Characteristics of Sound Pitch, Loudness & Quality YouTube Lecture Handouts

Get top class preparation for competitive exams right from your home: get questions, notes, tests, video lectures and more- for all subjects of your exam.

Characteristics of Sound: Pitch (Frequency), Loudness (Amplitude), Tone (Timbre) & Tempo (Rhythm)

Title: Characteristics of Sound Pitch, Loudness & Quality


Frequency (Pitch)

  • Pitch is measured in the same units as frequency, known as Hertz.
  • Pitch is the quality that enables us to judge sounds as being “higher” and “lower” . It provides a method for organizing sounds based on a frequency-based scale. Pitch can be interpreted as the musical term for frequency, though they are not exactly the same.
  • A high-pitched sound causes molecules to rapidly oscillate, while a low-pitched sound causes slower oscillation. Pitch can only be determined when a sound has a frequency that is clear and consistent enough to differentiate it from noise. Because pitch is primarily based on a listener՚s perception, it is not an objective physical property of sound.


Amplitude (Dynamics)

  • The amplitude of a sound wave determines it relative loudness. In music, the loudness of a note is called its dynamic level. In physics, we measure the amplitude of sound waves in decibels (dB) , which do not correspond with dynamic levels.
  • Higher amplitudes correspond with louder sounds, while shorter amplitudes correspond with quieter sounds. Despite this, studies have shown that humans perceive sounds at very low and very high frequencies to be softer than sounds in the middle frequencies, even when they have the same amplitude.

Construction work vs a lullaby sung by mother


Timbre (Tone Color)

  • Mix frequency and how they vary over time
  • Timbre can also be described in very characteristic ways: resonant, shrill, bright, deep.
  • Timbre refers to the tone color, or “feel” of the sound. Sounds with various timbres produce different wave shapes, which affect our interpretation of the sound. The sound produced by a piano has a different tone color than the sound from a guitar. In physics, we refer to this as the timbre of a sound. It՚s what allows humans to quickly identify sounds (e. g. , a cat՚s meow, running water, the sound of a friend՚s voice) .


Duration (Tempo/Rhythm)

In music, duration is the amount of time that a pitch, or tone, lasts. They can be described as long, short, or as taking some amount of time. The duration of a note or tone influences the timbre and rhythm of a sound. A classical piano piece will tend to have notes with a longer duration than the notes played by a keyboardist at a pop concert. In physics, the duration of a sound or tone begins once the sound registers and ends after it cannot be detected.

Creating Music with the 4 Properties of Sound

  • Musicians manipulate the four properties of sound to make repeating patterns that form a song. Duration is the length of time a musical sound lasts. When you strum a guitar, the duration of the sound is stopped when you quiet the strings. Pitch is the relative highness or lowness that is heard in a sound and is determined by the frequency of sound vibrations. Faster vibrations produce a higher pitch than slower vibrations. The thicker strings of the guitar produce slower vibrations, creating a deeper pitch, while the thinner strings produce faster vibrations and a higher pitch.
  • A sound with a definite pitch, or specific frequency, is called a tone. Tones have specific frequencies that reach the ear at equal time intervals, such as 320 cycles per second. When two tones have different pitches, they sound dissimilar, and the difference between their pitches is called an interval. Musicians frequently use an interval called an octave, which allows two tons of varying pitches to share a similar sound.
  • Dynamics refers to a sound՚s degree of loudness or softness and is related to the amplitude of the vibration that produces the sound. The harder a guitar string is plucked, the louder the sound will be. Tone color, or timbre, describes the overall feel of an instrument՚s produced sound. If we were to describe a trumpet՚s tone color, we may refer to it as bright or brilliant.
Creating Music with the 4 Properties of Sound

Developed by: