Pitch: The High and the Low of It


When I was a freshman in high school. I had a problem: my voice had not changed! When I would answer the phone, the caller would ask, "Is this Mrs. Lucas?" I would be very frustrated because my voice sounded exactly like my mother's. I longed for the day when my voice would be low, like my dad's.


Musical sounds also can be high or low. Pitch describes sounds as being high or low.

Pitch Names

We use the first seven letters of the alphabet ("A,B,C,D,E,F, and G") as pitch names. "B" is above "A." "C" is above "B" "E" is below "F" When we spell "A,B,C,D,E,F,G" we're going higher, and when we spell "G,F,E,D,C,B,A" we're going lower. These are the "natural pitch names."

For example, if we want to determine which natural note is "just above" "D", we can figure out the answer is "E", since "E" comes just after "D" in the alphabet. If we want to determine which natural note is "just below" "D", we can figure out the answer is "C", since "C" comes just before "D" in the alphabet.


Since we have many more than seven pitches in music, we repeat the names as necessary. Two different pitches may have the same name.

The Staff

To indicate pitch names, notes are placed on a staff. A staff consists of five parallel lines and the spaces between them.

Example 1: A Staff

The lines and spaces don't mean anything, though, until we assign a pitch name to one of them. Then, we can figure out the names of all of them. The clef assigns a pitch name to one of the lines of the staff.

Example 2: A "G-clef" on a Staff:

For example, if we assign the value of the second line to be "g" (as in Example 2, above), we can then figure out the names of the other lines and the spaces. If the second line is "g," then the space above it will be "a."

In Example 3, below, you can see a staff with the values of the lines and spaces which result once you place a treble clef on it.

Example 3: A "G-clef" on a Staff and the Values of the Lines and Spaces:

Pitch Lecture Review

Terms and Concepts

The terms and concepts we will learn are:
  • Register
  • Pitch
  • 8va or 8va bassa
  • Note, Note Head, Stem, Right Stem, Left Stem, Beam
  • Staff and Grand Staff (or Great Staff)
  • Clef, Treble Clef, and Bass Clef (Note: we won't cover the C clefs)
  • Line(s) and Ledger Line(s)
  • Space(s)
  • Pitch Names
  • Middle C

    Exercises and Assignments:

  • Read pp. 19-24 in the textbook.
  • Do the Written Exercises on pp. 24-25.
  • Do the Computer Exercises 10-15 and 20-22

    Links and Notes:

    Allison Collins emailed me and recommended this site for more useful information:
    Tone Deafness: When Two Notes Sound The Same
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  • Back to Pitch Page