Take the 2-minute tour ×
Music: Practice & Theory Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for musicians, students, and enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

A musical note or tone usually refers to audio with a fixed frequency.

A voice on a synthesiser can denote a note which may have dynamic frequency.

What would be an appropriate musical term for describing a note, or tone, with a dynamic frequency?

share|improve this question

closed as off topic by Wheat Williams, luser droog, guidot, Dr Mayhem Jun 21 '13 at 12:14

Questions on Music: Practice & Theory Stack Exchange are expected to relate to music practice, performance, composition, technique, theory, or history within the scope defined by the community. Consider editing the question or leaving comments for improvement if you believe the question can be reworded to fit within the scope. Read more about reopening questions here. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

I think this belongs on English.SE. –  luser droog Jun 9 '13 at 9:37
I also think, that this is more a language than a music question. I'm also not convinced that another term is helpful, at least I can't recognize the searched subject. "Voice" is the term to indicate polyphony, and given the spectrum of possible sounds to choose from, these are surely not just "notes". Would "sounds" do it? –  guidot Jun 12 '13 at 14:03

4 Answers 4

up vote 4 down vote accepted

A note is not defined as audio with a fixed frequencies. Notes contain mixtures of frequencies which can vary over time. A note is usually perceived as having a pitch, but that pitch can change (portamento, glissando, melismatic singing).

Percussive notes might not be perceived as having a specific pitch at all, though everyone should agree that a kick drum produces predominantly low frequencies whereas a crash cymbal high ones.

Some continuous notes have less of a well-defined pitch. For instance, notes can be made by taking some random noise, and equalizing it so that there are peaks centered on certain frequencies. This will create a vague sensation of pitch. You can do this without any special equipment: make an unvoiced "khhhhh" hissing sound with the back of your throat and vary the shape of your mouth. Your mouth resonates, and thereby enhances a frequency band of the hissing noise, which is perceived as pitch. You can make recognizable melodies this way, and the best part is that nobody can ever prove with certainty that you're off key.

Notes with a well defined pitch may also have a noise component: the piercing tone produced by a violin contains a mixture of the noise produced by the bow dragging across the string.

A voice is not a note; a voice is an abstract actor which produces sounds. If a synthesizer has 128 voice polyphony, it can have 128 of these actors making some kind of noise at the same time.

In sheet music, we have scores divided into parts for different instruments. Instruments have one or more voices: distinct melodic strains or polyphonic layers. The synthesizer terminology likely comes from this one.

It is difficult to understand what is being asked in the question. The appropriate word for a feature of an instrument that makes independent, dynamic sounds is "voice". There is no need to have any other word which has exactly the same meaning.

share|improve this answer

voice is usually the main term for a sound playing on a synthesizer's midi channel.

There's also "patch", but that's less descriptive and originates from the days of (only) analog synthesis referring to the tangle of wires it took to connect up the hardware to make a particular sound. It's also more about the specification for the sound than the live sound itself.

A note on, turns on a voice, and from there till note up, all kinds of things about the sound of a voice can change.

It's not only the frequency that can change dynamically for a voice in a synthesis engine. There's also timbre, loudness, pan, effects, etc - ANYthing having to do with sound can change.

So you had the right answer there.

share|improve this answer
I'm not sure I follow you when you say I had the right answer. I understand there are many parameters/dimensions for a note on a synthesiser and that includes its frequency. However, the typical musical definition of a note is that of fixed frequency. –  user1423893 Jun 8 '13 at 16:20
Well, you said "voice" - that's the term. I thought you were looking for what the term is called in the "synthesizer vernacular"... pitchbending is pretty common in blues and pop on synthesizer, guitar and other acoustic instruments. The note starts, pitch changes continuously to the note a half or whole step up or down, then ends. So when talking about synthesizers, the term "program" or "preset" usually refers to the parameters of a sound. "voice" usually refers to a note event being played. –  Stephen Hazel Jun 8 '13 at 16:52
I'll stick with voice then, thank you. :) –  user1423893 Jun 8 '13 at 17:05

It's still a note or tone. Synthesizers aren't the only instrument that can bend pitch (I'm a trombonist).

Tone just refers to a sound with a definable pitch, whether stable or dynamic. A note can be any musical tone.

A voice should generally refer to timbre, not pitch. That is, the quality of the sound, not how high or low it is. Your synth might have a list of voices for a number of different instruments, and also some "made up" textures that aren't trying to emulate real-life acoustic instruments.

However, voice has other musical definitions when we are talking about harmony. So when talking about synthesizers, I like to use the term patch instead. As Stephen mentioned, this term comes from wiring analogue synthesizer components together, but nowadays it is basically synonymous with our definition for synthesizer voice.

With digital synthesizers, a "patch" refers to the complete set of parameters that are input into the synthesizer to make the timbre sound a certain way.

share|improve this answer
Yeah, I was talking about the term when you're within the world of synthesis. Not in the whole world of music, per se. A voice in a synth can have timbres (waveforms) piled on top of each other, swapped in and out, morphed between like any other parameter of sound. –  Stephen Hazel Jun 8 '13 at 18:04

Do you mean a note that goes up or down in pitch? Each note on a synthesizer has to start with a certain definite pitch, probably triggered by a key on a keyboard, and then portamento or "pitch bend" is applied to make it go up or down. So you define the note by its starting pitch and then indicate whether it is bent up or bent down, and by what range or interval.

For instance, you could say, "C, bent up by a perfect 5th" or "Ab, bent down by an octave."

share|improve this answer

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.