pitch, in music, the position of a tone in the musical scale , today designated by a letter name and determined by the frequency of vibration of the source of the tone. Pitch is an attribute of every musical tone the fundamental, or first harmonic , of any tone is perceived as its pitch. The earliest successful attempt to standardize pitch was made in 1858, when a commission of musicians and scientists appointed by the French government settled upon an A of 435 cycles per second this standard was adopted by an international conference at Vienna in 1889. In the United States, however, the prevailing standard is an A of 440 cycles per second. Before the middle of the 19th cent., pitch varied according to time, place, and medium of musical performance since the classical period the trend has been gradually upward. The relative pitch of a tone, in contrast to absolute pitch , is an expression of its pitch in relation to the pitch of some other tone taken as a standard.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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