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What is pitch in music?

Updated: Dec 15, 2019


In music, the word “pitch” means two very different things.

One meaning applies to commercial songwriting and music publishing, and the other meaning is a traditional music term referring to whether the singers or musicians are in tune or “on pitch.”

#1. Meaning of “Pitch” in Commercial Songwriting

For commercial songwriters, to pitch a song means to play it for a publisher, music artist, or other professional in the hopes of “selling the song.”

Pitching songs happens when the songwriter or his music publisher goes to a record label and plays the song for A&R (Artists and Repertoire) people whose job it is to find material for their recording artists.

People who pitch songs for a living are called song pluggers. Their job is to go around to various labels, management houses, and studios playing songs for the people who listen for recording artists.

The goal of the song plugger is to get songs recorded, out on to the radio, and into the marketplace where the copyright can earn money for everyone involved.

That’s the commercial modern version of the word “pitch” used in music.

#2. Meaning of “Pitch” in Traditional Music

The traditional meaning of pitch refers to the tone of the notes being played.

Pitch is another word for “in tune.”

If your instrument is in tune and you’re playing the correct notes, you will be playing the right pitch.

If your instrument is out of tune, your notes will be either flat or sharp, below or above the correct tone or pitch.

Singers also can sing out of pitch or “off key.”

You may hear people talk about something called “perfect pitch.” Perfect pitch is when a person has an internal tuning fork that naturally guides him or her to the correct tonal sound. Most people who have this condition say it’s actually more of a burden than a blessing because almost all live and recorded music is out of tune in some form or another. It drives them crazy, they say.

You’ve probably heard of a pitch pipe. That’s a tool that musicians use as a starting point for tuning their instruments or starting an acapella choir on the right note for singing.

This is just a basic explanation of what pitch means in music.

If you'd like to learn more about pitching songs as a commercial songwriter, you can purchase the full "Pitching Songs (Illustrated Version) for $5.99.

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