Parameters (music)

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Parameter ( Greek παράμετρος from pará 'against', 'beside', 'at' and metron 'measure'; in the sense of: to measure something, to compare) is a term borrowed from the natural sciences and describes elementary aspects in music such as tone duration, Pitch and volume or volume. The Ukrainian-American music theorist Joseph Schillinger (1895–1943) already propagated algorithmic composition techniques and used the word “parameters”. After the German physicist Werner Meyer-Eppler (1913–1960) put the term up for discussion in 1953 as a music-theoretical term, it quickly caught on - at the same time as serial composition techniques in which not only pitches and intervals, but also the length of the notes and their volume were arranged in rows. The word "parameter" plays a central role in composition and analysis, especially in serial and electronic music .

“The expression itself comes from mathematics; like many scientific terms that modern music theory adapted, it had to put up with a change in meaning. Now, in music, parameters are called all dimensions of the musical course that can be changed in isolation. [...] Once you had decided to subordinate everything to the term parameter that could be arranged in rows, i.e. serialized, you started to create further parameters. [...] What defines the parameter: It specifies an area that can be managed in terms of composition, so it can be adapted to any regulation scheme, no matter how abstract. "

Parameters of the single tone

Three physically measurable parameters can be determined on musical material and described separately from one another. The three parameters of the individual tone (and their corresponding acoustic quantities) are:

Sometimes will too

counted among the parameters. However, "timbre" can only be described as a parameter in a figurative sense, because it does not consist of a variable with a discrete value, but is a time-varying course of frequency spectrum and amplitude or envelope (with the phases: transient process, stationary phase and decay process) . It is a continuous transition that cannot be broken down into individual values.

If, for example, melody were to be referred to as a musical parameter, that would be misleading, because a melody is not just a pitch sequence, but a pitch sequence and at the same time a sequence of notes and pauses, and is subject to its own historical and aesthetic determinations. The classification of harmony and rhythm as parameters would at least be unhistorical.

In contrast to scientific or mathematical elements, in music - apart from its physical properties - it is not possible to objectively determine which quantities can be considered as elementary parameters of a musical composition and which are compound side effects - the composers deal with them differently. In the transition from acoustic conditions to compositional momentum, the meaning of the term parameter loses its scientific basis and becomes the subject of a compositional concept.

Other parameters

The treatment of timbre as a parameter was problematic from the start. Significantly, the first serial compositions were written for piano and initially excluded the problem. Olivier Messiaen's Mode de valeurs et d´intensités (1949) initially considered the parameters pitch, duration, intensity and type of attack. The pitches did not appear absolute here, but separated according to "tone quality" (the tone "c" is treated independently of its octave and thus its actual frequency) and "register". With the attempt to systematically design the parameter timbre, areas of sound synthesis and electronic music were further developed.

In the following, more and more levels of the composition were “parameterized”: Karlheinz Stockhausen introduced the parameter “space” in his 5-channel tape composition Gesang der Jünglinge (1955–56), thus structuring sound movements in space. In his orchestral work Metastaseis (1953–54) Iannis Xenakis organized degrees of density of musical events. Finally, the term parameter was applied to every dimension of music that was accessible to compositional access and that could be arranged in scales and / or quantified.


  • Joseph Schillinger: The Mathematical Basis of the Arts . New York 1948.
  • Herbert Eimert, Hans-Ulrich Humpert: Parameters . In: The Lexicon of Electronic Music . Bosse, Regensburg 1973.
  • Christoph von Blumröder: Parameters . In: Concise dictionary of musical terminology . Steiner, Freiburg i. Br. 1982.
  • Parameters . In: Brockhaus-Riemann-Musiklexikon . tape 3 . Schott, Mainz 1989, p. 268 .

Web links

Commons : Aspects of music  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Ulrich Dibelius: Modern music I . Munich 1966, 4th edition 1988, p. 337f.