes?

Lesson 1 - Frequency & Pitch of Musical Notes

Read about basic elements of sound, pitch, frequency, tone. and the difference between the pitch & frequency of musical notes in this music theory lesson.

What is the frequency of musical notes? Let us start by exploring the concept of a standard tuning or concert pitch.

What is standard tuning?

Standard tuning refers to the predetermined frequency at which the strings or the keys of the musical instrument vibrate.

The musical note A4 (24th white key from the left-hand side of the standard 88 key piano) is tuned to the frequency = 440Hz.

The musicians have to tune their instruments at 440 Hz.

Therefore, the musical note A4 is known as the Stuttgart pitch or the concert pitch.

Based on the standard tuning theory we can say that the notes played earlier have following frequencies.

As you can see, each key produce sounds of different frequencies.

What is Middle C?

Here’s an illustration of the standard 88 key piano keyboard, highlighted with middle C and other versions of C.

Middle C is known as C4 since it is the fourth key belonging to note C on a standard 88 key piano.

What is middle C & concert pitch?
What is middle C & concert pitch?

What is the frequency of musical notes?

Frequency is the rate per second of a vibration constituting a wave. Hertz is the unit of frequency.

For example, the frequency 440 Hz indicates that the particles in the medium are vibrating at the rate of 440 times per second.

When we increase the frequency of vibrations, we start hearing high-frequency sounds. Lower frequencies corresponds to the low-frequency bass sounds.

What is the pitch of musical notes?

Pitch is the quality of a sound defined by the rate of vibrations that produced it.

It also defines the degree of highness or lowness of the tone. The pitch is one of the elements of sound apart from volume and tone that creates the musical notes.

What makes Lion’s roar sound different from a cat’s meow?

It is the proportion of the pitch, volume, tone and the duration of the sound.

We refer to these elements with different names as follows:

  • Pitch is Frequency
  • Tone is Timbre (Quality of sound)
  • Volume is Amplitude = OR Level = OR Loudness of the sound

Here’s an example for pitch of the musical notes in C Major scale.

What is pitch of musical notes?
What is pitch of musical notes?

What is the tone?

The Tone is a musical sound related to quality, pitch, and volume of the sound.

What is the difference between the musical note and the tone?

We often hear about the tone of speaking or tone of the written content.

Words used in the speech, the pitch, the volume and the speed of talking may describe the type of person you are.

Similarly, musical instruments also have their unique tone that defines the sweetness of the instrument.

You may find different guitars that have a different tone from harsh to sweet, based on the wood used in manufacturing the guitar.

What is the difference between pitch and frequency of the musical notes?

Frequency is the rate of a vibration of the particles in the sound medium while pitch is the lowness or highness of the tone depending on the rate of vibrations.

Therefore, the terms frequency and pitch are used interchangeably in music theory.

Let us understand with an example.

Whenever we pluck a string on the guitar, the vibrating strings create pressure waves that travel inside the sound box. The particles inside the guitar box start pushing each other creating pressure-waves. These pressure-waves reach our ears while brain interprets the signal as a musical note.

The frequency of the note is inversely proportional to the thickness of the string.

That means the frequency of the musical note increases as the thickness of the string decreases.

For example, Guitar’s first string is thinner than the sixth.

The first and sixth string represent the same musical note E.

However, they vibrate at different frequencies.

Let us understand the concept of frequency using chromatic scale in key of C.

What is frequency of musical notes?
What is frequency of musical notes?

The series starts with note C and ends with the same note. However, the pitch and frequency of both notes are different.

The note C4 (261.62 Hz) is the fundamental note while the note C5 is its first overtone with double the frequency (523.25 Hz).

The frequencies of other notes in the chromatic scale is shown in the illustration.

Please note that, the first overtone is always double the fundamental frequency.

What is the overtone?

Overtone is the musical tone which is a part of the harmonic series above a fundamental note and may be heard with it.

A musical note series is composed of different musical sounds with different frequencies. Instead of calling out frequencies of musical notes, we refer to them using English alphabets.

Each of these musical notes has their unique frequencies hence they have different and unique tones.

Now, the question is:

What are the musical notes?

Stay tuned to find the answer in my next blogpost. Thanks for reading my 71st article in the series 100-day music blogging challenge.

Author: Bharat

An optimistic – music and arts enthusiast with marketing acumen dedicated to spreading positivity and happiness! Follow me @bharatpc