Measuring Pitch Inflections with Digital Tools: How 'Blue' Are Blue Notes?

Prof. Dr. Nico Schüler (Texas State University)

In blues and jazz, a blue note is a note that is expressively lowered in pitch. Gerhard Kubik, in his Grove article on “Blue note”, mentions that blue notes may be presented as “pitch values a semitone lower, often with microtonal fluctuations”. The Wikipedia article points out that “typically the alteration is between a quartertone and a semitone, but this varies depending on the musical context”. I will present a case study on exactly measuring the frequencies of blue notes and their intervallic relationships to other notes in the scale. The freeware Sonic Visualiser and its “Peak Frequency Spectrogram” function was used to determine exact frequencies. Specifically the third scale degree in the cappella blues recording “I Got Too Much Time for the Crime I Done” by J. B. Smith was analyzed. The analysis shows both the unaltered third scale degree in the ascending melody as well as the third scale degree ‘blue’ note in the descending melodic portions; the latter blue notes were consistently lower than the half-step-lowered third scale degree. Most important in this presentation is the discussion of the methodology.


Dr. Nico Schüler is University Distinguished Professor of Music Theory and Musicology at Texas State University. His main research interests are methods and methodology of music research as well as computational music research. He is co-editor of the international research book series Methodology of Music Research, the author or editor of 21 books, and the author of more than 120 articles. One of his recent books is Computer-Assisted Music Analysis (2014). Professor Schüler has done extensive research on computational analysis of music recordings, especially with the use of Sonic Visualiser, and has conducted workshops throughout Europe and North America.