My thoughts...Wisdom from over the years

Pitch and Intonation Part 1

Posted in: Blog, tip of the week ♦ Monday, July 16th, 2012, 5:27 am ♦ No Comments on Pitch and Intonation Part 1

Pitch and Intonation

Many people are confused when it comes to the use of these two terms. American Idol has helped the world to accept a new term that seems to embody both words at once: “pitchy”.  What does it mean to be on pitch? What exactly is intonation? How important are these abilities and can they be learned? These questions and more, I’ll attempt to answer in this month’s column.

What is Pitch?

Perhaps Wikpedia says it the best:

Pitch is the perceived fundamental frequency of a sound.

I like this because it states it very simply. Notice that perception is very important! This is where we frequently have issues with singers! Their ‘perception’ of the pitch can be ‘off’. They may believe that they are on correct pitch ‘from their perspective’.  Herein lies the problem with pitch. There are a few poor souls out there who are blessed (or perhaps cursed!) with perfect pitch. The rest of us try to get as close as we can.

Unlike an electronic instrument that is finely tuned to A440, we have to use our best perception to approximate the pitch. Not always an easy thing to do. We are not alone in this adventure either. Most instrumentalists are also relying on their ‘ear’ to produce the proper pitch with their given instrument. We’ve all been the sad recipients of this process gone wrong! There’s nothing worse than a beautiful violin piece being played just slightly off pitch…yikes!  Or that trumpet blasting out that almost perfect note….need I say more.

What is Intonation?

Here are some dictionary definitions of the word ‘intonation’:

WordNet: the production of musical tones (by voice or instrument); especially the exactitude of the pitch relations.

American Heritage Dictionary: A manner of producing or uttering tones, especially with regard to accuracy of pitch.

I like to say that intonation is the process of proceeding accurately from one pitch to another. Different from singing a single pitch accurately, intonation involves the movement from one pitch to another.  This is obviously one step more evolved in the creation of live music. Each pitch must be ‘on’ so it’s vitally important that one’s ‘ear’ perceives each pitch correctly. One wrong move and soon the entire song could be down a quarter tone, half note or more.

So although there is clearly a link between the two concepts and terms, they are different in function. One necessarily precludes the other. Without the ability to perceive the proper pitch of any given note, it would be impossible to accurately continue on to other notes in a given melody.

Can I Improve My Pitch? FIND OUT NEXT WEEK!!



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