Pitch – An Element In Music And Poetry

As most of us know, science has ascertained that all musical sounds result from regularly recurring vibrations caused by cords, pipes, reeds, or other agencies. About thirty-three of these vibrations per second produce the lowest tone used in music, and about three thousand nine hundred and sixty, the highest. That the number of vibrations in any note may be increased and its pitch made higher, it is necessary to lessen the length or size of the cord, or of whatever causes the vibrations. When the vibrating cord is lessened by just one half, the tone produced is separated from its former tone by an interval of sound which in music is termed an octave. Between the two extremes of pitch forming the octave, eleven half tones, as they are called, caused by sounds resulting from different lengths of the cord, between its whole length and its half length, have been selected, for reasons to be given in another place, and arranged in what is termed a musical scale. These half-tones, seven of them constituting the do, re, me, fa, sot, la, and si of the gamut, are all that’ can be used in music between the two notes forming the octave. There are about seven octaves . . of pitch that are used in music. In the speaking voice only about two octaves are used, so that in this regard its range is more narrow than that of music. Between any two octave notes, however, the speaking voice can use whatever sounds it chooses; it is not confined to the few tones that constitute the musical scale. For instance, the note of the bass voice called by musicians C, is sounded by producing one hundred and thirty-two vibrations a second, and C of the octave above by producing two hundred and sixty-four vibrations. Between the two, therefore, it is possible to conceive of forming one hundred and thirty-one distinct tones, each vibrating once a second oftener than the sound below it. It is possible, too, to conceive that the speaking voice can use any of these tones. Music, however, between the same octave notes, can use but eleven tones. There-fore, the different degrees of pitch used in speech, though not extending over as many octaves, are much more numerous than those used in music. For this reason, the melodies of speech cannot be represented by any system through which we now write music. There are not enough notes used in music to render it possible to make the representation accurate. Nor probably would much practical benefit be derived from an attempt to construct a system of speech-notation; though it, like other things, may be among the possibilities of acoustic development in the future.

In applying to poetic form the principles determining pitch in elocution, let us take up first those in accordance with which certain syllables are uttered on a high or low key. The former key seems suggested by vowels formed at the mouth’s front, as in beet, bate, bet, bit, bat, etc.; the latter by back vowels, as in fool, full, foal, fall, etc. The best of reasons underlies this suggestion. It is the fact that the pronunciation of every front or back vowel-sound naturally tends to the production of a high or low musical note. Donders first made the discovery that the cavity of the mouth, when whispering each of the different vowels, is tuned to a different pitch. This fact gives the vowel its peculiar quality. Instruments, moreover, have been constructed, by means of which most sounds can be analyzed, and their component tones distinctly and definitely noted; and now the theory is accepted that the voice, when pronouncing vowel-sounds, at whatever key in the musical scale it may start them, has a tendency to suggest—if not through its main, or what is termed its prime tone, at least through associated, or what are termed its partial tones—that pitch which is peculiar to the vowel uttered. Poetry as a Representative Art, VIII.