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The Basic Qualities of the Musical Sound: Pitch and Duration

  • Category: Science
  • Subcategory: Physics
  • Topic: Sound
  • Page: 1
  • Words: 627
  • Published: 17 December 2018
  • Downloads: 26
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The Basic Qualities of the Musical Sound:  Pitch and Duration essay
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There is a basic difference in the character between the Indian Music and the Western Music. The Indian Music is basically an individualistic music in which a musician enjoys a great deal of freedom to express his own individual talents, which are improvisations. In Western Music, the compositions are based on harmony, in which the music is composed and written down in advance for the group of musicians.

What are the characteristics of a musical sound?

The musical sounds differ in various ways. The basic qualities of the musical sound are:

  1. Pitch is the relative height (highness) or depth (lowness) of the musical sound.
  2. Duration is the specific length of time of the musical sound.
  3. Intensity relates to the volume of loudness of the musical sound.
  4. Accent is the stress or emphasis on certain notes or beats present in the musical composition.
  5. Timbre is the characteristic tone of the musical sound which relates to the tonal quality or the tone colour of the musical sound.

We will see Pitch and Duration in this Lesson in detail.


As described earlier, the Pitch of the musical sound is the height or depth of the musical sound. The pitch depends upon the rapidity if the vibrations.

A sound is invariably generated by the vibrations of an elastic body such as a stretched string in stringed musical instruments like a Guitar or Sitar or an enclosed column of air in wind instruments like an Oboe or a Flute.

A simple vibration is characterized by its frequency (i.e. the number of vibrations per second) and its amplitude (i.e. the extent of its vibration as in the back and forth movement of a plucked string). These characteristics are directly related to the two basic properties of the resulting sound viz. its pitch and its intensity. The greater the frequency, the higher the pitch and the greater the amplitude (size), the louder the sound.

Each pitch is determined by a definite number of vibrations per second. At present, Great Britain and most European nations and many countries in the world (including India), have adopted the United States standard which assigns 440 vibrations per second to A (The tone A above middle C). The oldest musical instrument “Pianoforte” (often called simply “Piano”) has a wide range of pitch. The tones of the piano, range from about 30 to about 4000 cycles (vibrations per second).


It is simply the length of time a musical sound lasts. In Western musical notation system, the sounds of different lengths are shown by certain graphical symbols of different shapes. These written symbols of musical sounds are called the Notes.

The duration of the musical sounds is counted in beats. The beat is the basic unit of time value of the musical sound in the musical composition. When we clap the beat, the hand moves “down” and “up” and the beat can be simply divided in two parts. The beat is also called as count. Primarily the beat has two parts ON and OFF.

While clapping you can count the two parts as

One & Two & Three & Four & …. Here the “&” represents the Off means the second half or the second part of the beat.

The Rhythm may be broadly defined as everything pertaining to the duration quality of the musical sound. Normally the rhythm is metrical. Its values are multiples or divisions of unit, the beat. The rhythm, in more specific sense of the word, denotes the innumerable patterns and various combinations of notes, formed within the basic metric framework, by various arrangements of smaller and larger note values. In music selected tones are arranged in different ways. A melody may contain tone s of different time values. One note may be sounding for one or two or three or four beats and there may be two or more notes in One beat.

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