Music is nothing but sound, and it exists for everyone. The frequency range at which humans can hear sound spans from 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz.1 All of these frequencies are present in an infinite number of pitches and, like different shades of color, all of them are present for people to explore and use.
However, so far, in music, a few frequencies are selected to create most of the songs that exist. These pitches are selected based on some frequency ratios that help identify notes at equidistant intervals that sound pleasant, but there are exceptions as some western and non-western scales go beyond the standard notes that are usually the norm in most music systems.2
Most western musical systems work with a maximum of 12 notes to arrange scales that are used to create harmonies and melodies, such as the chromatic scale, which has 12 notes; the whole-tone scale, which has six notes; the pentatonic scale, which has five notes; and the octatonic or diminished scale, which has eight notes.
There are other systems that use tones that are in between these 12 notes, such as the quarter-tone which has 24 notes; the sixth-tone, which has 36 pitches per octave; the Indian scale, which has 22 notes; and the Arabic scale, which has 24 notes. These notes, also called microtones, are not a part of most standard western scales, as microtones either don’t complement the other notes in these scales or make them sound off-key. Some scales also have arrangements that are considered dissonant in the western musical system, such as the seven-note Indonesian scale, which is called Pelog.3
Microtonality is characteristic of genres that originated from the blues. Microtones are played by bending strings on guitars and the notes of saxophones. It is easy to access these notes on instruments such as the violin and trombone as well. On pianos, however, every key will need to be pressed again in order to play microtones.4
So, musical notes are universal, but their use and selection differ across cultures and genres. Here’s a list of songs that are written using standard notes and microtones. Listen to them and see if you can tell the difference.
Songs Written Using Standard Notes
- “Master of Puppets” by Metallica5
- “Dazed and Confused” by Led Zeppelin
- Debussy’s “Voiles” (1909; Préludes, Book 1, No. 2)6
- “Stairway To Heaven” by Led Zeppelin7
- “Another Brick In The Wall, Pt. 2” by Pink Floyd
Songs Written Using Microtones
- “Good In Bed” by Dua Lipa8
- “These Boots Are Made For Walking” by Nancy Sinatra
- “Are You Gonna be my Girl” by Jet
- “Rattlesnake” by King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard
- “In the Bleak Midwinter” by Jacob Collier
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1. Understanding Audio Frequency Range in Audio Design | CUI Devices. (n.d.). Retrieved July 14, 2022, from https://www.cuidevices.com/blog/understanding-audio-frequency-range-in-audio-design
2. Where does the 12-tone scale come from? – YouTube. (n.d.). Retrieved July 14, 2022, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CFbG-8eYKJU
3. Pelog | Learning Music (Beta). (n.d.). Retrieved July 14, 2022, from https://learningmusic.ableton.com/advanced-topics/pelog.html
4. The Use of Microtonal Scales in Contemporary Music – Audio Academy. (n.d.). Retrieved July 14, 2022, from https://audioacademy.in/microtonal-scales/
5. Top 10 Chromatic Riffs. (n.d.). Retrieved July 14, 2022, from https://www.invisibleoranges.com/top-10-chromatic-riffs/
6. whole-tone scale | music | Britannica. (n.d.). Retrieved July 14, 2022, from https://www.britannica.com/art/whole-tone-scale
7. 13 Songs That Can Be Played Using Only The Pentatonic Scale – OnlinePianist. (n.d.). Retrieved July 14, 2022, from https://www.onlinepianist.com/op-blog/13-songs-that-can-be-played-using-only-the-pentatonic-scale/
8. 7 pop songs that deploy microtones ingeniously – Classic FM. (n.d.). Retrieved July 14, 2022, from https://www.classicfm.com/discover-music/pop-songs-that-use-microtones/