Set the Tone

Linda said that the age-old battle of mother and child has taken on a new tone, and this made me start thinking about the meaning of tone, which is often used figuratively to establish a quality, feeling, or attitude by a manner of speaking or writing.  Tone means style, attitude, spirit, character, and it is derived from the definition of a musical tone.  You would normally set the tone for something specific, as a writer would do with their attitude toward or feelings about their subject matter and audience.  In music performance and notation, the word tone can mean many different things, spanning literal and conceptual terminology.  Musical tones are produced by musical instruments, or by the voice, which, from a physics perspective, is a very complex wind instrument.  Musical tones caused by standing waves produced in or on the instrument.

The tone of an instrument generally refers to the overall frequency balance.  There is a huge variety of musical instruments and sounds, and even two instruments playing the same note can sound very different.  Musical instrument produce a sound wave which is a combination of different but related frequencies (known as harmonics) which all mix together to create the distinctive tone or voice of the instrument.  The lowest frequency is usually dominant, and you perceive this one as the pitch.  The combination of the other harmonics provides the distinctive shape of the waveform, and thereby the distinctive tone of the instrument.

A tone is any sound considered with reference to its quality, pitch, strength, source, or the quality or character of sound.  Tone can also be a vocal sound, which would be the sound made by vibrating muscular bands in the larynx.  It can be a particular quality, way of sounding, modulation, or intonation of the voice as expressive of some meaning, feeling, or a tone of command.  Tone can be an accent peculiar to a person, people, locality, etc., or a characteristic mode of sounding words in speech, and also the stress of voice on a syllable of a word.  Timbre has to do with the other qualities of the sound.  The mix of frequencies in a sound results in the timbre.  Tone is sometimes informally used as a synonym for timbre, but more often tone is synonymous with note.

When a sound is produced electronically it will only have one pitch, however all other sounds consist of multiple pitches.  Timbre (tone color) is a product of the total complement of simultaneous motions enacted by any medium during its vibration.  Tone color is the individual quality of sound of a voice or instrument and the word timbre is used interchangeably with tone color.  A steady sound can be referred to as a musical tone.  Any tone with characteristics such as controlled pitch and timbre is a musical sound and these sounds are produced by instruments that exhibit periodic vibrations.  Tone is characterized most frequently by its pitch, such as ‘A’ or ‘C’, but it also includes timbre (the quality of the sound), duration, and even intensity (the dynamic of the sound).

Besides melody and harmony, the final element of pitch involves understanding tone.  This concept involves visualization because it requires that a person is able to detect the subtle nuances created by different sounds.  This is often referred to as color by musicians, timbre (pronounced, ‘Tamber’) is the discrete variations present in complex sound waves that contain multiple frequencies, like the sound created by a musical instrument.  Tone can also refer to the unique difference between voices of the same instrument and the color or mood of the voice (not to be confused with timbre).  The word tone can basically replace the word note, but actually a note is a tone plus overtones, and a tone does not consist of overtones, so this inconsistency makes it a bit complicated.  Since a tone often refers to a pitch in music, it can be synonymous with step, as a half-tone is a half-step, and a whole-tone is a whole-step.

A fundamental distinction is usually made between tone and noise, which is best clarified by referring to the physical characteristics of sound.  Tone differs from noise mainly in that it possesses features that enable it to be regarded as autonomous.  Noises are most readily identified, not by their character but by their sources; e.g., the noise of the dripping faucet, the grating chalk, or the squeaking gate.  A noise is a jumble of sound waves.  A tone is a very regular set of waves, all the same size and same distance apart.

Although tones too are commonly linked with their sources (violin tone, flute tone, etc.), they more readily achieve autonomy because they possess controlled pitch, loudness, timbre, and duration, attributes that make them amenable to musical organization.  Instruments that yield musical sounds, or tones, are those that produce periodic vibrations.  Their periodicity is their controllable and that is what constitutes music. Music consists of a sequence of tones, and perception of it depends on grasping the relations between sounds.

Written for Linda G. Hill Life in progress One-Liner Wednesday – January 10 prompt.

4 thoughts on “Set the Tone

      1. I don’t have to do anything. The students take attendance for me and I just sit in the office. I even told them not to bother asking me if they can go to the bathroom, because I like to treat them like they are adults.

        Liked by 1 person

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