The Hz's and dB's in Music

Audible frequency range of musical instruments

These for obvious reasons are acoustic instruments and unamplified. The frequency refers to fundamental tones only.

Instrument Pitch range Frequency range Hz
Piano (concert) A0 - C8 27.50 - 4,186.00
Bass Tuba F1 - F4 43.65 - 349.23
Double Bass E1 - B3 41.20 - 246.94
Cello C2 - B5 65.41 - 987.77
Viola C3 - D6 130.81 -1,174.00
Violin G3 - G7 196.00 - 3,136.00
Clarinet E3 - G6 164.81 - 1,567.00
Flute C4 - D7 261.63 - 2,349.30
French horn A2 - A5 110.00 - 880.00
Trombone E2 - B4 82.41 - 493.88
Trumpet E3 - B5 164.81 - 987.77
Guitar E2 - A5 82.41 - 880.00

Interestingly a sound system will produce the fundamentals of most instruments without bothering the tweeter, not so, of course, the harmonics!

Human voice

These are the ranges demanded in classical opera ...

Type of voice Pitch range Frequency range Hz
Bass F2 - F4 87.31 - 349.23
Baritone G2 - G4 98.00 - 392.00
Tenor C3 - B4 130.81 - 493.88
Contralto C3 - F5 130.81 - 698.46
Soprano B3 - D6 246.94 - 1,174.70

Sound pressure levels

This is a simple scale based on every day observations similar to the beaufort wind scale. Remember that the decibel is a log scale so that a 3dB increase is a doubling of the actual sound energy, 10dB represents a ten fold increase. However the human ear is not linear and perceives a 10 dB increase as a very approximate doubling of volume.

Sound level (dB) approximate observed equivalent.

  • 0dB: Sound proof room, threshold of hearing.
  • 10dB: Rustle of leaves in a breeze.
  • 20dB: Whisper
  • 30dB: Quiet conversation
  • 40dB: Conversation at home
  • 50dB: Typical outside conversation
  • 60dB: Noise in a large shop (no musak)
  • 70dB: City street
  • 80dB: Noisy office with typing (you need to raise your voice)
  • 90dB: Underground railway train passing
  • 100dB: Pneumatic Drill at 3 m
  • 110dB: Prop aircraft taking off
  • 120dB: Jet aircraft taking off - threshold of pain.

It is considered that anything over 80 dB can damage hearing over time. This is based on noise research and not music and is not an accurate assumption when considering coherent sounds of music. It has been shown that very high levels of music, 20dB or more above this does not necassarily exhibit the same effects as general noise sounds, even with peaks up to 120db.

There is a definate relationship between distortion levels and hearing damage though. Distortion, particularly non-musically related (the harsh stuff) can produce hearing damage when it rides on a high level musical sounds, which makes it important to provide the highest quality sound possible especially at loud volumes.

It is the responsibility of the sound engineer and system owners to ensure the safety of the audiences hearing, and this may well become a legal requirement if volume and distortion levels are not regulated on a voluntary basis within the industry.

Audible intensity of musical instruments

Typcal sound pressure levels of unamplified acoustic instruments.

No distances given but probably a couple of metres maybe. The trumpet figure seems low, I've actually measured in the region of 120dB right at the mouth of a trumpet bell.

Instrument Range measured in dB
Bass drum 35 - 115
Cymbal 40 - 110
Organ (orchestral) 35 - 110
Piano 60 - 100
Trumpet 55 - 95
Violin 42 - 95
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