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Frequency and Pitch of Sound

Explores how the frequency of a sound affects how we perceive it.

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Tune-up Time

Tune-up Time

Credit: Magle.dk
Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/frederikmagle/7026769687/
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

According to a well-known story, a man went to his first orchestra concert. Afterward, someone asked which part he liked best. He replied, “The beginning, before the man with the stick came in.”

The Back Story

  • Of course, the man with the stick is the orchestra conductor. The part the man was referring to was the orchestra tuning up. This involves all of the instruments playing the same note to be sure they have the same pitch.
  • When tuning, each musician adjusts the pitch of his or her instrument so it matches exactly the pitch set by a machine or other instrument.
  • Credit: Jordan Fischer
    Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jordanfischer/72510316
    License: CC BY-NC 3.0

    All musicians must be in tune in order to successfully play on the same pitch [Figure2]

  • What pitch is used, and what determines that pitch? Watch this short video featuring the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra to learn more: 

Can You Apply It?

With the link below, learn more about tuning, pitch, and frequency. Then answer the following questions.

  1. What is A 440? What do the numbers stand for?
  2. When an orchestra tunes, one instrument matches its pitch to a machine. Then all the other instruments are tuned to match that instrument’s pitch. Which instrument plays the tuning note for all the other instruments? Why is that instrument used?
  3. Most orchestras use A 440 as their tuning note. If an orchestra uses A 443 instead, how will that orchestra sound compared to an orchestra that tunes to A 440? Why?
  4. What are some reasons that instruments may go out of tune?
  5. What is the relationship between the frequency and pitch of sound? How would two sound waves look if one had a higher pitch than the other? Draw a simple sketch to show it.
  6. If two notes are very close in pitch, but one is just a little higher than the other, what will you hear? What is this called?

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Image Attributions

  1. [1]^ Credit: Magle.dk; Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/frederikmagle/7026769687/; License: CC BY-NC 3.0
  2. [2]^ Credit: Jordan Fischer; Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jordanfischer/72510316; License: CC BY-NC 3.0

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