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tone vs pitch

13 Nov 03 - 10:53 PM (#1053524)
Subject: BS: tone vs pitch
From: mack/misophist

A looong time ago I read an article about a man at the Bell Sound Labs who proved that pitch and tone have the same kind of relationship that weight and mass do: they look the same, but it's not so. The man reportedly produced an effects tape that included 1. A long continuously descending tone that ends on a higher pitch than it started on. 2. A continuously ascending tone that ends on a lower pitch than it started on, and 3. The sound of one pane of glass breaking...that continues for five minutes. At the time I read this in Analog I didn't have a sou to spend. Today, I would pay big bucks if I only could find a copy. Does any one know anything about this?

14 Nov 03 - 08:58 PM (#1053922)
Subject: RE: BS: tone vs pitch
From: Little Hawk

Astounding! A thread that is about to drop off the forum without having garnered a single response!

Well, I can't let that happen. It's so sad.

Could you please define "tone" and "pitch" in the context of your post, and then maybe we could get somewhere with this...

- LH

14 Nov 03 - 11:17 PM (#1053961)
Subject: RE: BS: tone vs pitch
From: Sorcha

Tone should be the quality of the sound...pitch should be a relative 'physics' wave length.....I can't see the relationship myself...except for the fact that in music, both enhance the other....

15 Nov 03 - 12:15 AM (#1053972)
Subject: RE: BS: tone vs pitch
From: DonMeixner

I don't know if this is the same thing we are talking about but here goes/. Eric Clapton was famous for his use of WahWah pedals when he played with Cream. My under standing is a wah wah runs the tone of a given note or chord from extreme treble through the midrange and back again as you raise and lower the pedal while the note remains the same the wah is changing only the tone. The note or the pitch is the constant vibration of a string, the tone is color of the sound, warm or brittle as the case may be.


15 Nov 03 - 05:07 AM (#1054010)
Subject: RE: BS: tone vs pitch
From: smallpiper

I'd go with that.

15 Nov 03 - 07:23 AM (#1054048)
Subject: RE: BS: tone vs pitch
From: McGrath of Harlow

Shouldn't this be classed as a music thread rather than BS?

Tone. (1) Mus. sound, as in analysis to show that a violin note has several different tones
(2) Interval of major 2nd, e.g. C-D, E F#.
(3) Quality of sound, as in 'sweet tone', 'harsh tone', 'dry tone'.
(4) Plainsong melody, as in Gregorian tone.
(5) American usage for 'note', hence '12-tone music'

On the other hand:
Pitch. The location of a sound in the tonal scale, depending onthe speed of vibrations from the source of the sound,fastr ones produicing a high pitch and slow ones a low...

(From the Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music.)

15 Nov 03 - 08:39 AM (#1054083)
Subject: RE: BS: tone vs pitch
From: Dave the Gnome

Tone is the sound you make when you tell your kids off. Or is that just a stern tone?

Pitch is the black stuff that melts and you put it on things to make them waterproof.

Whoops - sorry - I just posted to the 'Stupid' thread and thought I was stll on it...


15 Nov 03 - 09:23 AM (#1054096)
Subject: RE: tone vs pitch
From: Jeri

Mack, I read your post and said "What the... That doesn't make any sense!" When people are talking technical talk, that feeling's usually an indication that I could learn something.

Tone, as per McGrath's quote from Oxford, #5, means the note. Pitch would be the frequency. I'm trying to think this through, and wonder if 'tone' doesn't have something to do with how we perceive sound, and other things besides pitch determine that. Sometimes, when a specific pitch gets louder or softer, I hear it as sharper or flatter. The volume doesn't affect frequency, but it effects how I perceive what I hear.

The Doppler Effect definitely changes tone, but it's because the pitch/frequency also changes at the place where the hearer's located even if it doesn't change at the source.

I'm thinking there must be re-prints of Analog around.

15 Nov 03 - 11:35 AM (#1054151)
Subject: RE: tone vs pitch
From: mack/misophist

As I understood the article at the time, the researcher was using the words 'tone' and 'pitch' arbitrarily to describe a relationship he'd discovered. In the normal world of mechanically generated sound waves, tone and pitch always vary in parallel and appear to be almost the same thing. The researcher discovered a way to create computer generated sounds in which tone and pitch moved in opposing directions. Since I only read the article and never got to hear the examples, this is the best I can do. This isn't something you would ordinarily call music. The article also mentioned that the man was an amateur composer and had used an hour long descending tone as ambience in a play about a man going mad. They had to drop it after a few performances because it was driving every one up the wall. The article (if I haven't gone mad myself) would have appeared some time between 1960 and 1970, I think. To the best of my recollection, the article was not in the April edition.

As for the 'breaking glass' effect, that wasn't explained.

When I finally had some time and money to call my own, I spend most of a day in the research/reference section of the local library trying to track it down. Needless to say...

15 Nov 03 - 01:48 PM (#1054216)
Subject: RE: tone vs pitch
From: Little Hawk

I know what you mean. Our dachshund, Valdy, is profoundly affected at some deep level by passing ambulances and police cars with their sirens on. He proceeds to sing along with them dolefully and varies his tone and pitch in ways that are quite uncanny. Sometimes the tone goes up when the pitch goes down...sometimes it's the other way around. Either way, it works its way right to the core of your nervous system and elicits dramatic instinctive responses, like yelling: "Will you shut up?!!"

- LH

15 Nov 03 - 05:24 PM (#1054322)
Subject: RE: tone vs pitch
From: GUEST,Frankham

There is some relationship when you consider the nature of frequency response. The higher the frequencies in the overtone series, the brighter the tone. Frequencies are a form of measurable pitch.
Overtones are measurable as well. But as Dr. Carl Seashore pointed out, tonal memory is different. It's the ability to recall melodic phrases and may have something to do with the ability to memorize chords. Tone quality relies on pitch discrimination to some degree.

Frank Hamilton

15 Nov 03 - 06:10 PM (#1054349)
Subject: RE: tone vs pitch
From: GUEST, Mikefule

Surely a 'pure' note has only a pitch, which is directly and only related to its frequency, or wavelength. Shorten the wavelength/increase the frequency, and you raise the pitch.

But a voice or instrument does not make a pure note. It makes a complex wave pattern which sounds not only like an F#, but also like a violin, or a reed, or whatever.

That quality which makes it sound LIKE a violin, reed, etc., is the 'tone' or (more correctly?) the 'timbre'.

So, I guess that if you could electronically record the whole sound of a violin playing a given note, you could map the various tones, overtones and undertones - notes of various related pitches which combine to make the timbre - and adjust one or more of them independently. In that context, I can sort of vaguely imagine that lowering one of the components of a complex note could make the whole note sound higher, or vice versa.

But does a scientist ask a folksinger for advice on qhuantum physics? No. So should we ask scientists for advice on music? No.

15 Nov 03 - 06:13 PM (#1054351)
Subject: RE: tone vs pitch
From: Mooh

Little Hawk...Wow, I've all but given up trying to teach Rosie The Wonder Dog to sing along with things. She'll make little speaking noise but only when I rub her muzzle a certain way. I think I've heard her howl maybe twice in her life (6 years), otherwise no vocal response to sounds at all. She seems to enjoy music, but no frequency seems to start her vocalizing.

The pitch/tone/timbre relationships are funny things. I don't remember being confused by them at all, but my Dad had us indoctrinated in music very young. However, in my attempts to establish the musical maturity of incoming students, I've noticed a lot of confusion in some folks about this. The same pitch on several different instruments will confuse many uneducated ears. One thing I have noticed is that if the student will vocalise the pitch, recognition improves quickly, as if there's some kind of primal connection between brain, ear and voice which transcends our attempts to "over-science" sound.

Peace, Mooh.

15 Nov 03 - 06:55 PM (#1054371)
Subject: RE: tone vs pitch
From: CraigS

Pitch is the frequency of the note. Tone is the accompanying harmonics or overtones which give the sound of the voice/instrument its distinctive quality. Timbre is a French word meaning (postage) stamp (usually) - in the context, timbre designates those qualities of tone that make a "voice" or instrument distinctive - you can tell it's Bing Crosby by the timbre of his voice, not by the tone - it
might be Dick Haymes otherwise

15 Nov 03 - 08:34 PM (#1054440)
Subject: RE: tone vs pitch
From: Snuffy

For an exercise, try singing an ascending scale while gradually moving from head to chest voice, or vice versa with a descending scale. You'll soon hear the difference between pitch and tone

15 Nov 03 - 09:35 PM (#1054469)
Subject: RE: tone vs pitch
From: GUEST,pdq

All instruments, including the human voice, produce frequencies
in addition to the fundamental. They are almost always of less
magnitude than the intended note (although the very lowest notes
some pianos are said to consist of more total harmonics than the

The other frequencies are "harmonics" and can be above the
intended note or below it ("sub-harmonics").

The exact combination is called a "format" and is the reason we
can tell an oboe from a violin, or even one violin from another.
No matter who plays it, a given instrument played at a certain
pitch will produce approximately the same quantity of harmonics,
giving that instrument it's characteristic "timbre".

As a biologist, I have no books on this interesting subject.

16 Nov 03 - 12:41 PM (#1054749)
Subject: RE: tone vs pitch
From: McGrath of Harlow

It seems to me that people are jumping back and forth between the different meanigs of "tone" given in that dictionary definition, and perhaps a few other meanings.

16 Nov 03 - 04:16 PM (#1054907)
Subject: RE: tone vs pitch
From: Richard Bridge

Look, this is quite simple.

Take a simple note with no harmonics. It's a sine wave.

Add harmonics and subharmonics. Several sine waves. But it sounds like the same note.

Put a band pass filter on it. Now you hear mainly the waves within the range of the filter.

Now move every wave up one tone, but add a little of the next harmonic down.

You hear the pitch rise one tone.

Keep doing it.

The perceived tone keeps rising step by step.

But because of that band pass filter, and the new subharmonics that keep coming in, you always hear the note as being within the same octave, but you never hear when it goes down in stead of up.

16 Nov 03 - 05:58 PM (#1054973)
Subject: RE: tone vs pitch
From: 8_Pints

Isn't tone also meant to describe pitch in the sense of intervals being a tone or semi-tone apart?

Bob vG

16 Nov 03 - 06:24 PM (#1054984)
Subject: RE: tone vs pitch
From: GUEST,pdq

I believe that Americans use the terms "whole step" and "half step" to avoid just such confusion.

16 Nov 03 - 06:26 PM (#1054987)
Subject: RE: tone vs pitch
From: Jeri

Bob, yeah. That's McGrath's Oxford Dictionary definition #5, which is what I think we're discussing. 'Tone' meaning the quality of the sound, as in the tone of a note played on a violin verses the tone of the same note played on a flute, doesn't rise and fall and is separated from pitch.

The overtones mentioned are undoubtedly why, when I sing a C into an electronic tuner, the tuner reads it as a G. I know for sure it's a C, but the overtones in my voice are strong enough to fool the tuner. Does this tone vs pitch thing why I can sing the same exact notes as a deep-voiced man, and it sounds like he's an octave below me?

16 Nov 03 - 11:41 PM (#1055159)
Subject: RE: tone vs pitch
From: mack/misophist

I tried to make it clear that the writer was using the words 'tone' and 'pitch' in an arbitrary manner, without regard for the proper definitions. There are no common terms for the sound he was describing. Since the man was a physicist specializing in sound, I assume he knew what he was saying when he asserted that the sounds do not occur in nature.

17 Nov 03 - 08:04 AM (#1055372)
Subject: RE: tone vs pitch
From: s&r

pdq don't forget the noises produced that aren't harmonically related to the note being played, but do contribute to the overall sound heard which are characteristic of the instrument e.g. the breathiness of a flute, the string noises on a guitar, the bow sound on the string, box noises, attack (Tongued/non tongued; plucked/bowed) - all these contribute to the overall sound of an instrument which is variously described as tone or timbre. And did you mean formant? Hope this doesn't seem nit picking.


17 Nov 03 - 10:26 AM (#1055456)
Subject: RE: tone vs pitch
From: GUEST,Frank Hamilton

OK you have a tone. It's played by a cello. If it's pitched higher it doesn't sound like a cello any more. It sounds more like a violin. There is a connection, therefore between pitch and tonal quality.

They talk about half-tones and whole-tones too which is a pitch designation.

A sine wave can have the same pitch as any other instrument. But it doesn't sound the same so the idea of pitch may be altered as it's perceived. It can be measured in frequencies but it differs in overtones. 440 Hertz remains regardless of what instrument plays it.
But the tonal quality varies. A higher or lower pitch does affect tonal quality. The two are inextricably bound in music.

Frank Hamilton

17 Nov 03 - 11:04 AM (#1055478)
Subject: RE: tone vs pitch
From: Jeri

Frank, thanks. I see I contradicted myself up there (duh): tone, as in 'quality' is BECAUSE of the overtones, not separate from them. (duh)

17 Nov 03 - 12:26 PM (#1055538)
Subject: RE: tone vs pitch
From: Wolfgang

Some may want to listen to some

acoustic illusions

or listen to the Shepard illusion (endlessly rising melodies)

or you may want to play and experience yourself the Shepard effect on this German site:

play the Piano up or down a full octave and then play the first note again to experience it higher than before though actually it is identical (as you can hear by first keying C1 and then C2).


18 Nov 03 - 11:34 AM (#1056251)
Subject: RE: tone vs pitch
From: mack/misophist

Thank you, Wolfgang. This is the closest I've come to an answer in decades.

18 Nov 03 - 01:17 PM (#1056350)
Subject: RE: tone vs pitch
From: Jeri

Thanks from me too. I can hear the scale rise and I can hear the low overtone (or is that an 'under'tone, or is the higher note really the overtone?). I can understand how, if one raised the pitch of the higher note and also increased the volume of the lower over/undertone VERY gradually, one might not notice it ended up in the lower octave.

I catch this with wind instrument (like flute or pennywhistle) players sometimes. They don't blow quite hard enough to get the note in the octave they want and they wind up sounding like they're playing the same note in two octaves at the same time. I suppose that would be pretty interesting of one could do it on purpose and consistently! (Or maybe people DO, and I just don't know about it.)

18 Nov 03 - 01:21 PM (#1056353)
Subject: RE: tone vs pitch
From: GUEST,MMario

this "tone" versus "pitch" came up in carol rehearsal this weekend - the same PITCH sung in head voice instead of chest voice SOUNDED much lighter (and higher)

18 Nov 03 - 02:50 PM (#1056427)
Subject: RE: tone vs pitch
From: Wolfgang


even closer to what you describe is Risset's continuous scale, the continuous variant of the Shepard effect.

You'll find it on the Acoustic Society of America homepage (scroll a bit it is the last of several demonstrations). And: They sell a CD! Must be more or less what you want.

For those who only want to hear the effect click here.


18 Nov 03 - 02:54 PM (#1056431)
Subject: RE: tone vs pitch
From: Wolfgang

I get carried away:

For those who want another demonstration of a difference between pitch and tone listen to the missing fundamental demonstration on the page I have linked to. The page explains what has been done.


18 Nov 03 - 04:20 PM (#1056467)
Subject: RE: tone vs pitch
From: mack/misophist

Thank you again, Wolfgang. Sie sind ohne Gleichstelles! That last one was very close to the description. It's clear the author was a tech writer, not a musician.

18 Nov 03 - 06:15 PM (#1056523)
Subject: RE: tone vs pitch
From: Jim McLean

About 15 years ago I went to University and studied for a degree in Electronic Engineering. For my final project I designed a device which allowed one to whistle (or sing) into a microphone and the resultant notes as standard staff notation were printed out on the computer screen. (I used a BBC in those days). To acomplish this I had to strip the sound going into my device down to the fundamental frequency, the pitch of the note, by removing all the harmonics which gave the note its distictive sound or tone, i.e, piano or flute. A recorder produced the cleanest sine wave and was the easiest to capture. I think therefore, the difference between pitch and tone is obvious and has already been explained above.

18 Nov 03 - 06:40 PM (#1056532)
Subject: RE: tone vs pitch
From: McGrath of Harlow

I've been told that the cleanest sine wave of all is with a concertina.

19 Nov 03 - 04:28 AM (#1056763)
Subject: RE: tone vs pitch
From: Wolfgang

I know from own experience that the cleanest sine wave a human can make without an instrument is by whistling. As for instruments I would have guessed (from the similarity of name and sound production) it was a whistle but I don't really know.


19 Nov 03 - 05:13 AM (#1056791)
Subject: RE: tone vs pitch
From: Jim McLean

From my experiments the recorder, which is a type of whistle, was the cleanest. I tried various 'voices' from an electronic keyboard and the flute sound was the best. I have an English concertina but there were many harmonics.