What is Pitch? Explained with Examples

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Intonation and pitch are two of the most important elements in effective speaking. Spoken English too, like any other language, depends vastly on them. Having a good knowledge of that and an intuitional usage of these in communication would ensure the utmost fluency in the language and in turn, the listeners would understand you more easily.

Pitch is one of the very crucial elements of speech in any language. Without the right pitch and intonation, it becomes almost impossible to convey the intended messages on-point. In the English language precisely, if the right intonation and pitch range are not ensured, the meaning and manner of speech can not be pinpointed most of the time. That causes unnecessary misunderstandings and uncalled-for situations. Lack of the right pitch would always confuse both the speaker and the listener equally.

Definition of Pitch

Pitch is the vocal element that determines the accentuation and prominence of speech. It is similarly significant in the individual word or full sentence level. The normal pitch of any voice depends on the vocal cord at play and in what frequency it vibrates. The frequency of the vocal cord’s vibration is solely dependent on the length, thickness and tension.

Martha Pennington states in her book titled, Phonology In English Language Teaching: An International Approach that somebody’s average pitch level is determined by the size of the vocal cords. Men have longer vocal cords compared to women and children and so men’s vocal pitch tends to be lower or deeper in general.

Individual Pitch Range

Apart from having an average pitch or modal pitch, every individual has a set pitch range at their disposal. The pitch range can be achieved or altered by making adjustments to the strength of one’s vocal cord. With some exercises, musicians can make planned adjustments to their voices although most would just work on expanding their natural vocal range which involves extending the highest and lowest pitch they are able to sing at.

For effective speaking too, one has to practice similar adjustments to their vocal cords but at a bare minimum compared to the musicians, of course. To raise the pitch of one’s voice, the vocal cords or folds must tighten. Lowering the pitch would mean loosening the vocal cords for that matter. With the changing of the tension in the vocal cords, the pitch variations in speech are realized. When the right amount of variations are present, the speech becomes more meaningful and accurate to the listeners.

Pitch Explained with Examples

The vibration of the vocal cords is the basis of the change in pitch. The increase in the vibration of the vocal folds means that the pitch climbs with it. Normally, the pitch range of an average person remains inside the 70 Hz to 200 Hz mark.

In the case of everyday speech, the pitch range of the utterance denotes the attitude of the speaker towards the information or the listener in front. The neutral, unmarked, mid-pitch is the speaker’s modal pitch and it conveys the simple-neutral manner that the statement is delivered in.

  • The high pitch range marks the informational contrast in the statements given as examples.

I’m going to Dhaka, not Chittagong!

He’d never say that.

  • The low pitch indicates that the speaker wants to emphasize the fact that two items in the successive tone units are somewhat similar in nature.

                        I’ve already shown you, man.

(The lowered pitch at the end entails that the “you” and the “man” are in fact the same person.)

How Does the Pitch Range Fluctuate in Statements?

Below are a few common statements and the pitch fluctuations in them. Getting at least these few categories of

List of Things:

The pitch raises with the opening of a statement, does not completely drop until all the intended information is unfolded. The pitch lowers where the information has stopped coming in right after a sudden rise.   

       

Yes/No Questions:

The vocal pitch tends to rise as much as uncertainty is imminent in the statement. With the Yes/No questions, the pitch will finally rise at the very end as the uncertainty and incompletion peaks.

Yes/No questions are usually half of the interaction that ends an incompletion. As the reply comes against the question, the information is complete. 

                                 

WH-Questions:

The WH-questions (questions starting with what, who, when, where, why, which and how) on the other hand, finish with a high but falling pitch although there is missing information in these statements.

           

Some of these rules are broken when it comes to non-native speakers barely mastering the pitch and intonation used in various situations. Sometimes they mistake finishing the WH-questions in raised pitch.

Tag Questions:

Tag questions can finish with a raised or falling pitch depending on what is asked and how. 

Questions Ending with “You Know”:

The common expression among the native English speaker, “you know” usually sits at the very end of the statement and the pitch here is raised or fallen depending on the manner of using the expression. 

Pseudo Yes/No Questions:

The statements are constructed with the same formula as the Yes/No questions yet they are not questions hence, not meant to be answered.       

   

Selecting the Right Pitch

One must keep in mind the kind of pitch and the pitch range to maintain before giving any particular speech. Selecting a suitable pitch and the pitch range depends on a few things.

The Audience

The most important fact to consider is whom your speech would be directed towards. A female speaker talking to a group of men about women’s equality would have a different pitch range than while talking to a group of enthusiastic women audience. Then again a male speaker in the same situation will have to adjust his pitch range in a slightly different manner.

So the type and mindset of the audience would be monumental for a speaker. S/he has to be able to read the room and adjust his/her tone and pitch accordingly before or during the speech.

The Venue

The size of the room and the distance of the audience seating arrangements from the speaker would be the most significant elements to consider. The size of the room would come into play since there is a matter of the sound echoing inside the room is too big compared to the size of the crowd. The speaker may use a microphone but that would mean the position of the speakers set inside the room would come into consideration and their position and the distance from the sundance would have to be checked.

The natural volume of the speaker’s voice would be another crucial matter when it comes to adjusting the pitch range. The trick would be to practice speaking in any new setup beforehand so that the speaker can take mental notes of the required pitch and volume of his/her voice while speaking before an audience.

The Timing

The time of the day the talk is scheduled would be another one of the biggest aspects to consider. There are certain parts in a day when most people are more attentive and active and other parts when they lose focus and are mostly inactive on average. So scheduling talks in the more active part of the day would be clever and then you can pitch your talk efficiently.

For example, the hour after lunch is known as the “Graveyard” session in training circles. Can you imagine yourself shouting at a graveyard? Similarly, you cannot let out high-pitched sneers at your sleepy crowd and expect them to participate in efficient listening just because of the sheer volume or the accurate pitch of your voice.

Depending on the length of your speech and how long it is till the end, you have to time your pitch to perfection. Like comic timing, the pitch must be timed to ensure the most effectiveness. One must time the segments in the talk and keep a clock guiding each minute. That way pitching the portions would be a matter of intent and emphasis. Too calculative a speech would lack in force.

 

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