The musical space

The musical space


In this video and article, we are going to explain the main elements that make up a musical space.


The human ear has the ability to perceive a vast set of sounds from low-pitch to high-pitch. This soundscape seems almost infinite, but in reality it is composed of only ten octaves. The musical range of this soundscape spans across eight octaves and can be divided into three categories:

  • Low-pitch sounds
  • Medium sounds
  • High-pitch sounds

As we will discover, the octave phenomenon is a fundamental principle that originates from the sound itself. It’s a universal acoustic phenomenon. A sound has multiple representations of itself on each octave range from low-pitch to high-pitch sounds. This unique organisation may remind us of the Russian dolls’ structure.

The origin of the octave phenomenon comes from the sound itself, and the resonance it generates is what we call ‘harmonics’. The sound that defines the note which is heard is called ‘a fundamental tone’. The first overtone of this sound generates an interval that we call an octave. Because of the similar sounds, we have given these two sounds the same name. The second overtone introduces the fifth interval.

Our musical system can only be explained in octaves. Each octave contains a group of 12 different sounds whose range is determined by the reference sound A, produced by a tuning fork.

We consider that these 12 sounds are separated by a semitone. We call this scale the ‘chromatic scale’. This chromatic scale occurs at each octave range from low-pitch to high-pitch. The piano keyboard is a representation of the chromatic scale with its seven white and five black keys. The 7 white keys of the piano represent the seven sounds that we call the C major scale.

Each of these seven sounds has a specific name and becomes a note in its own right.

Two notations of this scale are :

  • The latin notation that uses seven syllables.
  • The Anglo-Saxon notation which uses the 7 first letters of the alphabet.

For a different use, we associate each note of this scale with a degree.

We have seven note names but 12 actual sounds. The musical notation uses two symbols to name the five sounds remaining in relation to the first seven:

  • A sharp added to a note raises the note by half tone
  • A flat added to a note lowers the note by half tone

How did we come to use these 12 sounds ? These 12 sounds are linked to the interval of the fifth that we heard earlier in the harmonic of a sound. If we create a succession of sounds always having a distance of a fifth between them, we will obtain a set of 12 sounds, which in the space of an octave will give us the “chromatic scale”. This succession of 12 sounds is simply called the “fifth cycle”.

The major scale is itself a part of this succession: F, C , G, D, A , E, B (a succession of seven fifths) which in the space of an octave gives us the C major scale.

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