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In music, a pitch class is a set of all pitches that are a whole number of octaves apart, e.g.

, the
pitch class C consists of the Cs in all octaves. "The pitch class C stands for all possible Cs, in
whatever octave position."[1] Thus, using scientific pitch notation, the pitch class "C" is the set
{Cn : n is an integer} = {..., C-2, C-1, C0, C1, C2, C3 ...};
although there is no formal limit to this sequence on either end, only a limited number of these
pitches will actually be audible to the human ear. Pitch class is important because human pitchperception is periodic: pitches belonging to the same pitch class are perceived as having a similar
"quality" or "color", a phenomenon called octave equivalence.
Psychologists refer to the quality of a pitch as its "chroma". A "chroma" is an attribute of pitches,
just like hue is an attribute of color. A "pitch class" is a set of all pitches sharing the same
chroma, just like "the set of all white things" is the collection of all white objects. [citation needed]
Note that in standard Western equal temperament, distinct spellings can refer to the same
sounding object: B3, C4, and D 4 all refer to the same pitch, hence share the same chroma, and
therefore belong to the same pitch class; a phenomenon called enharmonic equivalence.

Contents
[hide]

1 Integer notation
2 Other ways to label pitch classes
3 See also
4 Sources
5 Further reading

[edit] Integer notation


To avoid the problem of enharmonic spellings, theorists typically represent pitch classes using
numbers. One can map a pitch's fundamental frequency f (measured in hertz) to a real number p
using the equation
p = 69 + 12log2(f / 440)
This creates a linear pitch space in which octaves have size 12, semitones (the distance between
adjacent keys on the piano keyboard) have size 1, and middle C is assigned the number 60.
Indeed, the mapping from pitch to real numbers defined in this manner forms the basis of the
MIDI Tuning Standard, which uses the real numbers from 0 to 127 to represent the pitches C -1 to
G9. To represent pitch classes, we need to identify or "glue together" all pitches belonging to the
same pitch classi.e. all numbers p and p + 12. The result is a circular quotient space that

musicians call pitch class space and mathematicians call R/12Z. Points in this space can be
labelled using real numbers in the range 0 x < 12. These numbers provide numerical
alternatives to the letter names of elementary music theory:
0 = C, 1 = C/D, 2 = D, 2.5 = "D quarter tone sharp", 3 = D/E,
and so on. In this system, pitch classes represented by integers are classes of twelve-tone equal
temperament (assuming standard concert A).
To avoid confusing 10 with 1 and 0, some theorists assign pitch classes 10 and 11 the letters "t"
(after "ten") and "e" (after "eleven"), respectively (or A and B, as in the writings of Allen Forte
and Robert Morris).

Integer notation.
In music, integer notation is the translation of pitch classes and/or interval classes into whole
numbers.[2] Thus C=0, C#=1 ... A#=10, B=11, with "10" and "11" substituted by "t" and "e" in
some sources[2] This allows the most economical presentation of information regarding posttonal materials.[2]
In the integer model of pitch, all pitch classes and intervals between pitch classes are designated
using the numbers 0 through 11. It is not used to notate music for performance, but is a common
analytical and compositional tool when working with chromatic music, including twelve tone,
serial, or otherwise atonal music.
Pitch classes can be notated in this way by assigning the number 0 to some noteC natural by
convention[citation needed]and assigning consecutive integers to consecutive semitones; so if 0 is C
natural, 1 is C sharp, 2 is D natural and so on up to 11, which is B natural. The C above this is
not 12, but 0 again (12-12=0). Thus arithmetic modulo 12 is used to represent octave
equivalence. One advantage of this system is that it ignores the "spelling" of notes (B sharp, C
natural and D double-flat are all 0) according to their diatonic functionality.
There are a few disadvantages with integer notation. First, theorists have traditionally used the
same integers to indicate elements of different tuning systems. Thus, the numbers 0, 1, 2, ... 5,
are used to notate pitch classes in 6-tone equal temperament. This means that the meaning of a
given integer changes with the underlying tuning system: "1" can refer to C in 12-tone equal
temperament, but D in 6-tone equal temperament.

Also, the same numbers are used to represent both pitches and intervals. For example, the
number 4 serves both as a label for the pitch class E (if C=0) and as a label for the distance
between the pitch classes D and F. (In much the same way, the term "10 degrees" can function
as a label both for a temperature, and for the distance between two temperatures.) Only one of
these labelings is sensitive to the (arbitrary) choice of pitch class 0. For example, if one makes a
different choice about which pitch class is labeled 0, then the pitch class E will no longer be
labelled "4." However, the distance between D and F will still be assigned the number 4. The
late music theorist David Lewin was particularly sensitive to the confusions that this can
cause[example needed], and both this and the above may be viewed as disadvantages.
Additionally, integer notation does not seem to allow for the notation of microtones, or notes not
belonging to the underlying equal division of the octave. For these reasons, some theorists have
recently advocated using rational numbers to represent pitches and pitch classes, in a way that is
not dependent on any underlying division of the octave.

[edit] Other ways to label pitch classes


The system described above is flexible enough to describe any
pitch class in any tuning system: for example, one can use the
numbers {0, 2.4, 4.8, 7.2, 9.6} to refer to the five-tone scale that
divides the octave evenly. However, in some contexts, it is
convenient to use alternative labeling systems. For example, in
just intonation, we may express pitches in terms of positive
rational numbers p/q, expressed by reference to a 1 (often
written "1/1"), which represents a fixed pitch. If a and b are two
positive rational numbers, they belong to the same pitch class if
and only if

for some integer n. Therefore, we can represent pitch classes in


this system using ratios p/q where neither p nor q is divisible by
2, that is, as ratios of odd integers. Alternatively, we can
represent just intonation pitch classes by reducing to the octave,
.

Pitch class
Pitch
class

Tonal counterparts

C (also B, D )

C, D (also B )

D (also C , E )

D, E (also F )

E (also D , F)

F (also E, G )

F, G (also E )

G (also F , A )

G, A

A (also G , B )

It is also very common to label pitch classes with reference to


10, t or A A, B (also C )
some scale. For example, one can label the pitch classes of ntone equal temperament using the integers 0 to n-1. In much the 11, e or B B (also A , C)
same way, one could label the pitch classes of the C major scale,
C-D-E-F-G-A-B using the numbers from 0 to 6. This system has two advantages over the
continuous labeling system described above. First, it eliminates any suggestion that there is
something natural about a 12-fold division of the octave. Second, it avoids pitch-class universes
with unwieldy decimal expansions when considered relative to 12; for example, in the

continuous system, the pitch-classes of 19-tet are labeled 0.63158... , 1.26316... , etc. Labeling
these pitch classes {0, 1, 2, 3 ... , 18} simplifies the arithmetic used in pitch-class set
manipulations.
The disadvantage of the scale-based system is that it assigns an infinite number of different
names to chords that sound identical. For example, in twelve-tone equal-temperament the C
major triad is notated {0, 4, 7}. In twenty-four-tone equal-temperament, this same triad is labeled
{0, 8, 14}. Moreover, the scale-based system appears to suggest that different tuning systems use
steps of the same size ("1") but have octaves of differing size ("12" in 12-tone equaltemperament, "19" in 19-tone equal temperament, and so on), whereas in fact the opposite is
true: different tuning systems divide the same octave into different-sized steps.
In general, it is often more useful to use the traditional integer system when one is working
within a single temperament; when one is comparing chords in different temperaments, the
continuous system can be more useful.

[edit] See also

Pitch circularity
Pitch interval
Tone row