If we take drums for example like snare, kick, cymbals, etc. They don't have a pitch I was wondering if they're in the "noise family" like pink, white, brown noise. Generally, is anything that doesn't have a pitch considered noise?

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    Drums do have pitch - the 3 or 4 toms in a standard drumkit are (or should be!) tuned. Tymps are always tuned. – Tim Jan 19 at 8:50
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    Noise is uncorrelated to the signal. You can't in general say that of percussion. – Marquis of Lorne Jan 19 at 22:53
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    Foreyez in the future, can you focus your title on a core question rather than lead with the conjecture? It's very clear you don't know what noise is as defined by music and it's a good question, but it get muddied by the title. If we have other questions in similar vein, we won't be able to find this one because it focuses too much on a statement that isn't true. – Dom Jan 20 at 15:15

I think when an instrument doesn't have a clear pitch, the musician's go-to word is 'unpitched', rather than 'noise'. Noise in a musical context often refers to something extraneous or unwanted - e.g. when talking about fret noise, or a noisy amp.

However, you are quite right that the sound of many drums is essentially very like 'enveloped noise' - and from a synthesist's point of view, that's often how you might achieve an imitation of the sound - take filtered noise and apply an envelope to it. Depending on how the noise is filtered, this technique can create sounds from bass drums, through snares, to cymbals.

Digging into things a bit further, there isn't necessarily a very clear distinction between 'pitched' and 'unpitched' instruments. As Tim says in his comment, some drums are tuned to a pitch. Equally, pitched instruments like flutes often have a 'noisy' aspect to their sound.

Even from the synthesist's point of view, you could create a 'noisy' sound by mixing a load of sine waves at different (though still specific) pitches, or you could make a pitched sound by putting a very sharp filter on a noise source. There isn't really a strong distinction between a the actuality of a 'pitched' sound, and very narrow-band noise.

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    Re: filtered noise ... it might not be intuitive or self-evident, but the filter itself is a natural way to sculpt rhythms, as opposed to purely volume. Here's an experiment with rhythmic effect, (1) equal volume but changing spectrum vs. (2) equal spectrum but changing volume youtube.com/watch?v=eGC3x5AfLf8 In some synthesizers, voices are cut and opened with something called Low-Pass Gate instead of a volume envelope ("VCA"). IMO, a lot of rhythmic swaying comes from changes in the low/high dimension instead of the quiet/loud dimension. – piiperi Reinstate Monica Jan 19 at 14:35
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    @piiperiReinstateMonica That's very incorrect! A Low-Pass Gate is both a VCA and a LPF. It's not one instead of the other, it's both at the same time. It makes chenges in both "low/high" dimension and "quite/loud" dimension. – Von Huffman Jan 20 at 2:30
  • @VonHuffman oh, it has a VCA too, thank you for that correction. But SE is built from contributions from ordinary people, and people are notorious not only for their habit of erring, but for their communication related challenges. You’ll just need to comment on every detail you find separately. Are there many more errors you have found in my contributions, but did’t yet comment on? The thing about FM synthesis being doable only in digital domain was one you wanted to straighten out, but what else? Now this erroneus mention of low pass gate was the final straw that caused you to lose it? – piiperi Reinstate Monica Jan 20 at 4:41

As so often, there's no tidy yes/no answer to your question, but it's interesting to consider the various ways a musician might use the term 'noise'.

'Noise' might mean random sound. Or a definitely UN-random mix of frequencies such White Noise or Pink Noise. Or a randomisation of digital values applied as 'dithering'. Or simply unwanted sound.

There's more pitch in most drums than you might imagine! And why do you think we use large AND small cymbals? Let's look at some better examples. The initial transient of a plucked string perhaps, or the mechanical sound of a piano or flute mechanism. The pluck transient contains un-pitched sound, but it's wanted. Call it noise if you like. The key clatter is more clearly UNWANTED noise. Dithering noise is an enigma - deliberate noise which has the effect of REDUCING perceived noise!

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  • Good drummers will also tune their kit so that there isn't a harmonic clash between the kick, snares, and toms. Drums are only noise if played really really badly! – Steve Mansfield Jan 19 at 16:43

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