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Chapter One: Materials of Music

The Basic Materials of music are sound and time. When you play an instrument or sing, you are producing sounds, so it is important that you understand these basic materials. Sounds are used to structure in time in music. Time occurs in the duration of the sounds and the silences between sounds.


Sound is the sensation perceived by the organs of hearing when vibrations reaches the ear.


Vibration is the periodic motion of a substance. When you play an instrument, parts of the instrument (Strings, body), the air inside the body, they vibrate.

Compression and Rarefaction

These terms refer to the alternation of increased (compression) and decreased (rare faction) pressure in the air caused by an activated (vibrating) surface or air column. One complete cycle of compression and rarefaction produces a vibration, or sound wave.


Frequency refers to the number of oscillations or number of compression and rarefaction cycles occur per unit of time, usually its in seconds. The Audibility range of human ear is about 20 to 20,00. cycles per second.


The Four Properties of Sound


Pitch is described as the Height or Depth of any Sound. For example, a woman has a very shrill voice while a healthy man has a grave voice, these variations of frequency that we hear are the variations in pitch. The Greater the number of waves produced per second, more higher is the pitch,(shrill kind of sound) the Lower the number of waves produced per second, more lower is the pitch (grave kind of sound).

A Tone is a musical sound of Definite pitch. (do not confuse it with Tone or Semitone)

Intensity (amplitude) is heard as the loudness or softness of a pitch. In Acoustics (Science of Sound), Intensity is the amount of energy affecting the vibrating body and physicist measures intensity on a scale from 0 to 130 in units called Decibels. In musical notation, Indications of Intensity are Indicated with the following Italian words and their Abbreviations:

​Italian Word



Average Decibels



Very Soft






Mezzo Piano


Moderately Soft


Mezzo Forte


Moderately Loud








Very Loud



Duration is the length of time a pitch, or a tone is sounded. For patterns of Duration, the following terms are used: meter and rhythm.

Meter describes regularly recurring pulses of equal duration, generally grouped into Patterns of two, three, four, or more with one of the Pulses in each group accented. These patterns of Strong (>) and weak (-) pulses are called Beats:

For example:

Duple meter: | > - | > - | > - |

Triple meter: | > - - | > - - | > - - |

Duple (two-beat) meter and triple (three-beat) meter are the two basic meters. All other meters result from some combination of these two.

Rhythm is the operating in conjunction with the meter, rhythm is a pattern of uneven durations. While the steady beats of the meter combine to form measures, a rhythm may be a pattern of almost any length.

Timbre is the tone quality or color of a sound. It is the property of sound that permits us, for instance, to distinguish the difference between the sound of a clarinet and an oboe. This sound quality is determined by the shape of the vibrating body, its material (metal, wood, human tissue), and the method used to put it in motion (striking, bowing, blowing, plucking). It is also the result of the human ear’s perception of a series of tones called the harmonic series, which is produced by all instruments.

A harmonic series includes the various pitches produced simultaneously by a vibrating body. This physical phenomenon results because the body vibrates in sections as well as in a single unit. A string, for example, vibrates along its entire length as well as in halves, thirds, quarters, and so on.

The pitches produced simultaneously by the vibrating sections are called partials or harmonics. The first partial, often called the fundamental, and the series of partials constitute a musical tone. Since the fundamental is the lowest frequency and is also perceived as the loudest, the ear identifies it as the specific pitch of the musical tone. Although the harmonic series theoretically goes to infinity, there are practical limits; the human ear is insensitive to frequencies above 20,000 Hz. (Hz is the abbreviation for hertz, a standard measurement of frequency expressed in cycles per second.) The following illustration carries the harmonic series of an A fundamental to the sixteenth partial:

The individual partials that make up a musical tone are not distinguished separately but are heard by the human ear as a blend that characterizes timbre. You may notice that the harmonic series looks very similar to the “open” tones on brass instruments. The brass instruments and some other instruments, such as the woodwinds, are capable of playing various pitches in the harmonic series.

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