Do all triangles sound the same note in the same octave, or are there differences between models?

  • It might not have a pitch. Percussion instruments like bells and blocks are often non-harmonic. – endolith Jul 14 '12 at 19:12

There are many differences, both in pitch and timbre. I've seen triangles used with a 10" side length down to 4", and you can purchase them made out of a variety of different materials and construction methods.

Some pieces even call for three different triangles of different pitch. So no, there's no defined standard pitch. A percussionist just chooses the triangle that he finds most appropriate for the style of the piece (which the conductor may override if he/she feels differently).

Not only that, but orchestral percussionists will carry around a set of triangle beaters of different sizes and weights to further fine-tune the tone of the triangle.

  • So, if the pitch is the only the pitch, the note remain the same. But what note is it? – Pascal Qyy Jul 14 '12 at 13:02
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    That's the opposite of what I just said. Different models of triangle have different pitches (or notes) based on their size and material. There is no standard pitch. – NReilingh Jul 14 '12 at 13:10
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    In general it's an non-pitched sounding tone, I find. With the overtones present in the sound of most triangles, It's difficult to pin down to a single pitch without another reference. You can certainly tell whether one triangle is lower or higher… but by how much is getting too fine, in my opinion. As NReilingh said, there's no standard note, and I would say that most triangle manufacturers try to get as far from a defined "note" as possible. – Josh Fields Jul 14 '12 at 17:57
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    A lot of that comes down to your own ear. People routinely tune snare drums, for example, and that's a tone that is MUCH more difficult to distinguish than a triangle. Any percussive instrument, by definition, is pitched; but you are right: depending on the overtones present, some may be more easily picked out than others. – NReilingh Jul 15 '12 at 4:25

The thing about triangles is that their overtones are not integer multiples of their fundamentals. I'll show you what I mean:

In the beginning, there were sine waves. Well, not really, but they are the simplest waveform. Waveform influences timbre, and the sine wave is composed of one sine wave: Sine

The sine wave is cool, but it is boring to listen to. But we can take all the sine waves with frequencies an integer multiple (2x fundamental, 3x fundamental, etc.) of the first one,and add them together to get (after messing with the relative amplitudes) a square waveform! Square

Now, most musical instruments naturally produce some variation on this or a similar waveform (those variations are one reason you can tell a violin from a flute). The instrument itself will usually vibrate in multiple ways, which is what creates the multiple sine waves. Our ears, amazingly, hear all the combined sine waves as one note.

However, a triangle is different. Ideally, the overtones are exact multiples. Though no musical instrument produces overtones that are perfect multiples of the fundamental (except maybe violin and a few others: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inharmonicity), triangles are so imperfect (by design) that their overtones are too far away from the integer multiples and our ears and brains do not perceive them as having a fundamental, instead hearing a noise. They do have one, but it's near impossible to determine it aurally and has no use musically. Because of this, I presume that not all triangles sound the exact same note, but that it doesn't matter; a triangle will sound okay in any key as a percussion sound. This also explains the same phenomenon in drums and other unpitched percussion instruments.

That said, some pieces will call for multiple triangles, and their different frequencies can be used to some effect (but I doubt anyone's tried triangle triads).

"No, no, no! You've got it all wrong! The triangle is waaay out of tune!"


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