The Guitar Sounds One Octave Lower than Written.

Pitches translate to vibrations per second known as hertz, one hertz equals one cycle per second. When we use the piano as our frame of reference for frequency and pitches we can see that A 440 known as A4 or the 49th key on a standard 88 key piano is written on the second space of the staff in the treble clef.

  • Concert pitch A440hz, equivalent to piano 49th key also called A4

For example, when this musical note that is written on the second space of the treble clef is played on the guitar at fret 2, string 3 the frequency of that note is 220 hertz, not 440 hertz as this same note would be read and played on the 49th key of the piano.

  • Piano –   A440 written on second space of the treble clef
  • Guitar – A220 written on second space of the treble clef – same note on staff

The guitar sounds an octave lower than written and is written in treble clef as a “transposed an octave higher” instrument for the sake of clarity and ease in reading.  If the note were to be written where it sounded on the guitar it would be written on the second ledger line below the treble clef or on the top line of the bass clef.

  • The Guitar sounds one octave lower than it is written or  – the guitar is transposed an octave higher than it sounds

We have seen a bit of confusion result from this.  The important thing to remember is that pitches translate to frequencies which translate to vibrations per second or hertz.  Concert pitch is a reference standard and typically that standard is A440 which translates to vibrations per second.  By using both the piano and the hertz system it is easy to see where the guitar sits on the staff as a transposed instrument.

Octaves are sometimes difficult for the untrained ear to hear as they are doubled equivalents as A = 110 – A = 220 – A = 440 – A = 880 and so on.  Pitch and notes are ultimately vibrations and in absolute terms when two instruments are vibrating at a frequency of 440 they are sounding the same note or pitch but that does not mean they are necessarily written on the staff identically.

Instruments are written in specific regions of the staff for reasons which include ease of reading and ease of arranging.

  • The guitar is a transposed instrument and the transposition is up one octave.