Beginner Music Theory For Guitar

In order to understand how music works, you need to first understand a little about sound.


When one object strikes another object, both objects start to vibrate. This vibration moves air molecules toward your ears (visualize the ripples in water after you throw a rock into a lake, but the waves move way from the object in every direction). These “sound waves” hit your eardrum and you hear a sound. The more the object vibrates the more air that is moved, resulting in a louder sound. We call this Amplitude.


Interesting facts:

  • Sound travels faster and can travel much greater distances through water, or iron, than it does through air.
  • The speed of sound travels at slightly different speeds based on the temperature.

  • Frequency

    Frequency is the speed at which something vibrates. Every object, depending on its composition, will vibrate at its own frequency. Most of the time you can’t see the vibrations, but it is possible to see vibrations by looking at home speaker cones, guitar strings, or a rubber band. If you pluck the rubber band as you pull it tighter you will notice that the tighter it gets, the faster it vibrates. You will also notice that the faster it vibrates the higher the pitch. We measure the speed of the vibrations using something called Hertz per second. 1 hertz (or 1hz) = 1 vibration per second. The average human ear will detect sounds that are between 20 hertz (20hz) and 20,000 hertz (20khz). We call this the Audible Frequency Range.

    Interesting facts:

  • The ears of animals have a different Audible Frequency Range than humans. Dogs, for instance can hear much higher frequencies, hence the dog whistle. Elephants, on the other hand, can hear much lower frequencies and can detect the thumping of footsteps over great distances.
  • An Ultrasound is actually a sound wave operating at a frequency of 2,000,000 hertz (2mhz).
  • As we get older and expose our ears to excessively loud sounds we start to lose our ability to hear higher frequencies.

  • Timbre

    The sound that an object makes when it vibrates is almost never just one single frequency, but a large number of frequencies at once. This is a large and hard to explain topic, but it might help to you understand if you remember that this is how we tell the difference between a trumpet and a saxophone if they play the same note. It is called Timbre.

    Interesting facts:

  • White Noise, the static between channels on the radio also commonly used to set up surround sound systems, contains every frequency at the same volume. Flowing water is another example of a very complex sound that contains many frequencies.
  • A tuning fork, electrical hum, or a whistle, are good examples of a simple waveform that contains only a few frequencies.

  • That’s all for today, next time we will see what this has to do with music and music theory. I do encourage you to look into these ideas further, especially if you are interested in audio recording or sound syntheseis.

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