8.03.2013

Music Theory and the Guitar: Pitch



Music theory doesn't generally interest many guitar players, and to be honest, it doesn't really need to. Playing guitar means you can still learn your instrument fairly easily without delving into the gory details and mathematics of music theory. However I would also caution that ignoring every aspect of music theory can actually hurt your playing ability in the long run, and make it more difficult to actually know your instrument.

Again, I'm not saying you have to be a theory expect, but it would be helpful for you to grab hold of some of the more basic elements of music theory. In this case, that element is pitch.

Why Pitch Matters to Guitar Players

If you're a guitar player that is comfortably learning by ear and doing well without digging into theory-related words and concepts, I think a good goal for you would simply be this:

When somebody uses terminology such as "pitch", you should know enough to understand what they mean on a basic level, and possibly even be able to carry on a casual conversation about that topic.

You don't need to know everything, but in this instance, we're just trying to make sure that we properly understand what pitch actually is, and how it relates to the guitar. There are some people who learn guitar, and don't even understand the definition of the word.

Knowing pitch will also help you in terms of your ability to play by ear, as it's one of the basic ways in which we interpret the sound coming from our guitars.

Definition

You can dig into the technical, musical explanation of pitch if you want to, but for guitar players, I'd simply define pitch this way: The degree of highness or lowness of a note.

It's actually pretty simple, in that you can think of pitch in terms of whether or not a note you hear sounds lower, or higher. Just like when you hear a "high-pitched scream" and something "ear piercing", you're referring to the same thing.

Let's talk a little bit about bringing that concept to the fretboard.

Pitch and the Fretboard

When you bring the idea of pitch over to the fretboard, the simplest way to explain it is that as notes go higher (or "up") so does pitch. By the same token, as notes go lower, the pitch goes down.

Guitar Music Theory










Certainly not a horribly complex idea: So what does this mean for our actual playing?

A high percentage of people, or the "average Joe" can hear pitch and tell whether or not a note is high, lower or are able to compare two notes and decide which one is higher or lower. There are a select few who have what is called "perfect pitch" and can identify the exact pitch of a note without having to compare it to other notes.

Odds are that you're in that higher percentage who understand the difference between high and low pitch. For your guitar playing, here are a few things to keep in mind.

  • As a note increases in frequency, it gets higher, thus increases the pitch, creating a "higher" sound.

  • If you have two notes on the fretboard, you can identify where they're at on the pitch scale relative to one another by either listening to the sound of each and comparing, or by looking at their location on the fretboard.

  • The closer a note gets to the first fret, the lower that note is getting.

  • The closer a note gets to the highest fret (22nd or 24th in most cases), the higher that note is getting.

  • When pitch changes, the note changes as well. For example, if you take a G note on the sixth string at the third fret and move it up to the fifth fret, the pitch increases (gets higher), and that note becomes an A.

Now when you hear someone talk about pitch, you'll what that means in terms of practical application for your guitar playing, which is all you really need to be aware of. To be honest, I wouldn't recommend worrying about it beyond that.

That means our work here is done. Thanks for reading.




About Robert Kittleberger

Robert is the founder and editor of Guitar Chalk and Guitar Bargain. You can get in
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