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Pitch, Dynamics and Tone Color
Performing Media
Voices and Instruments
Pitch is the relative highness or lowness that we
hear in a sound.
}  The pitch of sound is decided by the frequency of
its vibrations – that is, their speed.
The faster the vibration,
the higher the pitch;
Smaller objects vibrate faster
and have higher pitches.
The slower the vibration,
the lower the pitch.
Larger objects vibrate slower
and have lower pitches.
A sound that has a definite pitch is called a tone.
Two tones will sound different when they have different
}  The “distance” in pitch between any two tones is called an
}  Notes separated by an octave sound alike.
Degrees of loudness or softness in music are called
dynamics – our second property of sound.
A performer can emphasize a tone by playing it
more loudly than the tones around it; this is called a
dynamic accent.
very soft
mezzo piano
moderately soft
mezzo forte
moderately loud
very loud
The following notations indicate gradual changes in
The quality that distinguishes different tones playing
at the same dynamic level is called tone color, or
timbre (pronounced tam’-ber), our third property of
Tone color is described by words like bright, dark,
brilliant, mellow and rich.
Wilhelm Richard Wagner was a German
composer, theatre director, polemicist, and
conductor who is primarily known for his
operas (or, as some of his later works were
later known, "music dramas"). His
compositions, particularly those of his later
period, are notable for their complex
textures, rich harmonies and orchestration,
and the elaborate use of leitmotifs—
musical phrases associated with individual
characters, places, ideas or plot elements.
Wagner's writings on race and against
Jews reflected some trends of thought in
Germany during the 19th century; however,
despite his very public views on Jews,
throughout his life Wagner had Jewish
friends, colleagues and supporters.
Wagner's operas, writings, politics, beliefs
and unorthodox lifestyle made him a
controversial figure during his lifetime.
Following Wagner's death, debate about
his ideas and their interpretation,
particularly in Germany during the 20th
century, has continued.
Richard Wagner
May 22, 1813 – February 13, 1883
Pictured, Wagner in 1871, aged 58
Lohengrin, Prelude to Act III (1848)
Louis Armstrong, nicknamed Satchmo or Pops, was an American
jazz trumpeter and singer from New Orleans, Louisiana. Coming to
prominence in the 1920s as an "inventive" trumpet and cornet
player, Armstrong was a foundational influence in jazz, shifting the
focus of the music from collective improvisation to solo performance.
With his instantly-recognizable gravelly voice, Armstrong was also
an influential singer, demonstrating great dexterity as an improviser,
bending the lyrics and melody of a song for expressive purposes.
He was also skilled at scat singing (vocalizing using
sounds and syllables instead of actual lyrics). Renowned
for his charismatic stage presence and voice almost as
much as for his trumpet-playing, Armstrong's influence
extends well beyond jazz music, and by the end of his
career in the 1960s, he was widely regarded as a
profound influence on popular music in general.
Armstrong was one of the first truly popular AfricanAmerican entertainers to "cross over", whose skin-color
was secondary to his music in an America that was
severely racially divided. He rarely publicly politicized his
race, often to the dismay of fellow African-Americans,
Louis Armstrong
but took a well-publicized stand for desegregation during
the Little Rock Crisis. His artistry and personality
August 4, 1901 – July 6, 1971
allowed him socially acceptable access to the upper
Hotter Than That (1927)
echelons of American society that were highly restricted By Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five
for a black man.
}  Voices
}  Musical
Men’s vocal cords are longer and thicker than
women’s, and this difference produces a lower
range. The following are the most basic voice
alto (contralto)
An instrument may be defined as any mechanism –
other than the voice – that produces musical
The six broad categories of instruments discussed
in this objective are classified as western
String, Woodwind, Brass, Percussion, Keyboard &
String Instruments
Double Bass
The violin, viola, cello and double bass form the symphony orchestra’s string
section. They differ in size, range and tone color: the violin is smallest and has the
highest range; the double bass is largest and has the lowest range. For
symphonic music they are usually played with a bow – a slightly curved stick
strung with horsehair, but they may also be plucked.
The harp has forty-seven
strings stretched on a
triangular frame. The harpist
plucks the strings with the
fingers of both hands.
The guitar has six strings,
which are plucked with the
fingers of the right hand.
The woodwind instruments are so named
because they produce vibrations of air
within a tube that was traditionally made of
wood. They have little holes along their
length that are opened or closed by the
fingers or by pads controlled by a key
mechanism; this varies the pitch by
changing the length of the vibrating air
The piccolo, or small flute, is
half the size of the flute and
plays an octave higher. The
piccolo’s high register is shrill
and whistle-like.
The flute has a high range and
is very agile; it can produce
rapid successions of tones. Its
tone is full and velvety in the
low register and bright and
sparkling in the upper.
The clarinet can produce tones
very rapidly and has a wide
range of dynamics and tone
The saxophone has a single-reed
mouthpiece like a clarinet’s, but its
tube is made of brass. Its tone is
rich, husky and speech-like.
The oboe has a nasal,
intense, expressive tone.
The tone of the bassoon is
also nasal, but has a lower
Brass Instruments
French Horn
From high register to low, the main instruments of the orchestra’s brass section
are the trumpet, French horn, trombone and tuba. The brasses are played by
blowing into a cup – or funnel-shaped mouth-piece. Vibrations come from the
musician’s lips and are amplified and colored in a coiled tube that is flared at
the end to form a bell.
United States Marine Band Quintet
Pitch is regulated both by varying lip tension and by using slides
and valves to change the length of the tube (the longer the tube,
the lower the pitch);
The trombone uses a slide which is pulled in or pushed out;
The trumpet, French horn and tuba have three or four valves to
divert air through various lengths of tubing.
Percussion Instruments
Most percussion instruments are
struck by hand, with sticks, or
with hammers, though some are
shaken or rubbed. Percussion
instruments of definite pitch
produce tones; those of indefinite
pitch produce noise-like sounds.
Definite Pitch
Indefinite Pitch
Snare Drum
Bass Drum
Percussions of Definite Pitch
The timpani are the only orchestral drums of
definite pitch. A calfskin or plastic head is
stretched over a copper, hemispherical shell.
The pitch of the timpani is changed by
varying the tension of the head. Screws
around the shell’s rim are tightened or
loosened by hand or by a foot pedal.
The metal bars of the glockenspiel are struck
with two hammers to produce a tone that is
bright and silvery.
The xylophone consists of a set of wooden
bars which are struck with two hard hammers
to produce a dry, wooden tone.
The celesta (left) looks like a small upright
piano, but its sounding mechanism is like a
glockenspiel’s. Metal bars are struck by
hammers that are controlled by a keyboard.
It’s tone is tinkling and graceful.
Chimes (right) are a set of metal tubes hung
from a frame. They are struck with a
hammer and sound like church bells.
Percussions of Indefinite
The dry rattling sound of the snare
drum is produced by the vibration of
snares-strings, which are tightly
stretched against the bottom head.
The bass drum – the largest of the
orchestral drums – is almost 3 feet in
The tambourine is often used to
create Spanish or Gypsy effects. The
player shakes it or strikes its head
with the knuckles.
The triangle is struck with a metal
beater and makes a tinkling, bell-like
Cymbals are round brass plates.
They are usually struck together with
a sliding motion, and their sound
penetrates like a sharp crash.
When struck by a bass drum’s stick
with a soft head, the gong produces
long-lasting sounds that can seem
solemn, mysterious or frightening.
The piano, harpsichord, organ and accordion are the bestknown keyboard instruments. Though quite different from
each other, each has a keyboard which allows several tones
to be played at once quickly and easily.
The piano was invented around 1700
and mechanically perfected by the
1850’s. It produces sound through
vibrating strings held under tension
by an iron frame: striking a key
causes a felt-covered hammer to hit
a string (the harder the pianist strikes
the key, the louder the sound);
releasing the key causes a felt
damper to come down on the string
and end the tone.
Piano Facts:
•  88 keys
•  Broad dynamic range
•  Pianist can play many notes at
one time.
The harpsichord was
important from about 1500
to 1775 (when it was
gradually replaced by the
piano) and has been
revived in the twentieth
century for performance of
early music and in some
new works. It has strings
that are plucked by small
wedges called plectra,
controlled by one or two
The pipe organ was most prominent
from 1600 to 1750 (when it was
known as the “king of instruments”)
but is still in wide use today,
particularly in religious services. It
has a very wide range of pitch,
dynamics and tone color. The pipe
organ controls valves from which air
is blown across or through openings
in the pipes; different sets of pipes –
each with a particular tone color –
are brought into play by pulling knobs
called stops; dynamics are changed
by adding or reducing the number of
pipes, moving from one keyboard to
another, or opening and closing
shutters around some of the pipes.
The accordion has free
steel reeds controlled
by a treble keyboard
with piano keys (played
by the right hand) and a
bass keyboard with
buttons (played by the
left hand). Air from a
bellows makes the
reeds vibrate.
Electronic Instruments – produce or
amplify sound electronically
Synthesizers are electronic systems
that can generate, modify and control
a huge variety of musical sounds and
noises; they give the composer
complete control over pitch, tone color,
loudness and duration.
Sampling places brief digital
recordings of live sounds under the
control of a synthesizer and allows the
producer to modify or manipulate the
sound according to his or her own
creative purposes.
MIDI stands for Musical Instrumental
Digital Interface.