Are "high notes" and "low notes" a universal concept?

Discussion in 'The Sound Hound Lounge' started by Whiskeyrebel, Feb 14, 2015.

  1. Whiskeyrebel

    Whiskeyrebel Member

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    Linguistically speaking, I mean. Obviously higher and lower frequencies exist everywhere. But do all languages describe them in terms that match up with spatially up and down?
     
  2. FlackBase

    FlackBase Felonious Monkey Gold Supporting Member

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    Yes. But not because of frequency, rather because of where they are located on the ledger lines.
     
  3. Whiskeyrebel

    Whiskeyrebel Member

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    I suspect that the words that describe them go back farther in time than staff notation.
     
  4. FlackBase

    FlackBase Felonious Monkey Gold Supporting Member

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    Just a hunch?
     
  5. Lolaviola

    Lolaviola Member

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    Just keep it consistent:
    High/low
    Loud/soft
     
  6. JamonGrande

    JamonGrande Supporting Member

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    I recall hearing once that there was a different sound/spatial mapping; something along the lines of low as broader and high as narrow. I'll have to dig through some of my old ethnomusicology texts to see if I can find it.

    Functionally, low does not always mean "supportive" and high as "leading" as maps in much of western music. Consider some styles of West African drumming in which the lowest drum of the ensemble is the leader, and the higher sounding drums provide the time cycle.

    In my recent vocal lessons with an operatic mezzo soprano, she showed a diagram mapping notes to the vertical plane of the face, but starting at the tongue and extending up to the crown of the skull. Iow, much higher than what I though was to be the case.

    Tangentially, in lessons with the bassist Mark Dresser, he had me feeling all of the strong beats going up instead of down. It completely changed my experience of rhythm, and helped immensely when we were doing polymetric and polyrhythmic exercises.

    So my answer to your implied question: physio-spatial descriptions of musical concepts are often a cultural construct that help explain an idea, but are never the idea. Semiotics!

    Joe
     
  7. mcknigs

    mcknigs Supporting Member

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    When I was a music major, a professor said that there's nothing inherently high or low sounding about high and low frequencies. It a terminology that Western musicians have adopted but not everybody intuitively understands frequencies that way.
     
  8. D Rock

    D Rock Member

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    :brick

    Yes nothing inherent besides the inherent fact that "high" notes vibrate at a "higher" frequency.
     
  9. slybird

    slybird Member

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    When I camp and listen to nature I don't hear high and low. I hear a sound scape of wind, rain, animals, insects, and any water sounds that are around me. It is only when I get back home into a man-made world that high and low becomes a way to describe a noise.
     
  10. Tom CT

    Tom CT Old Supporting Member Gold Supporting Member

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    I'd wager that mankind was creating music well before they had any knowledge of frequencies and sound waves.
     
  11. JamonGrande

    JamonGrande Supporting Member

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    Actually, it would be at a faster frequency. And faster in other modalities does not necessarily translate to higher. So fast notes versus low notes would be more appropriate if we were to map to our physics.

    Joe
     
  12. Whiskeyrebel

    Whiskeyrebel Member

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    Yeah, but that's our language that shares the same word "high" for multiple uses, starting with spatially up and down, but also mathematically more or greater quantity, and also sounds with a greater number of pulsations in a given period of time.

    The connection of a high note to a greater number of pulsations per second was only proven in the last few hundred years or so.

    That was what I wanted to know. Do other languages use words for the sounds we call high and low notes that don't have any connection to the words for up and down in the same language?
     
  13. chill

    chill Member

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    Great question! I am very curious to know as well.


    In Japanese it is the same as in English, high notes are "high" and low notes are "low". However, music in Japan has a strong Western influence. I know a master shakuhachi player whose tradition predates the influx of Western music so I will ask him.
     
  14. Ferret

    Ferret Supporting Member

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    Are you suggesting there is nothing arbitrary or conventional about which end of the frequency scale gets called high and which low? That doesn't seem very likely to me.
     
  15. Schroedinger

    Schroedinger Member

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    I recall reading in "This Is Your Brain On Music" that some cultures do in fact use the words "high" for low frequencies, and "low" for high frequencies. Great book by the way.
     
  16. stratovarius

    stratovarius Supporting Member

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    I have to stand on my tiptoes to hit the high notes.
     
  17. Mark McPheeters

    Mark McPheeters Member

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    That's more socially acceptable than what I have to do...
     

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