Aspects of Sound – AP Music Theory Terms You Need to Know

Train your brain on the aspects of sound in 5 minutes or less.

Preparing for an upcoming AP Music Theory test? No sweat. I have decoded the textbook for you, making it easier to memorize the material in a shorter amount of time.

Learn how music relates to science by understanding the connection between music theory and physics. As you will see, music is just as much science as it is art. In fact, it connects with all other subject areas, but we will focus on the science of sound here.

There is no time to waste on helping you get started preparing for your upcoming AP Music Theory exam. So, let’s get started with the 5 aspects of sound in music.

Train Your Brain on the 5 Aspects of Sound in 2 Minutes or Less

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    5 Aspects of Sound

    The five aspects of sound fundamental to the elements of music include pitch (wavelength), dynamic (wave height), timbre (waveform), articulation (envelope), and duration. These sound properties have two names. The first name is a musical term used in music theory and the second is a scientific term for sound waves in physics.

    Before we get started, let’s first define sound. According to Wikipedia, sounds are vibrations that travel in the form of an acoustic wave via a medium for transmission. In physics, this transmission medium is a solid, liquid, or gas.

    Moving right along to the first wavelength, which is also called pitch.

    1. Pitch (Wavelength)

    Pitch is the quality of sound defined by its frequency. It is measured by the number of oscillations per second called Hertz (abbreviated as Hz). Another measurement of pitch is the distance between sound waves. This is called the wavelength.

    What is the Frequency of Sound?

    Frequency is the rate at which a repeated movement or vibration occurs. For example, playing the note A on a violin causes the string to move back and forth 440 times per second or 440 Hertz. In practice, pitch rises as the frequency of vibration increases and falls as it decreases.

    Frequencies are audible to anybody with unimpaired hearing. Most people can detect frequencies from 16 Hz to 20,000 Hz. Musically speaking, the most useful frequencies range from 20 Hz to 5,000 Hz.

    Why Does A = 440 Hertz?

    Because of the International Organization for Standardization’s support in 1955, A=440 Hz became the norm in the 20th century. There are a few performers nowadays that choose to use A = 442 or 443 instead.

    What is Wavelength in Sound?

    Wavelength is the distance between one sound wave and the next. It is measured horizontally. This explains the frequency of sound or pitch in the science of music. In addition to a higher pitch, a shorter wavelength is also caused by a higher frequency. A lower pitch and lower frequency results in a longer wavelength.

    2. Dynamics (Wave Height)

    Dynamics refer to how loud or soft a sound is. In music, the degrees of loudness are indicated by dynamic marks. In physics, the size of a wave, or amplitude, determines the intensity of sound.

    What is the Amplitude of a Sound Wave?

    The amplitude of a sound wave is the height of a wave. It is measured in decibels (abbreviated as dB) as a way of quantifying its relative loudness. The size of each wave is called the wave height.

    What is Wave Height in Sound?

    Wave height is the intensity of a sound wave. The vertical height of a wave is measured instead of the horizontal length (wavelength). The wave height is referred to as dynamics in the study of music because it focuses on the intensity of sound rather than the length.

    3. Timbre (Waveform)

    Timbre, also called tone color, is the unique character of sound. Different instruments and voices produce various qualities of sound that are distinctive. Timbre can also include multiple frequencies or pitches, resulting in harmonics and overtones.

    The coloring of sound is a mixture or layering of pitches. The frequencies are not heard as separate sounds but as an eccentric blend. Timbre is determined by the underlying frequency and the additional tones layered on top (overtones).

    What is Waveform in Sound?

    Waveform is the shape and form of a sound wave (frequency and amplitude) as it moves in both time and distance. The overall shape of a waveform creates an interesting timbre that is difficult to duplicate.

    4. Articulation (Envelope)

    Articulation is the characteristic attack and decay of tones or pitches and the way they are produced by various instruments and voice. How clearly we speak or sing is called articulation. The way a note begins, continues, and ends on an instrument is also considered articulation.

    In music, notational symbols are used over notes to indicate how they should be played or articulated. The complete attack, sustain, and release of a note is called the envelope of sound in music science.

    What is an Envelope in Sound?

    An envelope of sound is the way in which a note is begun, sustained, and ended. In other words, it is the beginning, middle, and ending sounds of a pitch.

    What are the Parts of a Sound Envelope?

    The three parts of a sound envelope include the attack, sustain, and release. Sound is articulated first with an attack. Then it drops slightly and remains steady as it sustains over time. Finally, the sound decays gradually to a point of silence.

    1. Attack = Beginning of sound
    2. Sustain = Continuation of sound
    3. Release = Decay and end of sound

    5. Duration

    Duration is the time and length of sound and silence. It is measured in seconds, minutes, or similar units. In music, duration can be approximate through the use of musical terms such as andante or precise using specific note values and time signatures.

    How long a note is played and the length of silence between notes all describe duration. Both sound and silence are equally important in music. Sometimes notes and rests are twice as long as others. 

    Aspects of Sound Summary

    There are five aspects of sound that are notated in sheet music. These characteristics of sound include pitch (wavelength), dynamic (wave height), timbre (waveform), articulation (envelope), and duration. They all play an essential part in the science of music.

    By the way, if you need help passing your upcoming AP Music Theory Exam, I highly recommend getting this book. It includes review lessons, practice exercises, and two practice tests.

    I’ve also created a free cheat sheet that you can grab here. Print it out and add it to your study materials as a handy reference guide. Happy studying!

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