When does a noise become a musical note?

With all of this talk about scales and chords recently, I thought I would take a step back and explain where all of it comes from. The fundamental element to both chords and scales are notes. Some of you may be thinking, “Well, duh!” But how many of you really thought about what notes are?

In the real world, there are infinite possibilities for creating different frequencies of sound. A big rig truck has a deep, rumbling sound frequency. Shoes squeak on a basketball court with a high, piercing sound frequency. Neither the truck nor the shoes are trying to be musical. They are simply making noise. What separates a noise from a note is whether the frequency was specifically chosen or not. If a truck’s exhaust was tuned to create a specific frequency, it would be playing a note. Otherwise it is just noise.

The notes we play on our guitars are sounds with very specific frequencies, or pitches. “Pitch” is the musical equivalent to the physics term “frequency.” Notes are specifically selected frequencies that have a nice musical relationship to one another. Here is a link to a page showing all of the notes and their specific frequencies.

So now that we know what a note is, the next question is how many are there? The answer is 12:

A    A B    C    C D    D E    F    F G    G

Most of the music we play here in America can be described with combinations of these 12 notes. Now you know what notes are: specifically measured frequencies that have certain musical qualities.

That can’t be all, can it? All of that musical variety that we hear everyday can’t possibly be described with 12 notes!? It sure can, with the help of octaves. Sounds like a good blog topic…

For more information about me and the guitar lessons that I give, visit www.ewguitar.com.

3 responses to “When does a noise become a musical note?

  1. You don’t have to believe in the “Mozart Effect” to understand that music is essential to life. It’s a form of expression that surrounds us almost every waking minute of every day. Think of how your life would be without those 12 notes. It always amazes me when I think of all the people I know who,as they get older, lose their interest in music! Maybe that’s why we have grouchy old people!

    • Great comment. I know that I’ll never stop listening to music. I’ll be old and wrinkled with an iPod in my hand.

      The Mozart effect is explained here, in case some of you are curious.

  2. Pingback: One step at a time. « EW Guitar Lessons, Glen Burnie, Baltimore area private guitar instruction. Blog about all things guitar.·

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