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Chapter 1 of textbook: Music: It's Language, History and Culture. Music 1300 is a site for students of Music Appreciation, both at Brooklyn College and around the world. The textbook for Music Appreciation is presented here, including its pdf, e-pub, and linked media.

Chapter 1: elements of sound and music

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Making music has been an activity of human beings, both as individuals and with others, for thousands of years. Written texts, pictorial representations, and folklore sources provide evidence that people from all over the globe and from the beginnings of recorded history have created and performed music for religious rituals, civil ceremonies, social functions, story telling, and self-expression. Some of the terminology, concepts, and vocabulary used by musicians in writing and talking about the many types of music you will be studying are discussed in this section on elements of sound and music.

Elements of sound

From the perspective of a musician, anything that is capable of producing sound is a potential instrument for musical exploitation. What we perceive as sound are vibrations (sound waves) traveling through a medium (usually air) that are captured by the ear and converted into electrochemical signals that are sent to the brain to be processed.

Since sound is a wave, it has all of the properties attributed to any wave, and these attributes are the four elements that define any and all sounds. They are the frequency, amplitude, wave form and duration, or in musical terms, pitch, dynamic, timbre (tone color), and duration.

Example 1.1
Element Musical Term Definition
Frequency Pitch How high or low
Amplitude Dynamic How loud or soft
Wave form Timbre Unique tone color of each instrument
Duration Duration How long or short

Frequency

The frequency, or pitch, is the element of sound that we are best able to hear. We are mesmerized when a singer reaches a particularly high note at the climax of a song, just as we are when adancer makes a spectacularly difficult leap. We feel very low notes (low pitches) in a physical way as well, sometimes expressing dark or somber sentiments as in music by country singerslike Johnny Cash, and other times as the rhythmic propulsion of low-frequency pulsations in electronically amplified dance music.

The ability to distinguish pitch varies from person to person, just as different people are better and less capable at distinguishing different colors (light frequency). Those who areespecially gifted recognizing specific pitches are said to have “perfect pitch.” On the other hand,just as there are those who have difficulty seeing the difference in colors that are near each other in the light spectrum (color-blind), there are people who have trouble identifying pitches that are close to each other. If you consider yourself to be such a “tone-deaf” person, do not fret. The great American composer Charles Ives considered the singing of the tone-deaf caretaker at his church to be some of the most genuine and expressive music he experienced.

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Source:  OpenStax, Music appreciation: its language, history and culture. OpenStax CNX. Jun 03, 2015 Download for free at https://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11803/1.1
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