Music Pitch

Music pitch means how high or how low a note is.

But how exactly does a high or low pitched note sound? And how is it written with a musical staff and clef? Learn more about music pitch and how it is notated here.

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Music Pitch and Melody

On a piano keyboard you can play high pitches to the right, and low pitches to the left.

Piano Keyboard with Middle C

Women’s voices are generally higher pitched than men's voices, and for example a flute has a higher pitch than a double bass.

Semitones on a staff.Semitones are marked out. Between all the other notes there are whole tones.

A melody is made of high and low pitches.

When you listen to a melody, you can practice to follow with your hand to show how it moves, the melodic contour; up for higher pitches and down for lower.

For example, “Twinkle, twinkle little star” could look something like this with hand movements showing how the melody moves with higher and lower pitch:

If you have trouble "staying on pitch", it means you're singing false! (But don't worry- every singer sings off pitch occasionally.)

Examples of Low and High Pitch Music

It's common to mix up high or low pitch with loud or soft sounds.

A high pitch does not mean a loud sound!

Here is a video explaining the difference between Pitch or Frequency (high or low sounds) and Volume or Amplitude (loud or soft sounds):

On The Music Staff

When we write music pitch with music note symbols, we need a music staff:

  • A musical staff has five lines and four spaces.
  • Notes are written on the lines and in the spaces to show how the pitch moves up and down.

The same melodic contour from “Twinkle” above, could of course be written on the staff, but, as you know, we use music notes instead to show more exactly the pitches of the melody and how it moves, up and down :) :

The Music Clefs Tell Us Pitch Too

We also need music clefs; symbols to show if the music pitch of the melody is in a higher range, or a lower.

The two most common clefs are the Treble and the Bass clefs. (Treble means high pitch, and bass means low pitch.)

The Treble Clef

Where are the high pitched notes written in a stave?

The high pitched notes are written on a treble staff, a staff with a treble or G clef. The higher the pitch, the higher the note on the staff.

The name of the staff used for higher pitches is the treble staff.

This staff is called a “Treble staff”" and the clef also show the exact location of where the note treble G is:

The Bass Clef

A Bass Clef, or an F Clef, is used for lower (bass) pitched notes.

This is called a “Bass staff”. The clef also shows where the bass F note is:

Very High or Very Low Pitch

If the music pitch continues "outside" the staff, either above or below, we use ledger lines.

But it becomes harder to read when there are too many ledger lines. 

So, then we can use the symbol 8va. (Octava)

If placed above the staff, (8va) means to play an octave higher than written. If placed below the staff, (8vb) (Octava Bassa) means to play an octave lower than written.

Two octaves higher or lower are marked similarly with 15ma and 15mb.

Like this:

Written Pitch = Notes

Pitches are named after the first seven letters of the alphabet:


This pattern is repeated over and over, for a higher pitch, or backwards for a lower and lower pitch.

Another way of naming the different pitches is by using syllable names:

Do Re Mi Fa Sol La Si (Ti)

Here are the basic 7 notes on a treble staff:

From lowest to highest pitch: C,D,E,F,G,A,B,C or Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La Si/Ti and Do.

Sharps and Flats

Musical pitches can also be altered a half step higher or lower with the help of accidentals, or sharps (#) and flats (b).

On a piano keyboard you can see the raised or lowered pitches as the black keys.

All in all there are 12 different "pitch classes" (on the piano you can see them as 7 white keys and 5 black) in the western music tradition.

Each pitch is a semitone apart, and this pattern is  repeated higher and lower.

The easiest way to see this is on a piano keyboard. Here you can see how the notes are repeated again and again:

Circle of Fifths With The 12 Pitches

In this musical star you can see all the 12 different pitches (in Western music theory) organized in a circle of semitones.

Clockwise the pitch gets higher by semitones, or half steps, and counter-wise it gets lower.

The "star" inside are lines that connect different notes to show the special relationship they have with each other. (It shows the relationship between the first note of a scale (Tonic), the fourth (Sub-dominant) and the fifth (Dominant).

What Is Concert Pitch?

When tuning an instrument, the pitch is adjusted so that it sounds “right”.

The music pitch depends on how fast or slow a something vibrates.

By changing the amount of vibrations (or sound wave cycles) per second, called Hertz (Hz), the pitch will change.

To put it simpler; by stretching for example a string, the sound (when you pluck it) gets higher (smaller, faster vibrations), and when loosening it the sound gets lower (larger, slower vibrations).

“Concert pitch” is the commonly agreed tuning of the note A as vibrating exactly 440 sound wave cycles per second (440 Hz). 

Some instruments are tuned this way, they have concert pitch. Other instruments do not have the same tuning, they are transposed.

For example; a piano plays the note C. This is a real C. A trumpeter plays a "C". Out comes a Bb!

To avoid confusion at rehearsals with transposed instruments, you have to define whether it should be the written note, or the concert pitch.

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