Sound, in Its Splendid Parameters

DAW screenshot The most basic parameters of sound describe differing aspects of a vibrating object. They are pitch, timbre (pronounced like tamber), and loudness. The pitch refers to the rate of the vibrations; timbre is the pattern of vibration; and the perceived energy pertains to loudness. Sound is produced by separate but simultaneous control of these three things.

In electronic music the sound is generated and controlled electronically. The control of pitch is with an oscillator, timbre with a filter, and loudness, or dynamics, is controlled by an amplifier.

Similarly, the placement of my finger on the fret board of my guitar determines pitch by altering the length of the vibrating string, giving a specific pitch. Playing the first string on the guitar at the twelfth fret divides that string in half and so results in a pitch one octave, or twelve half steps (and conveniently twelve frets) above the open E or first string.

Classical guitarists use the shaping and filing of their fingernails as well as hand placement near the bridge or near the soundhole, and all the shadings in between, to shape the sound.

The dynamics, or the perceived loudness and softness of sound on the classical guitar is also a function of the right hand. For electric guitarists, a knob will do just fine!

When I compose, as well as when I perform on an instrument, I like to think about these basic elements of sound. To feel the body of your guitar breathing from the vibration of the strings, and to send sound waves into being-that is, well, I don’t have words for it…I have music.
~Michelle Qureshi


The Guidonian Hand

The 11th century Benedictine monk Guido d’Arezzo invented a mnemonic system using parts of the hand to indicate pitches for singers. The note names ut, re, mi, fa, sol and la were also placed on horizontal lines to notate pitch. These inventions evolved into solfeggio (do re mi fa sol la ti do) and staff notation as used today.