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

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  • It might not have a pitch. Percussion instruments like bells and blocks are often non-harmonic.
    – endolith
    Jul 14, 2012 at 19:12

4 Answers 4

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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.

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  • So, if the pitch is the only the pitch, the note remain the same. But what note is it?
    – Pascal Qyy
    Jul 14, 2012 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, 2012 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. Jul 14, 2012 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, 2012 at 4:25
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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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I use 3 triangles in an orchestra. They definitely have a discernible pitch that can conflict with or support the current scale in use. They also can create dissonance. Most of the time it is not noticeable if played in sequence.

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This question was recently revived and I was surprised it didn't include some of the basics of orchestration.

From my copy of Orchestration by Piston:

...A number of different sizes are made...

...The triangle is an instrument of indefinite pitch (although some triangles wrongly give a definite note), but it will sound like the upper partials of whatever fundamental harmony it accompanies.

...The part is written on a single line or staff.

The parenthetical note is Piston's.

An example from a score...

enter image description here

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

So, the answer is "no."

But it should also be noted that:

  • even if triangles come in different sizes and may be marked with a pitch scores don't normally specify a pitch
  • the player or conductor may select whatever triangle seems best for the part
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    " it will sound like the upper partials of whatever fundamental harmony it accompanies." - I'd love to see a demo of this; for me when a triangle goes ting it defininitely sounds like a note, but maybe I've only ever heard wrongly-made triangles...
    – AakashM
    Sep 30, 2022 at 9:46
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    @AakashM, keep in mind I was only posting Piston's comments (and I'm not a percussionist or really know acoustics.) I just wanted to get an orchestration source posted. To my layman's ear, triangles may sound "bright" but also noisy. Seems like only in the decay does the sound start to clear up, but even then there is lots of beating of really high pitches. Sep 30, 2022 at 19:53

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