Doug Dee wrote:
> In a message dated 3/27/2004 10:43:57 AM Eastern Standard Time,
> [log in to unmask] writes:
>>>For ex, for a temperature scale,
>>>why should "cold" be at the lowest end, and "hot" at
>>>the highest ?
>>Sheer history.  When Anders Celsius proposed the centigrade scale in 1742,
>>he set 0 to the boiling point of water and 100 to the freezing point.
>>It was probably Carolus Linnaeus (the biological taxonomist) who suggested
>>reversing the scale's direction to agree with the existing Fahrenheit
>>(32 to 212, 1724) and Reamur (0 to 80, 1731) scales.
> Is there a similar explanation in music -- why are high notes called "high"
> and low notes called "low"?  Are notes "high" and "low" universally (in
> Chinese, Navajo,. . . ) or are there languages that use left/right, or wet/dry, or
> some other metaphor instead of high/low? When did the high/low metaphor come
> into use for musical tones?
> I once asked this question to a linguist, who did not know.  I'm hoping
> someone around here does.
> Doug

I don't know about the linguistic parts of your question.

However, for a musical explanation: High notes are called high notes, I
believe, because of the 'higher' frequency (my personally preferred
explanation). For example: take A440 (440 Hz), the tuning standard, and
double it (880 Hz) and you have the next octave 'above' the given note.
Perhaps the 'high' and 'low' terminology is a reflection of this greater
energy/frequency in the sound. However, without a knowledge of acoustics
this explanation would not give rise to the terminology in question.
Indeed, consider the lengths of strings: two strings, one is twice as
long as the other and therefore an octave lower (assuming similar
thickness and tension). If you stood them up next to each other the
'lower' one would be 'longer' or conceivably 'higher'.

Another theory: it is harder to produce 'high' notes in just about every
instrument and voice (except keyboard). Since early western music was
sung (ecclesiactically, anyway), the notes that took greater effort to
sing were called higher.

I am not a music historian, I am a composer (my degree had some theory
in there too, but not history of theory). So you can take my theories
with as much salt as you'd like. :)

James Worlton
          "We know by means of our intelligence
          that what the intelligence does not
          comprehend is more real than what it
          does comprehend."
                           --Simone Weil