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Music is the art of combining sounds in a harmonious and expressive way so that they are perceived as pleasant. However, its appeal depends upon our habits and education. For some, the wind’s ‘song’ is perceived as music, for others it will be nothing but noise. Music perception therefore depends upon both the sound itself and the person that hears it.
A few fundamental characteristics of music perception are described below.
Generally speaking, a note refers to the pitch of a sound. On a sheet of music, a note is a symbol that represents both the pitch (high or low) and the length of a sound.
Pitch of a note
A musical note is composed of numerous frequencies. The lowest frequency, called the fundamental frequency, determines the pitch of the sound. The lower the frequency of the fundamental, the lower the note. The pitch of the note increases with that of the fundamental frequency.
Length of a note
The length of a note corresponds to the amount of time that the note is perceived. For example, many pieces of music end on a long note.
Pitch (click on the thumbnail)
Timbre and intensity
The fundamental frequency is associated with other frequencies, called harmonics. These determine the timbre of a sound, which is the specific colour of a sound that distinguishes between sounds of the same height played by other instruments.
Timbre creates varied perceptions: it can be perceived as warm, round, metallic, woody…
This is the strength with which the instrument is played.
The loud or soft sounds produced can suggest anger, suspense, tenderness... Varying the intensity can give an impression of dizziness, instability…
Melody and harmony
This is a succession of notes that produce a tune that is pleasant to hear.
This is produced when a number of notes are played at the same time. If three or more notes are played at the same time this is a chord. Chords are the basis of harmony.
Click on the loudspeaker and listen to 3 notes played separately, then simultaneously as a chord
Rhythm and tempo
Rhythm is the arrangement of the length of notes and silences in time. A rhythm used in a piece will give a different feeling than if a different rhythm were used. For example, a choppy rhythm can produce a feeling of haste, whereas a regular rhythm can give a calmer feeling.
This is the speed that a piece of music is played. A slow tempo can suggest a feeling of tenderness, heaviness, sombreness or can be poetic, whereas faster tempos can produce impressions of fear, dynamism , joy…