The 4 Parameters of Sound

Sound can be described as “vibrations or energy that reach our ears.”

In the previous section we learned that music is a system that can be defined by a certain number of elements.

All music, however, begins as a sound. Sound itself can be described as having four elements, or parameters: pitch, duration, intensity, and timbre.

These four elements are present in any sound, from a motorcycle speeding by (generally low, long, loud and “roaring”) to the sound of a drop of water falling into the sink (high, short, soft, “drippy?”). 

Pitch, duration, and intensity can be measured; timbre is mostly described by what the listener thinks or feels about the sound.

In music, we talk about the four parameters like this:

  • Pitch (high, low) – do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti / A, B, C, D, E, F, G
  • Duration (long, short) – whole note, whole rest; half note, half rest; quarter note, quarter rest; eighth note, eighth rest…
  • Intensity (dynamics: loud, soft) – ppp, pp, p, mp, mf, f, ff, fff
  • Timbre (instruments and tone color) – voice, violin, clarinet, flute; clear, light, breathy, nasal…

We’ll look at each of these in detail in the following units!


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Pitch (high, low); duration (long, short); intensity (loud, soft); timbre (color)... Pitch, duration, and intensity can be measured; timbre cannot.​