The Theory Of Sound – Elements of Sound – Pitch, Tone and Volume

Read about the theory of sound to understand various elements like tone, pitch & volume that constructs the structure and texture of the sound.

Please read the part 1 about how to learn music in the series of music theory lessons.

The theory of sound – How is sound produced?

Sound definition:

Sound is the audible frequency produced whenever there are certain kind of vibrations in specific mediums like air, water, solid etc.

These vibrations can be created through mechanical or non-mechanical means. Sound, however requires a medium like air and water to travel by its own. It cannot travel in vacuum.

Clapping your hands would be the simplest example of generating sound through mechanical way. The air particles starts vibrating in a specific direction, thus travelling through air to reach the ultimate destination – your ears.

It’s not the particles that travel but the sound waves that travel.

Have you seen the ripples in water?

It would be the best example to demonstrate that water particles don’t travel because they keep oscillating at their position. However, they keep pushing the nearby particles to create the ripple effect in the water.

In my previous article, you must have read about the earliest known music synthesizer – Telharmonium. I mentioned about oscillators which are responsible for generating sound through oscillatory electrical current or by any non-mechanical means.

Why do you need to learn the theory of sound?

This article won’t be technically superficial, because our aim is to understand how we can use various musical instruments to generate desired sounds.

I will be writing lessons for guitar which will include words like pitch of the note, timbre of guitar, low notes, high notes, key of a song. To understand those terms you will need to understand the theory of sound and basic elements that compose the sound.

Sound theory is about learning components of sound while music theory is about applying principles of music to produce sounds that are pleasing to our ears.

Example: The sound of the thunder when heard in an uncontrolled environment may be considered as a NOISE. Using sound theory you can mimic the thunder sound artificially into a recording studio by means of Foley techniques.

However, processing the thunder sound through musical melodies that can be used as a background music for any movie or song is what I call music theory!

What are the elements of sound?

The basic elements of sound are components like the tone, the pitch and volume that make up texture of a sound.

What makes Lion’s roar sound different from a cat’s meow – is the proportion of these components and the duration of the sound.

Volume, pitch and tone are sometimes referred with different names. These names are:

Volume = Amplitude = Level = Loudness of the sound
Pitch = Frequency (Abbreviated as Hz)
Tone = Timbre (Quality of sound)


Pitch is determined by how fast or how slow the vibrations of the particles happen in specified medium.

Whenever the vibrations occur at slower rate, we can hear the low frequency sounds.

Why do we refer pitch as frequency?

Pitch of the sound is defined by the number of vibrations in a given period of time.

Hence, we refer to pitch with a different name called frequency.

Frequency is usually expressed in terms of Hertz (abbreviated as Hz).

For example, the particles in medium vibrating at a rate of 20 times in a second would create low frequency sounds of 20 Hz. The musical notes with low frequency sounds are usually referred to as bass notes.

Similarly, the particles vibrating at the faster rate would produce sounds with high frequencies. These type of sounds are usually referred to as treble notes.

Each musical note is identified based on specific frequency. Sound theory lays the foundation for naming different notes.

For example, the musical note A4 has a frequency of 440 Hz. It is also known as Stuttgart pitch and placed above the base music note C4 or “middle C”.

The frequency of musical note A i.e.440 Hz, is known to be the standard tuning frequency. All the classical musicians playing in an orchestra have to tune their instruments with this standard.

Remember the sound of notes from the far left side of your piano “middle C” note. All those are the base notes played with your left hand.

Also, the thick E string of your guitar is known to produce the lowest bass note from your guitar. Whenever you strike the thicker string the low frequency sounds are generated because the particles inside your guitar box are vibrated in slower speed.

As the thickness of the strings decrease the frequency of vibrations increase, thereby generating high frequency sounds known as treble notes.

Did you know?

  • Dogs can guess occurrence of earthquake even before humans could actually experience
  • A Bat can fly in the dark
  • Dolphins can hear better than any average human, even deep inside sea water
  • A Humpback Whale can sing

That’s all because different animals can hear or perceive sounds at different range of frequencies.


Volume is the amplitude or loudness of the sounds. It is defined by the intensity of the vibration of the particles of the medium.

Example: A string plucked with low force will produce soft and gentle sounds. However, the same string if stuck with vengeance would generate loud sounds.

I shall be posting articles around reading music which requires you to understand these elements of music.

Stay tuned for future lessons and thanks for reading the article in the series 100 Day Music Blogging Challenge. Please don’t forget to share this article with your friends.

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Published by Bharat

Hi, I'm Bharat. An artist, blogger, musician and digital marketing professional dedicated to sharing musing and stories about music, art and mindful resonance! Follow me @bharatpc