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Average Pitch (?)

>From:    Paul von Hippel -- Ohio State <pvh@CCRMA.STANFORD.EDU>

asked about

>Subject: average pitch used in music


>A couple of years ago, someone reported an attempt to measure the
>distribution of pitch heights used in Western music, and wanted
>to know what else had been done in this area.

>I'd be interested to know what that inquiry turned up -- or what
>other list members know about the question. The studies I'm aware
>of are E.J. Miller's thesis on the Masses of Palestrina, and an
>unpublished study by Huron & Parncutt, using a greater variety of
>music. Both studies report a mean pitch slightly above middle C.

Sorry, I'm not sure what you're looking for ... the average, the
distribution or the mean. The word 'pitch' is for me also not clear. Did
the Palestrina Mass study deal with the notation or the frequencies?
(fundamental or spectral).

For the other question, is the study about 'composition', or usage?, for
while it is interesting to note (sic) that there are more notes in a
Palestrina Mass, I would think that The Star Spangled Banner would have
had a few more performances than (say) Missa L'Homme arme and Missa Papae
Marcelli combined.

Palestrina (most likely sung with trained voices) has (according to
Jeppesen) a range of an octave and a major sixth per voice, with the notes
common to all four voices being middle C and D. Instrumental music changes
this, shifting things progressively higher over the centuries. (17th
century violins seldom went above 5th position, limiting the top note to
about F above double high C. This is [just about] the highest note in the

In Eine Kleine Nacht Musik, Mozart wrote (variously) a whole note for the
viola, and eight eight-notes (repeated) for the same instrument. Do the
studies measure the duration of the notes, or the frequency of attack?
This would shift the 'average pitch' up in the late-nineteenth century
with Strauss (R) writing pages of sixty-fourth note tremolandos in 17th
position on the violin (sic).

The introduction of a tambourine and piccolo (Salome's Dance) shifts the
'avaerage base [bass]' frequency. In Ravel's Bolero, would one measure the
notated pitches or the 'created fundamentals'. (In the passages of
parallel dominant seventh and ninth chords, segregating the clarinet
playing the melody at the 3rd (or sixth) partial (perfect 12th) is
possible, and even following most of the piccolo at the 5 (or 10th?)
partial (double octave and major third) can be done with a good recording,
but whether this level is segregation and streaming is possible for the
avaerage listener is another matter -- but would shift the 'average', and
possibly the 'mean' pitch.

This does not enter the world of electroacoustics / sound art. In the
80s, in much disco, the 'bass drum' disappeared and was replaced by the
(term) 'kick drum', as the beat was emphasized by a "click-complex" that
while having a fair amount of low-frequency energy, segregated and
streamed itself by having more energy in freqeuncies over 2kHz.
Frequently (from my listening) its average and mean frequencies would not
be the same.



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