Tone height, in the context of psychology, refers to the perceptual experience of the relative highness or lowness of a sound. It is an essential dimension of pitch perception and is often measured in terms of the fundamental frequency of a sound.
There are several ways to describe tone height, but the most common is the use of musical notation. In Western music, the pitch of a note is indicated by its position on the staff. The higher the note on the staff, the higher the tone height. For example, the note C4 (middle C) has a frequency of approximately 261.63 Hz, and is located in the middle of the piano keyboard. The note C5, located one octave higher, has a frequency of approximately 523.25 Hz, and is located on the next line above the C4 on the staff. Thus, C5 has a higher tone height than C4.
Tone height perception can be influenced by a variety of factors, including the frequency and intensity of the sound, the presence of harmonics and other acoustic features, and individual differences in auditory sensitivity and experience. For example, people with perfect pitch are able to identify the tone height of a sound without the need for a reference tone, while others may rely on relative pitch to make these judgments.
In addition to musical contexts, tone height is also important in speech perception. The pitch of a speaker's voice can convey information about emotional states, social status, and gender, among other things. Research has shown that infants as young as one day old are able to perceive differences in tone height and use this information to distinguish between different types of speech sounds.
There are several other concepts related to tone height in the psychology of music, including tone chroma and tonality. Tone chroma refers to the perception of a pitch class, or a group of notes that share the same tone height but differ in octave. For example, the notes C3, C4, and C5 all have the same tone chroma but differ in tone height. Tonality refers to the organization of pitches around a central tone, or tonic, and the relationship between the different pitches in a musical system.
Overall, tone height is a crucial aspect of pitch perception and plays a fundamental role in both musical and speech contexts. Understanding how tone height is perceived and processed by the brain can help researchers better understand how we perceive and make sense of the complex sounds in our environment.
Similar concepts in the psychology of music include:
Tone duration: the length of time that a sound is sustained. This can influence the perception of rhythm and phrasing in music.
Timbre: the characteristic quality of a sound that distinguishes it from other sounds of the same pitch and volume. Timbre is influenced by the harmonic content of a sound and can affect the emotional and expressive qualities of music.
Microtonality: the use of intervals smaller than the Western music tradition of half-steps or semitones. This is common in some non-Western musical traditions and can lead to different perceptions of pitch and tone height.